There's an important sense in which Barack Obama is actually worse than John McCain. Obviously, Obama is not an explicitly theocratic fucktard like McCain; Obama is a bright guy, and I'm sure he means well, but he knows precisely what the capitalist imperialist system demands of him, and he was supported by capitalist elite because they know he will deliver. Obama is a palliative, not a cure. A palliative is just fine when it relieves suffering while one is curing the underlying disease. But a palliative is actively bad when it removes the motivation of pain for curing the underlying condition while it worsens. And that is precisely what the Obama administration aims to do.
A McCain administration would have given tremendous impetus for progressives to actually organize. "Let's make the patient sicker," says Dr. House, "so we can diagnose the disease and cure it before it kills the patient." An Obama administration just masks the symptoms and has visibly and provably sucked the oxygen from the mainstream progressive movement.
As far as I know, this is the primary reason why someone sufficiently "on the left" (i.e., actually socialist or Marxist -- so not me) would decline to vote Democratic even granting that they might be -- on face -- marginally better than the GOP.
This really didn't sit well with me, and for a few days I couldn't put my finger on it as to why. At first, I assumed it was simply a function of the fact that I'm not that far to the left such that I only vote Democratic as "the lesser of two evils". There are plenty of issues in which I'd prefer the Democratic Party be significantly more liberal, but there are other issues where I think the policies on their platform right now will lead to actual, positive good things for millions of Americans (not to mention the rest of the world). I'm clearly not as far left as Mr. Hamelin, and so of course his argument wouldn't seem compelling.
But it was still nagging at me, and I think I've finally nailed down my problem. When phrased in abstract terms like "palliative care", perhaps Mr. Hamelin's argument might be convincing. But what such abstractions mask is that when you let the body politic grow sicker, people actually die. This isn't a side issue, it's what Mr. Hamelin is counting on: he wants enough people to die so that the underclass finally gets fed up and launches the revolution. Such calls, you might notice, are far easier to make when your own life isn't on the line.
When the head of the American Communist party was asked if President Roosevelt's New Deal policies had carried out the communist party agenda, the leader responded: "yeah, on a stretcher." He was making a similar observation to Mr. Hamelin: that by reducing the abject misery and desperation of the Great Depression -- by putting millions of Americans back to work, by getting Social Security established, by funding aid for the needy -- President Roosevelt dissipated would otherwise could been a revolutionary build-up in the American working class. But it'd be selfish bordering on obscene to say that we should have opposed Roosevelt's efforts, for the simple reason that the lives of the poor are not rightly pawns in our political fantasies.
And yes, this is the state of the Democratic Party today. Are they as liberal as I (much less Mr. Hamelin) would like? No. But they'll probably get S-CHIP funding passed, and that means millions of children who otherwise would lack health care will be able to see a doctor. And lack of access to basic medical care gets kids killed. You can talk until you're blue in the face about how S-CHIP won't solve the structural conditions that lead to unequal access to medical care: and you'd be right! But to say that even one child should have to die in the (speculative!) hope that it might aid the broader revolutionary goal is sickening. Barack Obama may not be as strong on choice as many would prefer. But he does mean that Roe v. Wade is likely safe for another generation. And were that not the case, in a world where Roe was overturned, women would die. Women died when President Bush enforced the "global gag order" on abortion alternatives. Women die when the safest abortion practices are outlawed. And for some people, that's the point.
Let's take one more example. Over break I'm trying to finish Waiting for Gautreaux, a book about efforts to remedy public housing segregation in the Chicago region. The litigators in Gautreaux were pushing for "scattered-site" public housing: basically, instead of concentrating all the Black public housing tenants in concentrated centers of urban poverty, scatter public housing sites all over the Chicago area, integrating a few impoverished tenants each in all the various working- and middle-class communities around Chicago (wealthier neighborhoods were excluded because HUD rules prohibit spending too much on public housing, and land in wealthy communities is outside their price range. Also, the wealthier the community in which public housing tenants reside, the more resentment bubbles up in working and middle-class communities angry that the poor get to live in communities that they themselves can't afford).
The author, Alexander Polikoff, was also the lead attorney on the case, and he gives a very sober assessment of the results of several decades of litigation. Most of the book covers the period after Polikoff won the original 1969 court ruling holding that Chicago had, indeed, practiced segregation. Over and over again, local politics, community opposition, White rioting and violence, and city and federal bureaucracy intervened to prevent scattered-site housing from ever actually taking root. By the time the book was published in 2006, only a few thousand families had successfully relocated away from the blighted urban core -- a mere fraction of the original class of 20,000, much less the total number of Black families crowded together in hyper-segregated Chicago slums.
From a structural standpoint, Gautreaux was a resounding failure. Originally designed to crack "American apartheid" once and for all, it ended up barely making a dent in the segregated structure of Chicago's residential community. But for the families who did manage to make it out, Gautreaux was a wonderful thing. Not every Gautreaux family was a success story, of course. But most studies showed that Gautreaux families were more successful, had higher quality of life, and were just plain happier than their peers who remained inside the city. And the difference was most noticeable for the children who -- despite often starting significantly their peers in higher-quality suburban schools -- managed to make up incredible deficits and post exceptional educational records far surpassing their brethren elsewhere. This is perhaps why each year far more families try to make it into the Gautreaux program than there are slots available.
You could argue that Polikoff and his team of attorneys were merely relieving the pain in the inner cities, but not addressing its source. There still is the problem of crushing, grinding poverty and hyper-segregation in America's inner cities, and Gautreaux is unlikely to solve it. Perhaps the children inside the high-rise urban projects are more likely to revolt. But that's precisely because they're more likely to die along the way -- and the fewer Gautreaux's we have, the more that will be killed. When this fact is viewed as a feature rather than a bug, leftism becomes nothing more than a self-indulgent obscenity.
Two different children were interviewed by two different journalists around the same time in the Chicago area. One was a Gautreaux kid, the other, a resident of one of inner-city Chicago's most notorious projects. Both were asked what they wanted to be when they grew up. The Gautreaux child hadn't decided yet: "construction worker, architect, or anesthesiologist" were his top choices.
And the other girl, the one skipping rope outside her urban high-rise?
"I might not live to be grown up. My life wasn't promised to me."