Monday, November 10, 2008

Falling in love with democracy again?

IN TWO pointer posts below Mike Davis and Guy Rundle respond to Obama's election with, on the one hand, an almost cynical pre-emptive Left mourning and, on the other, with a star-burst of Left falling-in-love. These politics of affect comprise a tricky subject for some, especially Australians who like to think of politics as pragmatic and never symbolic; driven by costed and measurable policies and never by emotions; hard, tactile and masculine -- doing something -- and never rhetorical, verbal and temporally complex. But in the elevation of Obama there is a danger, for the Left, of oscillating in huge arcs between a pre-emptive mourning and falling-in-love.

Can our political attachments -- and many Australians are heavily invested in US politics -- move beyond this binary of a pragmatic, because intelligently reflective, despair and romantic, mindlessly ephemeral, overinvestment in political leaders and projects? Can we oscillate in a more sustainably rhythmic cycle: more like a clock pendulum than a wrecking ball?

Supervalent Thought asks whether political optimism necessary leads to mindlessness; whether political happiness must be equated

with shallowness and emotional darkness with truth and profundity.

Oh yes, about Obama, the neoliberal, gay-marriage compromised, “market guy…” Here’s what makes me politically happy about the event of Obama. He is the first mainstream politician in decades who loves the political process. He does not confuse “Washington” with politics. His organization’s practice of training other organizers demonstrates his commitment to producing skills for political world-building beyond his campaign.

In this way the event of Obama has already massively advanced the skills for democracy in the United States. In other ways he seems committed to constraining and even undermining what that might entail concretely. Protesting and appreciating, though, are some of what we do to maintain the optimism of any attachment. They keep you bound to the (political) scene, to the cognitive and affective difficulties of remaining critically present to desire.

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