A Strategic Ideological Hiccup

I suppose it should no longer be surprising when the Obama administration shows its true centrist/conservative colors as it did in the recent comments of White House spokesman Robert Gibbs’ condemnation of a “professional left” condemning comparisons (by primarily television commentators such as Rachel Maddow and Keith Olberman of MSNBC) of the Obama administration and its politics and policies to those of George W. Bush.

Of course, Gibbs’ back-tracking after the fall-out from his comments that became headlines for the basic cable talking heads was nothing more than most “apologies” these days: a non-apology apology. This formalized the non-official White House sentiment toward those non-right ideologues who have been critical for obvious reasons that the Obama administration cannot stomach.

Being called on the carpet by the liberal left for caving to moneyed/institutionalized interests, failing to deliver on the politics of hope and fundamental change generally, turning their political backs on the liberal/left constituencies who supported Obama’s candidacy and helped make his election happen, and predictably ceding power to conservative/right congressional interests prior to initiating any domestic or foreign policy reform efforts was a rational and persistent critical response to the dream-like smoke-screen of administration policy “successes.”

Indeed, Gibbs’ informal “hiccup” of a commentary reflects a stress response of this administration to its failure to honestly and forthrightly live up to its pre-election rhetoric of populist, democratic idealism, that the people can and do effect change and that this president would in fact be the popular voice and vessel for such positive change.

The fact that Obama has failed to deliver such fundamental change and has, in effect, failed to lead, in light of the deep national economic, political, cultural, and racial problems, has directly led to the highly charged criticisms of him and his administration.

The critical response to Obama and his charges is also partly due, I would argue, to his troubling tendency to fail to engage, to lead, in political ways. (Maureen Dowd’s favorite epithet/nickname for his geeky, overly intellectual manner is “Spock.”) His exaggerated efforts to be intellectually fair and balanced, not to display emotional or intellectual weakness, has been a clear deficit of this administration that has failed to respond in kind to the political loyalty of the cultural and racial communities that supported his presidential candidacy. In fact, this most recent effort made by his public point man to correct and discipline his ideological and political troops parallels Obama’s own attempts to correct and discipline the African American community and to generally ignore, even go back on, promises to address the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy for the gay community and immigration reform for Latinos.

This is one of the great ironies of this presidency: the lack of interest or commitment to “engage” (as Captain Kirk would order the Starship Enterprise) in social justice efforts. (But that’s another extended story of denial, confusion and fear for this biracial president who, at some deep level, can’t fully intellectually or emotionally comprehend the potential of his historic position. Indeed, after his likely one-term presidency is finished, he will have plenty of time to contemplate this crucial part of his failed legacy to advance the cause of humanitarian freedom and social justice not only for the United States, but for the dispossessed and oppressed everywhere, the part of his “promise” that was so globally important will haunt him, I predict.)

The other problematic part of this rhetorical, ideological tête-à-tête, is the replication of the exaggerated and hyperbolic epithet, “professional left.”

Whatever that means…

Keith Olberman, a leftist? Rachel Maddow, a leftist? And the other MSNBC radicals like Dylan Ratigan and Ed Shulz, leftists?  Huh?  You’ve got to be kidding!

Of course, the typical rhetorical ploys of the 24 hour news cycle have evolved into shouting matches where name-calling often replaces actual debate and argumentation. Where reality and truth are always in doubt, actual evidence is no longer heeded or needed to support an argument; just the affirmation or assertion of right and wrong and the endless shouting down one’s opponent in order to silence them, reinforces the quick resort to hyperbole and exaggeration.

(Reality television programming is all about the shouting, the seeming immediacy and spontaneity of experience, favoring the passion of real people in the moment over the scripted falseness of the imagined relationship dramas and comedies. This is the proof that we are truly human and alive, right, even if the reality is bracketed by the next commercial break, the feigned performance for the ever present camera crew and producers demanding and contriving “action,” and the hyperbolic, exaggerated composition and editing of any given “narrative.” We’re all post-structuralists now!)

In this case, Gibbs and the Obama administration have no clue what a leftist is let alone a “professional” one.  Indeed, I would argue that the left is an anachronism, an historical artifact that no longer exists except as remnants in the institutionalized, corporatized, compromised confines of universities where a healthy retirement pension mollifies the idea of what it means to be a leftist. (Yes. The left was assimilated, even extinguished, as an important social, economic, and political/ideological force some time ago. The reassertion of the right was highlighted by the neo-cons and Reagan’s successful union busting efforts in the 1980s. The state’s successful containment of dissent in the sixties and seventies through violent suppression, ideological demonization, and infiltration had long-lasting effects generally along with the gradual disillusionment of the left generally.) Indeed, the irony here is that, in my humble opinion, if a leftist were professional s/he wouldn’t, couldn’t be a leftist. The contradiction would be too great to actually take seriously.  Really.

So to insinuate that Olberman, et al, are leftists is an even more absurd effort. Gibbs’ attempt to demonize, isolate, contain, and limit “left” critique–these days, anything left of “right” is painted radically subversive and “leftist” despite having nothing to do with a historical ideological/intellectual left which would mean a radical and fundamental, democratic national economic, social, and political restructuring–of Obama administration politics and policy highlights not only Obama’s near-sighted, limited ideological bent, but exposes his administration’s conservative, even reactionary political style against presidential candidate Obama’s more hopeful, rhetorical progressive vision.