BTW, my readers have been writing me asking for a Sarah Palin post, and then this AM Sara Ahmed wrote me with news that Pop Feminist worked with The Female Complaint in her Palin post, so for now I’ll let that stand in. I do admit to being frustrated that Saturday Night Live reduced the campaign season’s “gender” issues to which woman is fuckable and which isn’t, as though the macho rhetoric assessing each candidate’s cojones weren’t waving in everyone’s face, male or female. I’d say that this election needs to be fixed, but . . .
I did have a thought about the affect in the presidential election this morning, though, and here it is: in response to the Washington Post’s observation that Obama is uncomfortable with performing Clintonesque sentimentality of the “I feel your pain” variety, I thought, that’s right, Obama’s more like “I feel your hope.” Does the difference matter?
I think so. Obama is detaching from the liberal tradition of claiming that our wounds are what make us alike and what make us obligated to aid each other. Obama’s saying that it’s hope that makes us alike, especially the hope for politics to advance the world toward deserving our optimism for it.
For many of his supporters, Obama produces something like the return of limbs to life that frostbite survivors feel first as pain and then as a thrill that the numbness has finally ended. Except during catastrophes, whole generations and populations in the US have felt excluded from political desire that’s attached to realism and to ordinary life. They think of politics as an arena of elite power-brokering that has no interest in helping to solve the problems of living faced by ordinary people. Most U.S. people have stopped voting, or never started. They’re checked out of active participation in the body politic.
Obama’s rhetoric of “hope” is vitalizing to so many because it calls out the desire for a politics dedicated to fomenting interdependency, solidarity, communality. In this Obama’s rhetoric has sentimental overtones that are just as intense as anything of Bill Clinton’s. Obama feels your hope for a community of general belonging; he felt it before you could bear to risk feeling it; he asked for you to take up the political as a calling, to risk making collective life a collective project, and not something just delegated to politicians.
The critique of Obamaesque hope writes itself (see previous posts: by agreeing on “hope” we delay debating on what actual world we “hope” for, and his promise of a multicultural, market-based intimate public whose solidarity is based on a desire for the nation to provide a sense of security, freedom, and community is fundamentally emotional and over-separate from his approach to the serious class divides in the United States that are being played out once again in the culture wars, which are also wars about “hope.”).
I only wish feelings of unity could dissolve fundamentally antagonistic interests, but I don’t think so. But making it ok to demand from politics a reason to maintain hope for the coming community made up of people who are already alive is important. I think it’s great that we have a major politician who loves politics and the political, who does not run as though above it but from within it, who takes pleasure in the language of organization and struggle, who sees movement politics not as a sentimental exception to ordinary life but as what ordinary life requires for entrenched structures of inequality, insecurity, and injustice to be forced to change. Obama’s message about politics is much more radical (and hopeful) than are his actual neoliberal policies, a fact which I find infuriating and confusing.
On that score, nonetheless, Mandy Berry just sent me this fantastic performance of Les Misbarack.
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