. . . . . . . Supervalent Thought

Sarah Palin, Female Complainer
September 17, 2008, 1:55 am
Filed under: Belonging, emotion, Mood, optimism, Politics

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.

5 Comments so far
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One thing Obama *is* missing is the language of pedagogy–to some degree anyway–and he’s rightfully not tapping into a Bill Clinton style version of it. (Clinton’s teaching voice has become his shaming voice; and Obama is vulnerable to sounding too smart.) But he needs to develop some kind of version of it–a way to explain some things, esp. the economy at the moment. I have been disappointed the last few days, after Lehman crash and &tc, that Obama has missed an opportunity to remind people (and himself) that election campaigns are when we learn about what citizenship means–and much better times for that than National Disasters. Right now, for example, citizenship might mean learning what the term “economic fundamentals” means in the world of people who discuss and make economic policy. Etc etc etc ad finitum….Obama needs to slow down and explain–to people who don’t already understand it–what happened and is happening on wall street with at least some effort at precision. This is killing me.

As for Palin, she shot her wad. She’s done, by which I mean we have seen and heard every single thing she has to bring to the table. She can repeat herself forever, but there will be no more. And the Retardlicans are too cynical, brain-dead, and sexist to develop a strategy that might represent a “more” to her, or a development story. She’s only a woman, and she gave a great lipstick party there for a week, but he own party will not be able to imagine any further kind of product she might have or be.

I am glad last week is over though. The demo–panic was making me nauseous.

I agree with what you say about people feeling frozen limbs again. I also think that the frozen limbs are, in many cases, limbs that were never there in the first place, i.e. nostalgia for an imaginary past.

Comment by Mandy

nostalgia for an imaginary past indeed.

Welcome to the hive mind.

Comment by Ignacio

[…] Via. […]

Pingback by implicit art » I feel your Hope

Does hope have to have an object, or only an affect? I’m not sure the politics of hope EVER is stable, which would imply obtainable, which means the hope (predicated on unfulfilled futurity), wouldn’t be necessary any more. The opposite of hope, I guess.

I love these posts, Lauren. Can’t wait to watch Mandy’s Les Miz

Comment by Cathy Davidson

I’m a bit of a latecomer to this brilliant post. Thanks!
The point that hope works as a vitalizing and a stalling mechanism seems especially right on. At the same time, this vitality clustered around that hoped-for (unracist, brilliantly new, and interdependent) community seems a dangerous mixture. I’m thinking of renewed sexism in attacks on Palin (and Hilary, just a moment ago)in the name of support for Obama’s promise, and energized by that name’s seeming synonymy with righteous anti-racism.
Support for Obama that arrives in the form of media attention on Palin’s shopping bill seems to work to justify Palin’s turn towards second-wave feminist rhetoric (if not it’s commitment to actual wage restructuring).
I’m voting for Obama, but in this moment of hope-speak it’s not too much to ask that movements towards something better not include references to Sarah Palin’s “bush”.

Comment by Bianca Isaki

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