Charlie Bertsch (cbertsch) wrote,
Charlie Bertsch

Bypassing the Blockages

There's a lot to say about the steps President-Elect Barack Obama has taken to set a course of action for his Administration. Many progressives have been complaining, sometimes bitterly, about his choice of Washington-insiders, some with considerable baggage, to work with him. I anticipated their disappointment. I know where it is coming from. And yet it disappoints me, because the progressive politics to which I aspire is one that knows both when pragmatism must triumph over ideology and, further, when the appearance of pragmatism must triumph over the appearance of ideology. From where I sit, Obama is working very hard to delimit a space for political action that is big enough to move within, even if that means making more concessions to the Center and, in some cases, Right than he would like.

The argument against such a rightward drift, advanced by many progressives whom I respect, is that it could well lead to a situation in which means to end become an end in itself. That was often the case during Bill Clinton's Presidency. And it makes sense to fear that Obama will make the same mistakes that Clinton did. That said, however, I still think the Left needs a faction that will given the President-Elect the benefit of the doubt and believe that the brilliance of his campaign is not going to be extinguished once he takes office. Personally, I am more worried that Obama will turn out to lead the way Tony Blair did than that he will metamorphose into the second coming of Bill. Like Blair, Obama is extremely disciplined and understands that he needs his party to be successful if he is going to succeed himself. In Blair's case, of course, the post-9/11 environment led him to undo most of the good he had done in reengineering Labour. Obama could be similarly undone.

One reason why I still have hope, however, is that Obama seems to have grasped the importance, like Reagan and FDR before him, of finding a way to communicate directly to citizens or, failing that, to at least seem to be doing so. His use of New Media, from Facebook to YouTube, was a major reason for his success in the 2008 campaign. Unlike many politicians, though, he understands that the same technology can be deployed even when it's the votes of legislators and the "votes" of investors that are being courted, rather than that of citizens themselves. His latest address, streamed directly to YouTube, is a great example:
I'll admit to being a little weirded out by the form of this presentation, which strikes me as the sort of thing one is more used to seeing in fictional representations of the White House than in real life. That said, I watched the whole thing twice, a response that I no doubt shared with many people who, like myself, rarely watch television news. Indeed, I sensed the pull of the personal address, even as I was striving to compress it into a mental frame for future analysis. Whether it's because I was viewing it on my computer or simply that the absence of talking heads to spin the address made me more susceptible to a direct response, I identified both with Obama and with the struggling Americans he describes in a way that I rarely do when taking in traditional media.

My instinct tells me that the illusion of immediacy generated by Obama's use of New Media is playing a crucial role in his attempt to fashion a broader space of engagement than President-Elects typically have to work with. I will remain mindful of the distress signals emitting from the political paranoiac trapped inside me. But I also plan to do my best to not let those sour notes drown out other, less negative messages that I'm perceiving.
Tags: politics

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