Archive for the ‘Progressives’ Category
This is a, “I told you so” blog. I have been arguing here and in other venues that Obama is a philosophical pragmatist and not just a political one. At his press conference yesterday, in which he defended his compromise with the Republicans over taxes, he directly confronted a question about his core values. He specifically placed his values in a wider framework, one that is clearly congenial to philosophical pragmatism.
Why is this important? We need to understand the man if we are going to be able to work effectively for change. Obama has a set of values that one might call “progressive” (and other values that might be termed “moderate” or even mildly conservative). He is going to act on his (mostly) progressive views within a broader framework, which is his commitment to philosophical pragmatism. This is not a sell out. It is not a weakness in itself. It is different from what we have seen in quite some time. (This is NOT merely Bill Clinton’s political pragmatism, for example.) Listen to how Obama defends his initiatives by citing the history of social security in the clip below. There is passion here. And not the passion of someone defending a merely expedient outcome. His commitment to pragmatism may often make him appear more conservative than he actually is. For him, it’s about getting the best outcomes over the long term. This is not to say that he hasn’t made tactical errors or errors in judgment and timing. He certainly has. It’s only to place his specific values in a broader context.
For those interested in learning more about the connection between Obama and pragmatism, there is James T. Kloppenberg’s new book, Reading Obama. The Afterword to my new book, Transcendence: On Self-Determination and Cosmopolitanism (Stanford) is on-line. It discusses Obama’s pragmatism. There is also the web site Barack Obama’s Pragmatism.
I was hoping that I would not find myself wasting time, energy, and pixels on another article criticizing Hilary Clinton. It’s enough already. I wanted to enjoy last night’s historic outcome of the Democratic presidential contest; a talented, African-American, progressive will now be heading the ticket of a major American Party. Wonderful Earth rocking news. It seems that America can still send a meaningful political “shot” around the world. But instead my excitement had to be mixed with disappointment and outrage. Hillary, there she goes again. Not only did she fail to concede graciously in order to help bring the Party together, but she invited comments from her supporters to her web site to tell her how to proceed. Of course she knows how they will respond. What extraordinary bad faith. And for what, two bits to pay off her bills or perhaps have some leverage for herself in the coming months. Further, she continued to make the same misleading claims about the popular vote that she has been making for weeks, namely, that she has won it. The fact is that there is no national popular vote. Or better still, there are hundreds of possible permutations in figuring out what the national popular vote might be. You simply can’t combine the apples and oranges of caucuses and primaries, as well as all of the different sorts of state primaries, including two that were considered non-contests, to come up with a solid figure. But I will let this one go. Hillary will say what she needs to say, especially that people should go to Hillary.com.
But I decided to write not only to vent. I want to see a solution to the Hillary problem, as does every Democrat who wants to win in November. I got a lead this morning (June 4th) from a blog on the Daily Kos, “A Dream Team?” by georgia 10. The writer quotes at length from an article that appeared in the on-line version of the Telegraph. Here are the passages quoted directly from the June 1st Telegraph.
The Obama camp, however, remains nervous about Mrs Clinton’s intentions and ambitions, and is preparing a face-saving package that will allow her to continue to play a role in health care reform, which has been her signature issue for more than a decade. Despite pressure from some Clinton allies, Mr Obama and his advisers do not wish to ask her to be his vice-presidential running mate. “They will talk to her,” one Democrat strategist close to senior figures in the Obama camp told The Sunday Telegraph. “They will give her the respect she deserves. She will get something to do with health care, a cabinet post or the chance to lead the legislation through the Senate.”
Another Democrat who has discussed strategy with friends in the Obama inner circle said that Mr Obama was openly considering asking Mrs Clinton to join his cabinet, alongside two other former presidential rivals: John Edwards, who is seen as a likely attorney general; and Joe Biden, who is a leading contender to become Secretary of State.
Mr Obama hinted at the plan last week. “One of my heroes is Abraham Lincoln,” he said. “Lincoln basically pulled in all the people who had been running against him into his cabinet because whatever personal feelings there were, the issue was ‘how can we get this country through this time of crisis?’ And I think that has to be the approach that one takes.” [Emphasis added]
“Hillary Clinton to be offered dignified exit” By Tim Shipman http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/uselection2008/democrats/2058907/US-Elections-Hillary-Clinton-to-be-offered-dignified-exit.html
In some ways, of course, this is not news. The cabinet solution has been around for a while. But I was struck by Obama’s citing Lincoln. This article was written on June 1st. One could argue that Hillary has put herself further into the dog house with the Obama camp after last night’s speech. But Obama, in a Lincolnesque sort of way, might only see this as more reason for the cabinet option. She is a piece of work alright. But all the more reasons to give it a whirl and put her in a cabinet slot. It shows that 1) Obama is strong enough to deal with her and 2) magnanimous enough to extend a hand.
I will swallow hard. The logic is there. I hope Obama goes for it and finally ends the Hillmail. If she won’t settle for this, then Obama needs to methodically work around her. Most of those who voted for Hillary will not put up with her undermining the Party.
To say that Americans have had a love affair with technology is the most humdrum of cliches. The idea that new technologies will not only make life easier for us, but will help bring us together as a people, is not new theme in American folklore. Long before there was the Web, or the radio, or even a developed telephone network, American philosophers and social critics dreamed of how new technologies might transform us, make us into a community in all of our diversity. In 1892, as a relatively young man, George Herbert Mead, a pragmatic philosopher in the American grain, wrote a letter to his wife’s parents. It’s worth quoting.
But it seems to me clearer every day that the telegraph and locomotive are the great spiritualizers of society because they bind man and man so close together that the interest of the individual must be more completely the interest of all day by day. And America in pushing this spiritualizing of nature is doing more than all in bringing the day when every man will be my neighbor and all life shall be saturated with the divine life (emphasis added). (See, Gary A. Cook, George Herbert Mead, The Making of a Social Pragmatist, p. 31)
This relatively youthful Mead thought that the locomotive and the telegraph would bring us closer together. And so they did in their own ways. Now the Internet appears to be doing so in a qualitatively different fashion. But before moving on to discuss the Internet’s place in the current election, it’s worth reminding ourselves about the dark side of our commitment to technology. For example, we have recently been promised nearly bloodless wars in which burnished flying machines, decked out with starship instrumentation, will seek out and destroy our enemies. The Iraq nightmare began with the promise that high tech would produce “Shock and Awe,” and a quick end to war.
But in this election, the prospect of utilizing technology to make Americans feel as if they are part of a national political community, is no longer merely a fantasy of the early devotees of Apple computers. Although it has been said many times and in many ways, and in ways that were suspect, it does seem that the Internet has finally come of age. No doubt Obama would not be where he is today without his campaign’s creative use of Internet technologies and software. (See, Joshua Green’s piece, “The Amazing Money Machine” <http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/200806/obama-finance> and Marc Ambinder’s “His Space” in The Atlantic http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/200806/ambinder-obama
Yet technology by itself is blind. Obama’s experience as a community organizer has let him frame how the technology could be used. He and his people have pioneered paths for merging the virtual and the real worlds, for moving from on-line communities to real world communities and back. What happens on the Web doesn’t just stay on the Web. However, it’s worth keeping in mind that Obama is part of an older American tradition, one that supported the development of technology without worshiping it. And one that spoke a great deal about community and social responsibility. Mead was part of this camp. And so was his good friend John Dewey. They were called progressives in the early 20th century. They were on the non-Marxist Left. (Yes, we once had a vital non-Marxist Left.) Sometimes we forget that this tradition preceded New Deal Liberalism.
What is happening is not just about Obama and his campaign. It is about words: their profusion, polyphony, and heartfeltness. People are writing to each other, again and again. And not just to friends (or one’s wife’s parents), but to strangers. Have Americans ever written so much in such a short space of time? Do all the words in all of the (paper) letters that Americans have written since the Declaration of Independence equal 1/10 of the words on the Web in the last five years? (No doubt, someone, somewhere, has made a calculation.) Commentaries abound from people who never had a voice in the mainstream media. They talk, argue, commiserate, plan, plot, comment, organize, and vent. Yes, a lot of junk, some hate, but also speaking and listening. Will this conversation resolve economic inequalities and racial divides? Of course not. As a matter of fact, we will have to work to make sure that new technologies don’t increase class divisions or centralize power in unimagined ways. Yet, all in all, we are engaged in an impressive conversation. It may not be the New England Town Hall, but for a country of 300 million, it’s an interesting way to help promote political communities and community.