Thursday, August 4, 2011

Stained Glass Windows Can't Be Mirrors

The ongoing tragedy of "black history" as it's conventionally told is that it makes the past defining without acknowledging the past as fluid. A yesterday that's inseparable from the legacy of slavery, emancipation, reconstruction, Jim Crow and the civil rights movement is transformed into something lesser than a yesterday that consists of those events. Whole generations of black history, black achievement, black struggle, cultural evolution and even broader cultural progress stand in thrall to a past that serves to paint the present as nonexistent. When the past is zenith; when the past is rhetorically placed into a seat of unquestioned reverence; when its heroes are written as saints and its events are portrayed as the highlight of our time, where is the place for those that come after?

The frequently ignored underside of making that past defining is that it makes those who were and are unattached to that past "other". It makes the face that did exist more important than the face that does exist. It ostracizes the very people who are tasked with perfecting a progress that's over a century in the making, and it does so without even understanding the modern shape of their obstacles. Racial segregation has evolved into generational segregation, and its character is emotional and intellectual instead of physical.

The surviving luminaries of the civil rights movement have become a force that cherishes their memory, their achievements, their cultural contributions, their ideals and have used the power of a narrative they helped construct to form an enclave of black culture that's in stasis. Generational condescension is human and culturally universal; but never since the so-called "Greatest Generation" has it been backed by so appealing and consequential of a narrative. In most cases, a generation that demonstrates distaste or isolation from succeeding generations can be safely ignored once power inevitably passes to their children and the cultural landscape is formed through the imagination and experiences of fresher eyes. But these people have been anointed by history.

They marched from Selma to Montgomery. They have family members who were lynched by the KKK. They ate with Martin Luther King Jr. They took part in the bus boycotts. They remember when restaurants and bathrooms had "White's only" signs. They saw the I Have A Dream Speech live. They supported the Freedom Riders. They belonged to radicals fighting for racial equality. They were beaten by police, sprayed by hydrants, mauled by dogs and lawlessly confined to prisons. They went to the churches that were bombed. They organized around the NAACP at its most popular and relevant. They resisted, campaigned and struggled against a racist regime that was intent on making a permanent skin-decided caste. To contest them is to disrespect the enormity of what they sacrificed and to diminish the extent of what they accomplished for themselves and for those that came after. Or so many would like you to assume.

Ta-Nehisi Coates comes close - closer than many I've seen - to identifying (or attempting to identify) the rather innocuous problem he has with pondering those who've been sainted by merely belonging to the civil rights movement. I suggest reading his take in full:

A couple of reactions. First, one reason why, as a child, I wasn't much interested in the Civil Rights movement is because it was always presented as a kind of holier than thou moral play. Black history, at least in the schools, existed mainly as clunky "You Can Do It" inspirational rhetoric. I often joke that I know I'm in a hood school because there's a lot of inspirational sloganeering around "success," "achievement," and "winning." At my old middle school they actually organized us into "teams" named after heroes of black history--the Woodson team, the King team, the Garvey team, the Booker T team etc. I was on the Marshall Team. On the rafters of my hall there was a slogan that went something like, "It is by choice not chance, that we choose to enhance, the Marshall Team. We can achieve. We will achieve..." and so on.

The point was to make black history utilitarian, and applicable to our education. The strategy was not wrong, but with it came this sense that we walked in the path of infallible Gods. No one talked about, say, Garvey dismissing the NAACP as the "National Association for the Advancement of Certain People." Or Fannie Lou Hamer talking cracking some Uncle Toms head.

I don't even know that that sort of thing is appropriate for middle school kids, but my point is that the narrative of black super-morality never connected with me. The people just never really seemed human, so much as they seemed like rather divinely passive reactions to white racism. The Montgomery boycott is the perfect example. The way it was told to us, sheer magic and Christian spirit made the boycott work. Castigation and intimidation surely would have doomed it. Except any deep study of activist and activism always reveals moments like this, moments that cut against the narrative of victory through pure moral force.
Ta-Nehisi Coates presents a valuable perspective, and one that warrants more exploration and discussion than this subject ever has and likely ever will receive, but I have a separate contention. The 60's were the first time in American history where there was something resembling an institutional movement that conferred political and cultural power to black people. Through civil rights organizations and black churches particularly, a semi-unofficial apparatus was formed that shaped - and continues to shape - black perception. Through those efforts, a force of mobilization was created that continues to inspire the black population, black intellectual thought and that has some limited influence over what falls within the bounds of permissibility in black culture. Attempting to analyze the enormity of what that means and how that power expresses itself is a near impossible task as long as those involved are seen as "apart" from American culture. Instead, let's ask ourselves a different - but no less important - question: who benefits the most from that?

I find it difficult to mentally escape the sheer convenience of the narratives surrounding the civil rights movement. The mythology, the indomitable innocence and greatness of the people involved, the hushed reverence accorded to its participants, the unquestioned "good" of their tactics, the subtle "look at what we did for you" bribery undergirding its descriptions. Fallible, human and - at times - calculatingly cold figures like Martin Luther King and the NAACP leadership have been transformed into suns. And those who were closest to the light when the movement's power began to wane are now viewed as successors to an unparalleled era of greatness. They've marked their place as angels under a new series of Gods and the mere mortals that have followed don't dare to challenge them.

While the particulars of that narrative are important to grasp, the only way to truly understand it is to understand its utilitarian value. A history has been crafted that's portrayed the Perfect as victors against the Evil to the benefit of All. When your personal grounding is rooted in something surrounded by a hallowed glow, what decent person would or could question you when no one questions that interpretation of history? What decent person would say to them "You, who have suffered much are my equal and are just as capable as anyone of being wrong"? Many of these people are honorable and they've been through much - no one does or should deny that, ever - but the function of this narrative does little to instill pride in black culture or history, it does nothing to solidify the potential black cultural progression, nor does it create a relatable means of outlining black capacity for conventional achievement. In fact, it's portrayed in a light that makes their achievements seem impossible for anyone who decides to follow them. It largely postures that imitating "greatness" is the only means of attaining it. Think about that.

This is a history that makes those involved - and only those involved - completely untouchable on any rhetorical or practical level. And it does so by painting themselves as part of a bizarrely "impeccable" historical picture that makes it automatically immoral to challenge their intellectual positions and institutional authority.
Are we really supposed to believe that largely self-proclaimed "black leaders" had no part in or derive no benefit from shaping how a movement they were apart of is viewed? It would be disastrously naive to think so. And it would be short-sighted to ignore the consequences of having four decades - or, to put it differently, two entire generations - of black thought, black perspective and black expression narrowly confined to and dominated by a single generational demographic and their well-groomed intellectual successors.

A sect of people has selfishly molded an important segment of American history into a generational repository for 60's nostalgia and romanticism. They've wedded black history and black culture to a time and a context that no longer exists and in so doing, they've left no place for what black culture has become. They've decided to freeze the evolution of black thought in amber by saying that this is the only period blacks can and should take lessons on how to proceed from. The meaningless marches, the dry recitation of "Old Negro Spirituals", the empty speeches about long forgotten accomplishments that bear no relation to today's problems, the sad, sad worship of long-dead figures - all of it is an artifact of a cultural segment that's desperately attempting to continue the quasi-historical canon that's integral to their esteem. And all of it is intended to distract you from the problem with the "Look what we did!" framing: the "we" automatically excludes anyone and everyone that had no part in it.

The corny "you can do it", "you can succeed!", "you are winners!" bromides are simply revealing of a deeper generational dismissiveness. Inherent to these assumptions is the belief that those involved are "failing" now. That they have nothing that can be pointed to as an identifiable success, a worthy thought or an experience that warrants sharing and analyzing. Almost collectively, the latest generations of black culture have become viewed as problems to fix instead of genuine perspectives and experiences to incorporate. Their fundamental, culturally-guided differences as products of the civil rights movement has made them pariahs amongst those who claim to be "doing what they can".

Such myopic condescension can be attributed to many things, but the disconnected hands-off approach is simply the final expression of a culture that views at their youth as empty containers for their own dated views instead of new additions to an intellectual culture that's growing and evolving with America as a whole. They've asked its youngest to look at the eldest as the Perfect Example without understanding how impossible it is to see themselves in the face of mythic figures fighting against demons that have no modern parallel. The overstated morphing of gang members, rappers and sports players into "heroes" isn't a symbol of cultural depravity in black youth; it's a forcefully disconnected segment of black culture gravitating toward figures that actually seem like people as they recognize them. "Black leaders" have become so obsessed with deification that they've failed to question whether it has meaning to people who weren't involved or aren't close to those involved in the civil rights movement. They've even failed to question whether the struggles of the period have any relation to the systemic disadvantages that could be pointed to today.

Cultural stagnancy isn't just the result of "forgetting where you come from". It's just as often a byproduct of not knowing what you are and where you want to go. For ages, this conversation has been guided by people whose only vision for black people and black culture rests on addressing and invoking the spirit of issues that have long since been fought against and solved. In keeping with this shortcoming, there's been a cultural unwillingness to address and identify what modernity means for such a successful cultural movement, and unfortunately, this has come with an unwillingness to see what the civil rights movement didn't and couldn't address that participants of this generation could.

By thoughtlessly cleaving to an antiquated basis for institutional relevance, those most capable have foregone the primary requirement for an institution and a movement's longevity: modern applicability. That's something you can't offer by simply looking at a group of young people and dictating what's right and wrong for them. Experience does not bequeath omniscience. It's often a precursor to wisdom, yes, but it's also informed by a time that rarely resembles the time of your children or grandchildren. If you want to speak to the trials of the present, you require people who belong to the present. "Back in my day...", "pull your pants up!" and "go get a job!" speeches do little more than speak to the conceit of people who are arrogant enough to believe that "proper" is solely defined by their preferences. Lost in this patronizing display is the understanding that leadership isn't just motivational, it's transitional.

A generation you're not utilizing is a generation you've perceptually rendered nonexistent. The more successive generations are ignored and kept from the levers of influence, the more whole demographic periods become alien to the people who require them to comprehend the present. What would those oft-discussed civil rights figures say if they knew their supposedly divine shadow was being used as a boundary to limit the broadness of black political, cultural, institutional and generational expression? If they're indifferent, they were never worth praising to begin with. If they'd disagree, then why countenance this rather pernicious usage of their legacy?

The continuing sin of deification lies not only in its ability to transform the human into the unapproachably alien. It's that it is, in its own way, reductive. In the short sighted desire to make quick idols out of the first prominent black leaders, there was a failure to view them in both perspective and context. Their generation has presented those leaders to their children as glimmering towers instead of foundations that they were just as capable of adding to. The true tragedy isn't encapsulated by the loss of something black people had taken away, but by the loss of something its own cultural elements ensured that black people didn't really have the chance to receive.

Understanding The Democratic Party's Function

Since I've fulfilled my "did he just write that?" requirements for the month, let me directly outline what I didn't write and why I didn't write it. I didn't say that both parties are the same. I didn't say that dismantling the current system means failing to participate in and influence it. I didn't say that Obama's weaknesses as a president and as a product of a deformed system means that he shouldn't be voted for in 2012. I didn't say we should start primarying Obama with The Perfect Liberal Messiah. I didn't say that the Democrats' institutional conformity and aversion to open liberalism makes them Too-Conservative or unfit for governance. Mostly because what's not patently wrong with these remarks is contented with being incredibly stupid.

The recurring ideological failure of the Democratic party's more liberal and dejected elements is their spoiled incapacity to internalize two truths at once. It's not a Betrayal of Your Ideals to simultaneously think that the system is innately incapable of producing positive results and that Democrats are our only hope of short-term functionality while planning long term alterations. In fact, it's the only logical conclusion you can come to. There's a reason why government shutdowns and economically catastrophic defaults aren't threatened when Democrats have comfortable majorities: it's because Democrats are a mostly-responsible and competent party that suffers because it belongs to a system and a series of incentives that are resistant to systemic improvement at a time when we're suffering from systemic disadvantage. Its weakness is a precise function of its desire to work within the established framework and its good faith - but baseless - belief that the system can be an engine for good. Their defining flaw as a party is that they're wrong. That doesn't make the party itself bad or useless. It makes them mistaken.

They're an enemy of institutional alteration, but very little of what they've done suggests that they're an enemy of the people. The same can't in any way be said for the Republican party. And, indeed, it's the modern Republican party's unique position in American society - and in history - that makes systemic evolution and Democratic support (at least in the short term) necessary. The Republican party is a body of acid kept behind an eroding dam, and the Democratic party is the patch on one of the dam's cracks that assures the dam's structural stability. If the Democratic party goes, the dam goes and we burn alive. It's that simple.

To put it in less alarmist, but no less dire terms; America is ungovernable as long as the Republican party has anything that resembles power. Time and again, Republicans have shown a creepily pervasive apathy to the suffering their most strongly supported policies and tactics will elicit, and that craven indifference is consistently bolstered by a fanatic insulation from anything resembling fact.

A proper government relies on functionality first and foremost with a desire for progression and evolution where it's possible. A Republican government relies on the dismantling of functionality, particularly if the characteristics that maintain government are actively resistant to their policy objectives. For a normal government, the institutions that guide governmental stability are things to be respected, maintained and strengthened. For a normal government, the elements that make government - and, indeed, your country - work are not open to compromise. For Republicans, they're something to recklessly and destructively threaten if it means that you can get what you want more quickly. They've indicated as much themselves:
“What we have done, Larry, also is set a new template. In the future, any president, this one or another one, when they request us to raise the debt ceiling it will not be clean anymore. This is just the first step. This, we anticipate, will take us into 2013. Whoever the new president is, is probably going to be asking us to raise the debt ceiling again. Then we will go through the process again and see what we can continue to achieve in connection with these debt ceiling requests of presidents to get our financial house in order.”

Creating a circumstance where congress is forced to vote on whether or not to suddenly crash the American and global economy wasn't just an extraordinarily repugnant measure undertaken for destructively partisan ends. Not for Republicans. Neither was forming a basis for "compromise" that changed a vote on whether to crash the American economy to a vote on how fast you want to crash the economy. No. "This is just the first step". Under crippling economic conditions, the Republicans decided to threaten to make those conditions immeasurably worse in order to attain a result that weakens our ability to strengthen our standard of living and mitigate the suffering of real people. And "this is just the first step". I take them at their word. And so should you.

As long as the Republican party exists, questions of progress will always, always devolve into defensive fights for basic survival. And as long as we care about the worst-case consequences and they don't, these will continue to be fights where "victory" is defined as whatever does the least amount of long term damage. This isn't just disastrous for political morale, it's unsustainable on any long term scale. Eventually two of two things are going to happen: the Democratic party will be rendered incapable of fighting because "compromise" has brought them to something that almost precisely resembles the Republican's maximalist position. And it would mean we're in a governmental environment where there's no taxes, no efforts to address systemic inequality (cultural or economic), no regulation of food, drugs and water, a dismantling and attempted privitization of life-saving social services, the legal codification of old, white men telling women what can and can't be inside of their bodies, the complete disenfranchisement of the politically weak/poor from our political system and the codification of corporate control as more of an uncontestable absolute than an unfortunate but still-correctable trend.

Our notions of justice, egalitarianism, income distribution and civil liberties are logically sound, but it's dishonest to avoid internalizing their status as long term abstractions that can only be entertained because we're in positions of relative wealth and high living standards. While very many of us are poor, very few of us are starving. Our basic provisions are, by and large, somewhat available to us and our living expectations are a function of quality standards that were established long before we were born. The unstated consequence of Republican policy is the total redistribution of wealth away from us, the complete removal of those standards, and the completion of our inability to regain them once lost. Which means that "justice, egalitarianism, income distribution and civil liberties" become secondary to wanting to stop you and your family from dying within the next several days because of an inability to procure food. Arguing for systemic evolution is wholly contingent on our attention being focused on what we want in the long term instead of being governed by uncertainty about our ability to get what we need in the short term. The simple fact is that Republicans compromise that and Democrats don't.

You can disagree with every single item in the Democratic platform. You can - with total clarity - see their capture by corrosive special interests. You can see how their attachment to the system limits their ability to act as effective tools for progress. You can see how the incentives of government opens them to internalizing the necessity of America's Sacred Cows like military spending, "government belt tightening" and the security/secrecy state. You can find them excessively meek and rhetorically incapable of fighting against Republican offenses. It couldn't matter less. As long as the choice between the Republican party and the Democratic party is the choice between starving and not starving, the choice will always, always be easy. If self-interest is incapable of making you understand that, then interest in the well-being of your fellow citizens should suffice.

The simple truth is that there are no Nancy Pelosi's in the Republican party. A fact which would be less meaningful if you didn't understand that there can't be any Nancy Pelosi's in the Republican party. No one's asking you to give up your beliefs, compromise your principles, sell out to evil or whatever other hyperbolic trope that's in vogue at the more popular "OBAMA BETRAYED US" blogs. What is being asked of you is that you keep in mind that progress is only possible and prudent in the presence of governmental functionality, and only one party is capable of offering that.

The debt ceiling debate wasn't just illustrative of the Republican's complete disregard for our living conditions. It was illustrative of the fragility of our institutions. Solid institutions promise stability and have contingencies to assure that stability when it's threatened. Poor institutions have weaknesses that allow nihilists to subvert the will of the government - and democracy itself - to enact a "compromise" that wouldn't be achieved without threatening the system itself. The debt ceiling debate went out of its way to not only prove that Republicans refuse to govern well, but that our very system gives them the tools to threaten chaos and catastrophe.

The choice between Democrats and Republicans is not a choice between who you unquestioningly support and who you don't. It's a choice between the party that can ensure your stability and survival and the party that can't. Very few things are simple, but this is. An embrace of radicalism doesn't require an embrace of stupidity. The more we fail to appreciate the usefulness of the Democratic party, the more we make it that much more difficult to grow beyond needing it.

While there might be some satisfaction in playing the "let's get rid of Obama" and the "I can't support x Democrat in y election" game, there's no utility to it.
As of now, there are no ulterior options, and if there were, there's almost no possibility that they'll be successful or relevant beyond the emptiness of protest voting. Right now, the choice isn't between government "working well" and government just "working". The choice is between government working or government not working at all - and I can't overstate how selfish it is to pretend that making the latter easier benefits anything but the ego of political purists. We don't live in I Get What I Wantland. We won't for quite a while. So please. To all progressives, liberals, union activists and Democrats who think that feeling "demoralized" is a valid reason for making illogical decisions with your vote. Grow up.

Edit: Nancy Pelosi is the picture of governmental/congressional competence. She effectively gets her party in line, she clearly states her party's beliefs, the beliefs she states are usually closer to correct than other members of the Democratic party and she makes sure that government not only functions and works, but she left no doubt about government's stability while she had the power to do anything about it (and she's even integral to doing that now). When I say that there can be no Nancy Pelosi's in the Republican party, I mean that the attributes that make her exceptional would exile her from Republican politics. Nature of the beast and all that.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The Danger of Making Obama the Face of the Democratic Party and Liberal Activism

Much as I'd enjoy joining the internet in another cycle of liberal disappointment, I have to express my discontent at the quality of the liberal blogosphere's Obama criticism. He is not a Republican. He is not like Republicans. And the more this has to be constantly reasserted, the more liberals will continue to ineffectually flounder in search of legitimate complaints. Every "this is exactly what Obama wanted" argument, every "Obama is a weak president/negotiator" argument, every "Obama isn't a True Liberal" argument betrays how thoroughly liberal disappointment rests on idealistic projection. Instead of criticizing the president, the left has contented itself with whining about Obama's failure to live up to the ideals of their strawknight while ignoring unfavorable political realities (like Republican intransigence and the media embrace thereof). This is a fine tactic for e-venting and the inevitable circle-jerking it produces, but it fails as political expression and political analysis.

This isn't to say that the linked arguments don't have minimal grains of truth - they do. But the image they rely on and the narrative they contribute to couldn't be further away from explaining the discrepancy that makes Obama the right president for a misinformed and centrist electorate and the wrong president for an unflinchingly destructive opposition or the left. Ironically, no one can illustrate why better than Barack Obama himself:

It's quite possible - and indeed, likely - that President Obama is either a liberal or mostly-liberal. It's likely that if he sat down at a table with Paul Krugman, Digby and Ezra Klein, he would either agree with or be sympathetic to many of their arguments. Why, it's even likely that he could sit down and have a productive conversation about something like unions or education reform with self-proclaimed Real Leftist Freddie deBoer. What almost none of these parties seem to understand is that the specifics of the issues in question are completely secondary to Obama's priorities.

In his mind, he's not president to fulfill the "WE NEED TO GET THIS DONE NOW!" quota of the left. His responsibility is to the institutions that he feels makes discussion of those issues - and progress generally - possible. To put it in construction terms, Obama is a janitor most of the time a repairman some of the time and almost never an architect. No effort to understand or persuasively critique Obama can happen until these details are internalized. The main flaw with from-the-left efforts to comprehend Obama is that while they're looking at it on an issue-by-issue and case-by-case basis, Obama feels he has an obligation to something greater than his - or even his party's - political preferences. He feels he an obligation to the office itself. In his eyes, his goal isn't to use the office or government to enact what he feels is societally superior (though he will try when he can, and consider it a bonus when he succeeds). His goal begins and ends with institutional functionality.

When he wanted healthcare reform, he made sure that congress was nigh exclusively responsible for conceptualizing, writing and voting for it. When he made his moves in support of gay marriage and against DADT, he went through the pentagon, which went through Congress in the form of "recommendations", and then waited for the process to prepare itself to vote on it. When he stopped enforcing DOMA, he waited until he had cover from elements of the judicial branch to do it. When he faced the possibility of a government shutdown, he took the strongest option he could that would not upset the established status quo. An approach he again repeated with the recent debt ceiling "deal". Even his consistent desire for compromise is best viewed through the lens of institutional attachment.

The way he works and the way he wants congress to work (i.e through compromise) is precisely how the government functioned before the last two decades. His loyalty isn't to liberals or conservatives, it isn't to Democrats or Republicans, it isn't even to what's "best" or "worst" for America's standard of living. Obama's loyalty is to a lost vision of the American system, and nearly every decision he's made (from avoiding his 14th Amendment options to constantly meeting with Republicans as though they're somehow good-faith negotiators) is his conformity to a role and to a functional norm that the American government feels it's been forced to collectively discard. This is the scope of Obama's vision, this is the basis for the "transformative" power he so admires in other presidents, this is the justification for every compromise, every posture, every "cave" he's made. As long as institutional functionality is maintained, in Obama's mind, he didn't cave at all. He stopped the system from irreparably breaking, which he feels is the extent of his purpose.

This isn't just an unsurprising summary of his philosophy. It's completely consistent with his political views going as far back as at least The Audacity of Hope. His belief that government can and should work is inseparably tied to his belief that government works best as it is/was. This perspective is a lot of things. A lot. But it's breathtakingly short sighted and blind to view Obama's stubborn insistence on it as naive and illegitimate or to view his distinctly conservative impulses as inherently illiberal.

Obama is a product of, an admirer of and an embodiment of the American political system and no attempt to critique Obama will have lasting value until and unless they can engage his philosophy on the terms he's outlined for himself and with a full understanding of what, exactly, they're attacking when they attack Obama. This is much, much more important than Liberal Issue Du Jour and any attempt to provide insight is going to have to confront the conclusion that by criticizing Obama, you're criticizing a comprehensive and historically informed vision of American government. You're not only saying that his conception of government can't work: you're saying it shouldn't. This isn't a moral or qualitative judgment, it's just a fact. I repeat: disagreeing with Obama's philosophy is saying that the way American government has worked for the past 200 years is not how America can or should work in the future.

The left's primary failing arises from from similarly sentimental attachment to the status quo that's tempered (in ways that Obama's isn't)
by an empirically informed disloyalty to it. That means that the left sees the factual justifications for political change, sees what's wrong with society, sees where we've erred as an electorate and how the system rewards and encourages those errors, but wishes to and thinks that it can fix these problems in the same way every single democratic movement in America has fixed the problems of their time. To put it another way, the left's problems with America are systemic. They're fixtures of our government, they're codified by law, and they're perpetuated by politicians that we elect. And despite that, the left is reluctant to take its feelings to their logical conclusion. They're willing to say that the system is broken, but they're unwilling to treat the system like it's broken.

I've long complained about the stupidity of organizing around Obama in 2008. I thought it was incomparably foolish and short-sighted to create a movement around a candidate instead of influencing a candidate with a movement. But that short-sightedness and liberal susceptibility to it is significantly motivated by that sentiment. In Obama, the left confused a maintainer for a radical. They looked at Obama and projected onto him what they wanted: systemic change without systemic destruction. In doing so, however, the left revealed how little it understands itself and its motivations. Just think about it.

Through the Senate, redistricting and Republican thievery in 2000 and 2004 and journalistic internalization of Republican arguments, the system has proven incapable of being democratic. Through campaign contributions, Supreme Court removal of campaign financing laws, and the overwhelmingly white/male/rich demographic/income representation of its government, the system is highly distorted to disproportionately represent the wealthy. Through "looking forward and not backward" rhetoric, the system forgives wrongdoing from politicians while cruelly punishing the poorest and weakest of its citizens with inane laws and extraordinarily long prison sentences. Through its failure to meaningfully police Wall Street or even set up a means of addressing climate change, the system has proven to be fundamentally averse to regulation. Through the continuation of systemic and cultural inequality the system still manages to be both racist and sexist. Through our ability to call for and wage war on countries that have done nothing to us without even requiring the pretense of an internal debate, the system institutionalizes war and makes carrying it out as easy and consequence-free as possible. Through the loss of privacy protections, civil liberties protections, and even effective safeguards against police brutality, the system spits on civil liberties while giving the most power to the people best positioned to abuse it. Through a society that values making money more than it values what's done to make it, the system doesn't just ignore income inequality, it creates it. Through its complete removal from nearly all national and political conversation, the system has shown complete indifference to unemployment and underemployment. The system birthed the circumstances that led to every decision the left has disliked in the past 20 years.

When the left saw Obama, they saw a way to address their complaints without giving the system up. They saw a way to say that their goals, their ideals and their principles were in-keeping with the best traditions of American progress. They saw the system as benign and abused instead of resistant and antagonistic. For them, Obama didn't just represent a dream of calm, liberal resurgence; he represented a vision of America that didn't have to destroy itself to become its ideal embodiment of self. What the left didn't - and still doesn't - want to do is take those principles to their logical conclusion.

Here's a hint: that conclusion isn't the sudden appearance of a candidate and a congress sometime in the distant future that somehow fixes everything we dislike - after the poor have died and after tens or hundreds of millions have suffered from our government's ailments and limitations. It isn't the slow, gradual, grassroots attempt to galvanize the electorate while the media pretends it isn't happening if there's even a hint success. If we wanted to be completely honest, completely open, and utterly clear about what the stakes are and what the left wants, the left has to admit that the logical conclusion posits that the system itself causes and represents the things the left dislikes. That what we see and despise are not systemic anomalies, but are wholly inevitable - and possibly even intended - results of a system that is actively compliant in America's most toxic ailments. Obama-hatred is simply a proxy. A symptom of a considerably deeper problem the left has with American governance. In fact, one could say that the unique passion behind Obama hatred is because many of the left have reached this conclusion without formulating it and internalizing it.

If Obama is a perfect representative of the American political system - and I think that anyone who pays attention to politics must conclude that he is - then contempt for Obama, Obama's methods, Obama's policies and Obama's approach is tantamount to contempt for the system, contempt for the methods the system requires for functionality and contempt for what's in the realm of systemic possibility for policy. When the left made Obama the face of liberalism, they weren't aware that all they were doing was wearing a mask. The failure to introspectively reach this conclusion themselves has made a liberalism that's bitterly fractured, completely unfocused and disastrously unwilling to understand the scope of their critiques and apply methods that appreciate the proportion of that scope. "Part of America" isn't wrong. America is wrong. And changing America as an entity is the only thing that could make it right. This is not in any way inconsistent with what liberals do or need to think. It's not wrong to think that. It's the key to the left's intellectual liberation.

We are radicals tied to a malignant system that institutionally diminishes the power of radicals - even when they're right. And the left should say that until the word is robbed of its marginalizing potential. We. Are. Radicals. And there's nothing wrong with that. We belong to a system where a black president can talk about the Emancipation Proclamation's retaining of slaves to a group of white people and collectively laugh at the prospect of anyone criticizing the compromise. How is it illegitimate to be its opposition?

The left faces a crisis of identity. And whether it becomes the true form of itself is entirely incumbent on whether it premises its opposition to Obama on the proper grounds. Ultimately, Obama is one man. Even in constitutional terms, his power is remarkably limited. Institutions don't merely exist to limit the power of men. They exist to shape what's permissible to say and do in a modern society. As long as the institution insists it is right, there's no institutional pretext to treat it as though it's innately flawed. We don't need new candidates because as long as this system exists, it's impossible for them to do anything worthwhile. We need new political environments for the next generation of candidates to function in.

None of this is to say that we should discard the concept of a democracy/republic or discard the spirit of our founders and dismiss the extent of what America has inadvertently done right. This post merely exists to highlight the fact that everything the left finds wrong is as attached to the system as my arm is attached to me. You can patch it up, euphemize it and rearrange it, but as long as the system exists you can't fix it.

If we're to be active visionaries and not unwitting victims of power struggles we're barely able to participate in, we must approach our arguments with total clarity. We need to know and bravely explore what we want. And we need to reach the final, painful realization that what we want is completely incompatible with the America that exists in front of us. We need to understand that Obama's failures are not Obama's: they're ours. And they'll continue to be as long as America continues to be seen as something to defend instead of something to dismantle. Obama is not, never was and never can be the face of liberalism. He's merely the face of all that liberalism can do under our current institutional framework. If that's what you want, support him. If that's what you don't want, oppose him. But understand what you're doing. Understand why. Understand its enormity. Own it.