"The Christian must discover in contemplation, and in the giving of his life, those symbolic actions which will ignite the people's faith to resist injustice with their whole lives, lives coming together as a united force of truth and thus releasing the liberating power of the God within them." - James Douglass, Contemplation and Resistance.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Smart Power: the Obama Way

There is a pattern in Obama's behavior. First, he makes a strong rhetorical flourish that apparently contains a ringing endorsement of liberal policy. However, on close examination, it is found to contain subtle hedging, a slight obscuring of the issue inserted to provide cover for later. This is usually followed by a lengthy phase in which right wing forces accuse him of "socialism" in various verbal disguises or openly. Rather than countering these forces with a strong and principled defense, he "reaches out" to the other side in a way that allows them to provide the default framing of the issue. It is here that he maneuvers most skillfully, but emphatically not for the liberal position he apparently endorsed at the beginning. Expect no "simple, pithy formulas" here.

The current frame of the debate is that the health insurance industry is an unchangeable fact of nature, which may need a tweak here and there, but is fundamentally inalterable. Once that's conceded, the public option has already been implicitly removed from consideration. Instead of choosing to fight against the right-wing onslaught, by, for instance, using those who staffed his campaign to pack town hall meetings, he uses the noise provided by the right to make an ascending series of concessions until he arrives at the place he intended to be in the first place. The basic intent is to make a tweak or two to the current system so that it can more efficiently extract profit from patients. Once the battle has been lost, he will make "the moral case for reform." In this way he covers the final retreat by using his liberal credentials.

But notice how he has built up his political credit with both the right and left. To the left, he provides rhetorical concessions. To the right he provides the substance of what they want but rebranded to make it more palatable. For instance, the proposed non-profit co-ops, which act as a flimsy nightgown to cover the real deed. Taxpayer money used to subsidize the health care plan will go straight towards health care company profits, while they provide the same shoddy care as before. Thereby, he maintains his true power base. His role is to provide marketable justifications for maintaining the current relationships of economic and political power. In that art, he is a master.


Brother Barnabus said...

I really appreciate your postings. Please keep them coming.

Brother Barnabus said...

I really enjoy your blog and have been exploring some of your past posts as well. The "Books in Focus' are very appreciated. I've just read Stringfellow's "An Ethic for Christians" (what a great discovery Stringfellow is!) and am now reading "The Nonviolent Cross" (also amazing). I'm also beginning to explore liberation theology. I would love to see more book recommendations.
BTW -- I was received into the Catholic Church in 2006 and started reading Dorothy Day about a year ago and am totally blown away. Working out the social implications of the conversion.

Boyd Collins said...

Your kind words are much appreciated, Neil. I too am a convert to Catholicism and was received into the Church in 1984. I have been reading a lot of liberation theology lately, both the "classic" theologians like Gutierrez and those who are part of the renewal of liberation theology now going on like Ivan Petrella and Jung Mo Sung. I'll be adding to the list tonight. I'd also like to welcome you to post your thoughts on these authors so that we can get some discussion going with other radical Christians.