People are failing to appreciate the system that oppresses them and continue to believe—wrongly—that a politician such as Barak Obama is the solution. Obama is being called a "unifier," and people are swallowing this shit up. Obama smiles at us, and talks to us, and makes us feel all good inside, but we know nothing about his policies. And this is very intentional. This helps maintain the wide gap that exists between public opinion and public policy. Along with keeping the public out of the policy-making arena and leaving that business to elected elites, the American political system degenerates any possibility of making meaningful elections possible by engaging the public in a tense battle of voting for personalities and forgetting about the issues. So how do we narrow the gap and make the political system respond to our demands? Do we play the game and risk expending valuable energy and money on politicians or strike out in our own direction of local organization that can lead to powerful direct action? Do we need to take more personal risks in the spirit of civil rights activists from the 60s or turn of the century workers fighting for the right to organize, or do we sit back and wait for Obama, Clinton and Tester to “deliver us from evil”?
Just like Bill Clinton before him, people see this charming personality in Obama and hear his rhetoric of unifying a divided country, but the true divide exists not between conservatives and liberals, but between public policy and public opinion. Policies in this country are generally more conservative than the American public. A prime example is that Americans want universal—even socialized—health care by a wide margin (70%), but we can't get our politicians to even recognize this demand. When we hear politicians talk of “mandates” one is in danger of dying from laughter unless they say they have the mandate of the American people to institute universal health care.
Too many assumptions are being made that a woman (Hilary Clinton), an African-American (Barak Obama), or a Carhartt-wearing farmer (Jon Tester) are going to level the playing field, based deceptively on their roles as minorities or as members of the working class. However, we never hear their proposals, their policies, etc. We only hear about how they are going to unify a divided country, but they can’t put the slightest dent in unifying the rest of their fellow policy makers in D.C. with the majority of opinions held by Americans. Most Americans believe we shouldn’t be fighting a war in Iraq, that we should be respecting the Kyoto Protocol; paying teacher’s more money; protecting the border with Canada (not Mexico); engaging antagonistic countries through diplomacy not war; respecting the international rule of law; punishing crooked politicians the way they punish other criminals; investing in alternative energy in a meaningful way; reforming campaign finance laws; narrowing the gap between CEO and worker pay; etc.
An equivalent to an “activist” doesn’t exist on the Republican side of affairs; they are just called “the base.” That which would be considered the concerns of right-wing activists (were they to exist) are simply taken up by the Republican Party since they are in line with the American political spectrum that is shaped by the wealthy, property owning class. However, non-profit and activist causes from the left exist because of gaps in public policy and a system that fails to provide for its society. Therefore, activists must dig deeply to find politicians (even from the supposed “left”) to take up their causes, and since these causes from the left generally fall outside the accepted political spectrum a champion from within the political elite is hard to find. This reality results in social justice causes dividing their energy and money between their cause and a politician that they hope will risk mentioning it on the floor of congress. On the other hand, a right-winger simply gives their money to their cause through one easy-payment to the Republican Party.
Americans need to look at the system and critically assess their blind faith in the American political structure to bring about meaningful change. Included in this assessment should be the role modern marketing and money plays in shaping elections and political decisions. A deeper and more honest analysis would surely reveal the evidence and reason to demonstrate how social justice and the American economic and political system are irreconcilable. Depending on the coddling of our American founding fathers and “heroic” politicians has only served to perpetuate on-going violence and injustice. Making a sound decision to organize oneself locally in order to give a voice with power to public opinion is just a start. Consistent and creative organization that forgoes institutional dependency and seeks to maximize pressure on the system would serve two purposes: 1) reveal the illusion that American elections equals democracy, 2) that direct action and participatory democracy are the most effective means for meaningful social change.
Granted the question of protecting oneself, society, and the world from vile politicians such as Bush, McCain, et. al. by “playing the game” and helping to elect center-right democrats is a valid one. What do we risk if we fail to participate in elections, their campaigns, etc. while working on our genuine concerns? While working for social revolution how much energy and money do we give to helping elect more moderate conservatives such as Obama and Clinton? Giving/wasting donations on Tester, Obama and Clinton in order to toss out the neo-cons means donating to the system in lieu of donating to organizations that are seeking to change the system. How can we ensure that “playing the game” doesn’t become tantamount to perpetuating it? If you look at the places in the world with meaningful democracies such as