From Joe Bageant, an analysis of Democratic primary campaign “politics” by an anonymous political consultant:
The underlying social change that led to the Obama victory is the unprecedented extent to which the narrative of popular consumer culture, and the media that drives it, has become the dominant influence on how Americans think, formulate their ideas and understand the world around them.
The most important result of this process has been the steady and consistent depoliticization of American society, to an extent that we can make the case that we are living at the dawn of the post political age.
The two primary features of the post political age are a politics completely drained of all its contents and ability or willingness to be used as an agent of change in social or economic policy, and its full integrations into the world of American popular, consumer and entertainment culture. To such an extent that there exists today a seamless web between our political, economic, media and consumer cultures wherein the modes and values of one are completely integrated and compatible with the others.
It should not come as a surprise that the dominant ideas and mores of popular culture have become the dominant ideas of our society. Popular culture is the breaker of customs, prejudice, tradition and relevant historical knowledge.
It is a result of this dynamic that the two consistent winners in American politics over the last 30 years have been the cultural left and the economic right. Despite the massive organizing drive of the religious right over the past three decades, they are further away from reversing the cultural liberalization of American society than when they started. On others side of the ledger, organized labor outside of a few urban pockets and industries is no longer a relevant force in American life. The ever greater electoral activism of both of these groups is generally misunderstood as a show of strength; in fact, it is the exact opposite. It is the desperate fight of the losing side of the American economic, cultural and political scene.
In essence the same forces that make it possible for the rapid acceptance of ideas such as gay marriage are the same force which can create a society that will accept massive social inequalities.
In the post political world the candidates who can best thrive in it have tremendous appeal to the economic elites; these candidates thrive in a system that does not dwell on issues and will never ask the question, “who has power and why”, but simultaneously creates a social and media environment of stupefying distractions while destroying traditional social mores (under-credited as a source of much social solidarity). This can only benefit their continued rule of that society.
In such a setting our political choices like our consumer choices, regardless of the product, are primarily about what makes us more fulfilled and feel better about ourselves.
Senator Obama’s campaign understood much better the impact of these changes on our electoral system than any of his opponents’ campaigns. In the post political world, the campaign that is less political and less issue-based but is savvier in using new modes of communication technology will be the campaign to win the greatest market share of the electorate. The candidate in this case, Obama, was not a political entity but, in essence a product, an ornament that made his supporters feel better about themselves.
One of the most telling facts about the Obama’s constituency outside of African Americans (whose support needs no explanation) is that it is a coalition of people who need or demand the least amount of social benefit from our government. They are the under politicized younger voters and upper middle class whites. The two groups, coincidently, are the ones most influenced by trends in consumer popular culture and have the greatest of ease using the latest technologies.
In commercial advertising it is the poor commercial that lists the seventeen functions of the product being marketed. The best commercials are based on image associations entirely unrelated to the functions of the actual product. In the post political world, when the same principle is applied to the political realm, it makes complete sense how Barack Obama no longer is a black man with a strange name but the iPod to Hillary Clinton’s cell phone. In the world of toys it is the one that stands out the most is the most marketable.
The reality of the post political period is best highlighted in the failed themes and ideas of Barack Obama’s two primary opponents. The Clinton campaign was based on pushing two concurrent ideas: the inevitability factor of her candidacy and the other was her supposed experience. The only thing inevitable in the post political period is ceaseless change, which she could hardly offer while running against the candidate of “Change”. How valuable of an asset can experience be in a culture where knowledge, wisdom and history are frowned upon?
Thanks for this one Joe. Read the rest here
The beginnings of some thoughts in response: “identity politics” has been brilliantly co-opted by capitalism in the interests of continuing socio-economic inequality. Certain civil rights can be granted without much inconvenience to capital and, in fact, the extension of certain rights provides an expanded consumer base.
While rights-seeking groups such as women and visible minorities apparenty “proved” to “the left” that progressive politics could not succeed without accounting for their interests, it would now appear clear that the specific, historical, material inequalities experienced by such groups cannot be ameliorated without a mass, grassroots movement of people making common cause against systemic, institutional inequalities. flowing from corporate, global capitalism.