Palin & Obama as Symbols of Change

Roxie mentioned this article by George Lakoff in her post, which I’ve excerpted below.  I’m going to give you a bit of it:

But the Palin nomination changes the game. The initial response has been to try to keep the focus on external realities, the “issues,” and differences on the issues. But the Palin nomination is not basically about external realities and what Democrats call “issues,” but about the symbolic mechanisms of the political mind — the worldviews, frames, metaphors, cultural narratives, and stereotypes. The Republicans can’t win on realities. Her job is to speak the language of conservatism, activate the conservative view of the world, and use the advantages that conservatives have in dominating political discourse.

I’m not sure that it’s the choice of Palin that’s changed the game.  I think Barack Obama himself changed the game.  This time last year, I’m pretty sure that most people would have agreed that Hillary Clinton was the heir apparent to the US Presidency and, for months into the nomination campaign, until the Iowa primary.  As an outsider, it was difficult to determine what policies differentiated the two candidates at the top.

After Iowa, where Obama proved he could carry the votes of white folks, the campaign shifted to a campaign of appearances and personality and the question became, who can best represent a message of hope and change?  Hillary Clinton wasn’t running on a platform that delibarately accencuated her gender and the way the election of a woman would represent something revolutionary.  Obama’s race quickly came to stand in for change itself and his inexperience in Washington was proof of his credibility as much as a deficit.  Little attention was paid to policy issues which, as between Obama and Clinton, were very similar, with Clinton coming out on the more “liberal” side, at least when it came to universal health care.  It really wasn’t until her concession speech that Clinton called attention to the symbolic meaning of her run for presidential office.

My thought at the moment is that if the majority of Americans can get “change” with the Republicans, they’re likely to go for it.  If Sarah Palin and even John McCain can capture people with that “maverick” meme, it may make for a comfortable result.  Since the American Revolution and a brief outburst that by no means involved the entire nation in the ’60s, Americans haven’t exactly impressed me with their “revolutionary” politics.  Particularly since 9/11, Americans seem much more interested in the safety and security of their own lives, families and country than in political issues and that security has been more a matter of “appearance” than reality.  So I’d say that the race between Obama and Clinton wasn’t about “external realities” either.

Barack Obama is a symbol in this representational election.  Now it will depend on whether he is a more compelling – and reassuring – symbol than Sarah Palin.  Listening to the news today, it seems like Palin is running against Obama rather than Biden.  That can only be good news for the Reprobates.

Obama & Inequality

The Nation has a special issue on economic inequality.  Here are some fascinating bits:


There are symbols, and there is substance–the way things look, and the way things are. But in between there is the way things might be: a sense of possibility that image might precede content or even provide space for it to emerge. A leap of faith. Some wishful thinking. Such is the tension in the American left’s response to Obama’s candidacy. There are some–let’s call them dreamers–who believe his nomination marks a paradigm shift in progressive politics in this country. And there are others–let’s call them materialists–who dismiss the excitement surrounding his nomination as little more than an emotional distraction from what really matters: war, foreclosures, civil liberties, the Middle East, global warming.

On these issues, point out the materialists, Obama is little more than a mainstream Democrat offering sops that are better than the Republicans’ but inadequate to the needs of working-class Americans and the world at large. If you look at what he does rather than how he looks, they continue, then there is no more reason to be excited about him than about John Kerry.

And here, Naomi Klein points out the connections of Obama’s economic advisors to Uncle Milty (Milton Friedman):

Barack Obama waited just three days after Hillary Clinton pulled out of the race to

Demonstrating that this is no mere spring fling, he has appointed 37-year-old Jason Furman to head his economic policy team. Furman is one of Wal-Mart’s most prominent defenders, anointing the company a “progressive success story.” On the campaign trail, Obama blasted Clinton for sitting on the Wal-Mart board and pledged, “I won’t shop there.” For Furman, however, it’s Wal-Mart’s critics who are the real threat: the “efforts to get Wal-Mart to raise its wages and benefits” are creating “collateral damage” that is “way too enormous and damaging to working people and the economy more broadly for me to sit by idly and sing ‘Kum-Ba-Ya’ in the interests of progressive harmony.”

Obama’s love of markets and his desire for “change” are not inherently incompatible. “The market has gotten out of balance,” he says, and it most certainly has. Many trace this profound imbalance back to the ideas of Milton Friedman, who launched a counterrevolution against the New Deal from his perch at the University of Chicago economics department. And here there are more problems, because Obama–who taught law at the University of Chicago for a decade–is thoroughly embedded in the mind-set known as the Chicago School.

And here’s Dedrick Muhammad on race and rising economic inequality:

The current presidential campaign has sparked a lot of conversation about race, but it has primarily been at the symbolic and interpersonal level. It has failed to probe the underlying substance of racial economic disparities and the slow rate of progress toward equity in wealth and wages. Too many Americans naïvely see the strong presidential candidacy of Illinois Senator Barack Obama as evidence of the resolution of the racial divide.

Since 1968, the year Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, the income gap between blacks and whites has narrowed by just three cents on the dollar. In 2005 the median per capita income in the United States stood at $16,629 for blacks and $28,946 for whites. At this slow rate of progress, we will not achieve income equality for 537 years. And if politicians continue to dismantle government checks on income and wealth concentration, even these modest gains may be reversed.