The Cult of Hope

It appears Barack Obama has won the Iowa caucus (38%), followed by Edwards (30%) and Clinton (29%). This is bad news for Clinton, who would have preferred to lose to Edwards and beaten Obama. I am quite surprised by the margin with which Obama has won, and despite being very very pleased that Clinton finished third, I am a little worried.

Obama’s message of “hope” has resonated among independents, and even women (Obama beat Hillary among women overall). The Democrats in Iowa voted for a message and philosophy. Obama’s is one of reconciliation, hope, and optimism. To this I say “Bah Humbug.”

I don’t want a candidate who “hopes” that change will occur. Many “independents” seem to have made a last minute decision to vote for Obama in hopes that he will “bring the country together” and transcend “old politics.” Obama’s Reaganesque tone of American pride and idealism uncomfortably smacks of a Reaganism that leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Obama believes that hope can defeat all—or at least win elections. As America, we can come together, bring all parties to the table, and solve the nation’s problems.

Right, just about the time that the wolves lie down with the sheep and Lee Scott has an overnight epiphany and sees the value of unions. It is indeed true that America faces many ominous issues: economic inequality, climate change, world hunger, emergent diseases, and US legitimacy in a global context.

This is precisely why I want the most cynical bastard in the race. Let me explain: If my arm gets chopped off, I could sit in a room with some pain relievers and Miracle Grow and “hope” it grows back. Chances are that’s not going to happen. I don’t want a candidate to react to the aforementioned issues by saying “With a little hard work and hope, we can bring in every party and come to a consensus.” I want a candidate that will say, “Holy shit! We better do something about this or we’re toast!”

For example, take climate change. The Bush Administration’s policy has been one of “hope.” We have hoped that humans don’t contribute, and that it is not as big of a deal as the scientists say. We should bring in every party, include Exxon-Mobil and the think tank they fund to stall the issue long enough to prevent action.

This is Obama’s attitude problem. He speaks of optimism, but I’d rather have someone with a pessimistic view of climate change. In the latter case, the president would be more compelled to action. Maybe the president would stop pretending that there isn’t a real economic crisis looming, or that health insurance companies have the best interests of their clients at heart. Obama can hope that health insurance companies will accept everyone and provide adequate care without a mandate, but seeing as they have a profit-motive in denying care, that is no more than a crazy delusion.

Take the economy. Sure, one can be optimistic that the US’s GDP is growing and the stock market seems to be getting along. One can focus on those statistics and hope that the wealth trickles down onto the little guy (like forgetting that excluding pension funds, the bottom 80% of the US owns 7.9% of stock, whereas the top 1% owns 40 %.). The economy seems to be doing good for some parties (that is, the percentage of the population with a weekend home in the Hamptons and a house resident named Jeeves), but what about the 57 million Americans (with households including 1 in 4 children) who do not receive welfare, but are an injury or layoff away from falling below the poverty line? How about the 35 million who went hungry? How about the 200 that will freeze to death in 2008 because they have no shelter?

Let us not forget what rose-colored glasses did in our excursion in the Middle East. Let us not forget that someone can hope so much that problems go away that one forgets about them. It is one thing to have hoped that people had evacuation plans in New Orleans, and another to have buses on the ground ready to get them the hell out if the worst happened. How about hoping that the wealthy developers will include lower income housing to generously cut the value of the other real estate they are building in New Orleans?

Obama is willing to save a seat at the table for the large corporate interests and fellow Republicans for the issues he will hope to address. Edwards recognizes that if it were that simple, it would have been done by now. Let’s not forget how many times I have heard Bush claim that he listened to the other side.

I want somebody who recognizes that organizations have different interests. In some cases, that means one will have to fight to get what is better for the other 80% of us. Edwards spent his life as a lawyer fighting corporations who would not pay victims of their crimes. He knows they won’t be constructive. I don’t want a candidate that will tell me that he will sit down with other Republicans; I want a candidate that will tell me which group of Republicans he can work with on which issues to split the party to his advantage.

This is why I refuse to drink the Kool Aid that solutions are as simple as hope and optimism. Barack Obama speaks in terms of broad feelings of hope and uniting the country, but he has yet to step up with specific policy proposals. This is why I want the crazy son of a bitch ready to box it out for the other 80%; this is why I want John Edwards to get the nomination.

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