Voyou Désœuvré

When I first heard Obama’s “uniter, not a divider” schtick from the 2004 Democratic convention, I thought he was just an idiot, warming up the crowds with a bit of feel-good, content-free nonsense. But I don’t think so anymore. Obama’s nonsense is an extremely calculated, supremely mendacious work of rhetoric. Look at how he chose to “honor” Martin Luther King yesterday:

King inspired with words not of anger, but of an urgency that still speaks to us today:

“Unity is the great need of the hour” is what King said. Unity is how we shall overcome.

What Dr. King understood is that if just one person chose to walk instead of ride the bus, those walls of oppression would not be moved. But maybe if a few more walked, the foundation might start to shake. If a few more women were willing to do what Rosa Parks had done, maybe the cracks would start to show. If teenagers took freedom rides from North to South, maybe a few bricks would come loose. Maybe if white folks marched because they had come to understand that their freedom too was at stake in the impending battle, the wall would begin to sway. And if enough Americans were awakened to the injustice; if they joined together, North and South, rich and poor, Christian and Jew, then perhaps that wall would come tumbling down, and justice would flow like water, and righteousness like a mighty stream.

Unity is the great need of the hour – the great need of this hour. Not because it sounds pleasant or because it makes us feel good, but because it’s the only way we can overcome the essential deficit that exists in this country.

I’m not talking about a budget deficit. I’m not talking about a trade deficit. I’m not talking about a deficit of good ideas or new plans.

I’m talking about a moral deficit. I’m talking about an empathy deficit. I’m taking about an inability to recognize ourselves in one another; to understand that we are our brother’s keeper; we are our sister’s keeper; that, in the words of Dr. King, we are all tied together in a single garment of destiny.

But of course, true unity cannot be so easily won. It starts with a change in attitudes – a broadening of our minds, and a broadening of our hearts.

It’s not easy to stand in somebody else’s shoes. It’s not easy to see past our differences. We’ve all encountered this in our own lives. But what makes it even more difficult is that we have a politics in this country that seeks to drive us apart – that puts up walls between us.

We are told that those who differ from us on a few things are different from us on all things; that our problems are the fault of those who don’t think like us or look like us or come from where we do. The welfare queen is taking our tax money. The immigrant is taking our jobs. The believer condemns the non-believer as immoral, and the non-believer chides the believer as intolerant.

So let us say that on this day of all days, each of us carries with us the task of changing our hearts and minds. The division, the stereotypes, the scape-goating, the ease with which we blame our plight on others – all of this distracts us from the common challenges we face – war and poverty; injustice and inequality. We can no longer afford to build ourselves up by tearing someone else down. We can no longer afford to traffic in lies or fear or hate. It is the poison that we must purge from our politics; the wall that we must tear down before the hour grows too late.

Because if Dr. King could love his jailor; if he could call on the faithful who once sat where you do to forgive those who set dogs and fire hoses upon them, then surely we can look past what divides us in our time, and bind up our wounds, and erase the empathy deficit that exists in our hearts.

Look at the extraordinary care with which Obama guides us here, and the fundamental duplicity of his message. He moves from King’s message of unity as solidarity in the face of oppression, to an idea of unity as empathy with the oppressors. He redescribes King’s ideology of struggle, in which unity depends on knowing who your enemy is, as an ideology of empathy, in which there are no antagonisms to be overcome, just differences to be resolved through understanding. A rather horrible article in the New Republic describes Obama as practicing “anti-identity politics,” but this gets things the wrong way round: Obama is the fulfillment of identity politics, in that his idea of unity is only possible on the basis of an ideology that substitutes identity (distinguishing characteristics that must be respected) for politics (a difference that forms the basis for struggle).

The New Republic article assimilates this ideology of unity to a certain pragmatic ability to get things done (as does Obama himself), because “Real transformations require a degree of consensus.” What Obama’s ideology systematically, and I assume intentionally, obscures, is that this consensus involves a fundamental dissensus, an identification of those who oppose us and how we are to achieve our goals in spite of this opposition. What’s depressing is not that Obama might well become President (I don’t suppose he’d be that much worse than Clinton), but what the enthusiasm for his lying, reactionary politics says about contemporary American political culture.

Title edited; evidently, I hate Obama so much, I can’t even spell his name right.


  1. Rich, 7:28 am, January 21, 2008

    Thank You – I agree completely.

    It is amazing how quickly a visionarys message gets perverted.
    Many in their own time do not understand their message, and within a generation or 2 it gets completely perverted.
    It is truly astounding how 99% of those celebrating MLK today think he was just about civil right for “black folks”. They know nothing of his broader message of social justice (for ALL), Class struggle and Economic equality.
    I’ve often thought that were it not for the improvements in communication (printed material, radio, video), MLK would eventually become a God and a religion … just like Jesus (and equally wrongly).

  2. echeneida, 11:11 am, January 21, 2008

    You really don’t think Obama would be (slightly) better than Clinton? Apart from the arguments about whether differences between the candidates are significant blah blah, it sounds like you’re suggesting that where such differences exist it’s Hillary who looks better, which is totally weird to me

  3. echeneida, 11:35 am, January 21, 2008

    (I say “blah blah” because I assume — maybe too generously? — that Democrats being awful is not a point that’s escaped most readers of your blog, and because comparing candidates is still of some interest for those of us in red states with nothing better scheduled for election day)

  4. voyou, 10:55 am, January 22, 2008

    Well, maybe I’m just inured to the Clintons’ particular brand of right-moving centrism, and so Obama looks worse by comparison. With advisers like these, Obama looks to be on the right wing of the third way; there’s also the positive assessment of Regan, some of what he has said about unions, and the generally individualist tone of his rhetoric. On specific policy proposals its hard to say. I think his healthcare proposals are slightly worse than Clinton’s; obviously, they both suck, but if you’re going to insist on keeping the US’s quaint, 19th century, private insurance system, I think mandatory insurance at least gestures towards some kind of vague collectivism that might be transformed into a proper health system in the future.

    And I agree with you about there being some interest in comparing candidates; if I was completely committed to the ultraleft view of elections as a bourgeois sideshow, I doubt I would put in the effort required to actually hate any of them.

  5. shag carpet bomb, 6:47 pm, January 22, 2008

    And I agree with you about there being some interest in comparing candidates; if I was completely committed to the ultraleft view of elections as a bourgeois sideshow, I doubt I would put in the effort required to actually hate any of them.

    ha. good one. Since I like to be internally riven, I think it’s perfectly OK to hold both views — that it’s OK to treat it as a sideshow *and* as an event where sometimes the nickel’s worth of difference is worth fighting for.

    Aside from which, isn’t it a good thing to stand on the sidelines (bad metaphor) and maybe push these arguments forward, out of their well-worn grooves? I go to the mainstream blogs and all I read, over and over, is the same thing: war to the death, with each side seeing their candidate as the best, ignoring the crap they say or rationalizing it in ways that just make me want to *spit*.

    The recent blow up over the commentary on Reagan for instance. And this was partly Clinton’s calculated doing, no doubt. She zeroed in on the “party of ideas” comment and avoided poking a stick at the rhetoric that was TRULY disgusting. “Excesses of the 60s”? A government that “grew and grew and grew” (I’m doing this from memory, so forgive… and correct!) and had no “accountability”. “Entrepreneurialism” needed to be brought back to counter it. Oh, and was it “dynamism” — because lord knows, the excesses of the 60s brought stasis.

    Ugh. Just Ugh.

    I could pound on Clinton, too, but I’ve been bitching about her since forever. She’s the third way triangulator par excellence!

  6. shag carpet bomb, 6:49 pm, January 22, 2008

    i haven’t looked into it much, but the lefty economist I read also think that mandatory health care plans are the pits. I guess, writing that, I’d better go read them more carefully. I just thought I’d share that since I knew a few people who adamantly opposed and struggled against the Mass plan.

  7. Wear Clean Draws » Election 2008 Obama Politics Social movements humor third way triangulating b.s. » shoots. scores!, 7:05 pm, January 22, 2008

    […] this chicka shoots and scores with this analysis of Obama’s rhetoric: Look at the extraordinary care with which Obama guides us here, and the fundamental duplicity of […]

  8. voyou, 10:39 pm, January 22, 2008

    There’s definitely something blackly comic about calling a mandatory health insurance scheme “universal health care,” as Clinton does. The way Obama phrased his opposition to mandatory insurance on last night’s CNN debate, though, definitely seemed of a piece with his horror of anything that looks like collectivism or solidarity.

  9. Rachel, 3:57 pm, January 30, 2008

    Excellent analysis!

  10. Tom, 11:57 am, February 13, 2008

    Thank you so much. I can’t stand Obama, and I wish more people will call his BS and stop buying his hot air. He will be terrible for America.

  11. ShellyT, 2:17 am, February 17, 2008

    Thanks, this is brilliant. I hope people start catching on to this popular emptiness soon before it’s too late. Obama has no chance against the GOP attack machine. There’s nothing to him and he’s the most manipulative speaker I’ve ever seen.

  12. voyou, 2:02 pm, February 17, 2008

    I don’t know about this “Obama has no substance” idea that’s going around. Obama has more or less as much substance as Clinton; indeed, he has pretty much the same substance, that is, neoliberalism with some fluffy edges.

  13. Anti-Obama the american terrorist, 1:35 am, February 18, 2008

    I feel that no matter what if a Left wing psychopath gets into office the fateof our country is the same as romes fate was …..a major fall will happen because both persons will be the worst possible candidates I only am a mccain supporter because he is the lesser of three evils and also because Mitt Romney ,who as much as he seems like a bright eyed cult member would have been the best republican candidate, is standing behind him ad if he can support him I can as well. The only real reason why Obama, whom I would compare to micheal dukakis(sp?), is that there is so much white guilt.

  14. SANDRA, 2:58 pm, May 18, 2008


  15. voyou, 3:20 pm, May 18, 2008


  16. voyou, 8:08 pm, May 18, 2008

    Evidently I’m not the only person to make that connection.

  17. nona buisness, 11:11 pm, August 14, 2008

    I ahte ALL teh politican’s this election , Mmcain, seems a typical republican (aka he is self centered and will keep linign his and other republican’s pockets with iraq oil) , Obama is a closet racist. to be honest i don’t see where one is any beter than the other , so , I will jsut eliminate myself from teh voting sytem this election. please spare me “then you don’t ahve teh right to b–ch speech” please i think me choosing to not vote will give me even more rights to b–tch , for teh exact reason , im not one of the many people responsible for voting in one of these wolves in sheeps clothing , there for i have every right as an american to complain about these two apes we are sattled with this election, Hilary had my vote, not obama and not mccain but teh system says i get to to choose only one or the otehr … well i choose not to vote , and yes i will complain becuase the person i would ahve voted for wasnt allowed to run any more , just under the grounds they don’t allow a party two canadites. pff so again spare me any stupid lectures on ” you don’t have a right to complain” cr-p!

  18. shhhh, 9:35 pm, October 27, 2008

    i hate obama too but not for the same reason. i have dug around and i have reason to belive that obama is a terrorist raised to become president and bring terrior to our lives not only that theres even word about him i belive in the bible about a decitfull leader and well i want to get the word out because people are so stupid they dont see whats really behind his eyes from the get go i felt there was somthing he was hidding and i found it. about.com genealogy serch obama. thats not the only proof but thats all im willing to give out because of well you never know who will try and shut me up. i know i sound crazy but think what you will. any how go john mcain. and tipp for getting what we all want dont think obama cant be president but foucus on macain president because well theres alot to it just think macain president

  19. voyou, 11:15 pm, October 27, 2008

    In other words, shhhh, you’re an unbelievable fucking idiot.

  20. Buck Farack, 12:05 pm, November 5, 2008


  21. O B A M A N O W « American Stranger, 1:26 am, November 6, 2008

    […] on, I stumbled on an old post by voyou, with whom I usually disagree (and whose smugness generally makes me want to barf), which […]

  22. Aust1900, 5:19 pm, November 7, 2008

    What the hell has happened to the Right in America? Reagan would be turning in his grave.
    This whole “socialsim” crap is nonsense. Obamas economics is way right of the British tories for petes sake.
    Unless the Right wakes up, stops attacking people instead of creating ideas, we will never win back the electorate!
    Can we start getting creative, positive and showing people why the true Republican brand is great.

  23. shonnique, 8:10 am, September 14, 2009

    i think this is BS i mean really tho clintion doesnt know what is going on in america these days. obama does, so why would we want another bush digging americas hole deeper. lets get the fukk out of the hole and out of the economical mess that we are in?!
    plus why is every one tryin to bring a smart inteligant brotha down…
    obviously he made it into office so he must be good?
    dont you think?

  24. shonnique, 8:13 am, September 14, 2009

    1. clintion doesnt know what is going on in america.
    2. clintion could give a damn about the poor people in seattle or the BLACK people on food stamps.
    3. why is everyone trying to bring a brotha down?
    4. obama obviously is smart enough to make it into office…

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