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Belmont Club

The Opacity Of Hope

July 13th, 2011 - 10:50 pm

Angelo de Codevilla’s review of six accounts of Barack Obama’s life at the Claremont Review of Books ends in the conclusion that Obama was always something other than what he portrayed himself to be. What that is, in Codevilla’s summary, is this:

In sum, Barack Obama grew intertwined with the narrow, self-referential left side of the American Left. They helped one another believe they had come up the hard way, as underprivileged but brilliant, square-jawed tribunes of the common man. Their common problem, however, is that their agendas are antagonistic to people unlike themselves, and that they cannot keep from showing their contempt for the common folk in whose name they would ride to power.

Since the days of Karl Marx’s First International a century and a half ago, this very human opposition between socialist theory (egalitarianism) and socialist reality (oligarchic oppression) has bedeviled the Left. Marx laid the problem bare in his “Critique of the Gotha Program” (1875). Lenin dealt with it honestly and brutally in What Is to Be Done? (1902)—the foundational document of Communism. By acknowledging that the Communist Party is not the common people’s representative, but rather its “vanguard,” Leninists were comfortable with a party responsible only to itself and to history, a party that openly demanded deference from the humans whose habits it forcibly reshaped. Communism’s undeniable horrors forced the New Left to disassociate itself from What Is to Be Done? and once again to pretend that its socialism was neither oligarchic nor coercive, that somehow it was on the side of ordinary folks. This is a much tougher sell in the 21st century than it was in the 19th. Contemporary socialists try to explain away the common man’s suspicion of them as harbingers of oligarchy, corruption, and coercion by resorting to jargon (e.g., “false consciousness” and “socio-economic anxiety”). But that is ever less convincing. This is why the movement argues so strenuously with itself about whether and how much it should dissimulate its agenda.

Which is one reason why it plays the “race card” and seizes on recruits like Barack Obama: because many black Americans’ ancestors were slaves, must not any black American be, ipso facto, unquestionably, a member and true representative of the downtrodden? And if a skeptic should argue that this or that black man is really a representative of old, white, nasty socialism, of the Corporate State, of upscale parasites who prey on working people, it is easy enough to re-focus the argument on the skeptic’s “racism.” If blacks inclined to play this role did not exist, the Socialist movement would have every incentive to invent them. And in a sense it tries to invent them, through the “black studies” programs that now divert so many young Americans from useful lives into partisan service.

Obama is as close as one could imagine to a made-to-order front man for contemporary, upscale, shy-about-itself, nouveau socialism. From his earliest age, he shaped his dreams about himself to act out a character wholly fictitious, namely a black American from a humble background who rose up out of brilliance and merit, and who yearns to draw all of America’s low-born (plus the rest of mankind) up through the same paths. But he is none of that. Equally imaginary is his vaunted understanding of and sympathy for foreign cultures. A typical multiculturalist, Obama speaks no language other than a peculiar version of English. His native language, loves, and hates are common to some of the most leftist elements of the current American ruling class.

That class knows about America only that it must be changed, and looks at the vast majority of Americans the way carpenters look at warped pieces of lumber. Barack Obama is neither more nor less than its product and agent.

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