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Obama’s Hellfires

I’ve really struggled to understand what makes Obama tick. And I’m not the only one. Garry Trudeau, the creator of the Doonesbury cartoon strip typically characterises his political figures as emblematic objects. Bill Clinton was a waffle, George W Bush, a disintegrating Roman centurion’s helmet. Arnold Schwarzenegger was a huge groping hand, Newt Gingrich a round bomb with a fizzing fuse. Trudeau has yet to find a suitable image for Obama, and says he has struggled to do so.

Steve Bell, the Guardian’s long-time cartoonist, who satirised George W Bush as a depraved chimpanzee and Tony Blair as Bush’s demented terrier, also seems to have a lot of trouble getting a handle on Obama. Bell says he got David Cameron down as a jellyfish straightaway at the Tories campaign launch, a depiction that proved to be rather prophetic. But apart from drawing a recognisable Obama with extra large ears, his caricatures of Obama lack Bell’s usual savage insight.

In Obama’s first months of office I saw him as a cautious moderate probably overwhelmed by the multiple incessant and contradictory demands of actually being President of the United States. He didn’t seem to be anywhere as deranged as Bush Jr, as obviously duplicitous as Clinton, as mendacious as Bush Sr or as completely off the planet as Reagan.

Of course the Tea Party weirdoes didn’t make getting an objective take on Obama any easier. Their depiction of Obama as a socialist Muslim secretly plotting terror and the downfall of the American way of life, or as a Black Hitler seeking to kill white babies via the demonic vehicle of Obamacare, were almost reasons for liking him. And it seemed clear to anyone outside the US that the extraordinary attacks on Obama’s character and family were motivated almost entirely by the fact that he is Black. If anyone was in doubt that racism is still the fuel for American social relations, Rick Santorum’s contemptuous dismissal of Obama as a ‘government nig––’ set things straight. The rest of us might be slowly attempting to inch ourselves forward, but the US is heading back to 1860 at high speed.

But I always had the sense with Obama that he’s not really there. He’s not exactly robotic, but if you wanted someone to play a character in a sci-fi film who is an android, and who is an android being convincingly human, but who everyone knows is still an android, you’d have to pick Obama. He’d be an android with the personality setting switched to ‘Charm’. He could sink a basket from 50 metres with 100 per cent consistency, sing bits of Al Green, read Yann Martel to the kids, and probably repair the dilithium crystal engines while everyone is asleep. He’d also do a neat line in assassination as well. Need a baddie ruthlessly taken out? Android Obama’s your man. He’s got a flotilla of drones in the hold.

And that’s where things really went weird, and we found ourselves in a profoundly Loony Tunes moment. Obama does what?? He personally manages a kill list? Sorry, you mean he actually personally authorises the assassination of other people in other countries? Even if they’re American citizens? With no evidence but suspicion? When you say ‘Obama’, are you sure you don’t actually mean ‘Putin’? Oh.

Generally those in positions of sovereign power prefer to allow others to sign off on the dirty work, so that when the shit hits the fan, they can claim that they never knew or were never told and so on. Sometimes the boss doesn’t even have to give instructions. Anna Politkovskaya was murdered on Vladimir Putin’s birthday, perhaps an FSB thug’s conception of a boss-pleasing gift.

In my worst nightmares about Bush Jnr or Ronald Reagan I never imagined them ticking off a list of their own citizens they personally wanted dead, authorising a missile strike, then checking that whoever was intended to be dead was dead. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not arguing that either of them had clean hands, but I’ve gotten used to my political loonies being easy to spot: John Howard – ruthless paranoid, Donald Rumsfeld – probably a Terminator, etc. But if you’d said to me four years ago that Barack Obama would be personally sending Hellfire missiles to blow up wedding parties in Pakistan, I’d have thought you’d joined the Tea Party.

I’m still undecided as to why it is so difficult to get a handle on who Obama is. But either way, his ruthlessness is terribly apparent. The White House has positioned Obama’s personal kill list as an act of moral responsibility. That is, if the US is going to assassinate terrorists then the President should have the integrity to give the order himself and not leave it to other people. This elevation of the act of extra-judicial murder to the status of a deeply moral act is incredibly disturbing. Just as John Howard re-defined lying through the concept of the ‘non-core promise’, so Barack Obama has anointed political power elites with moral understandings not possessed by ordinary mortals.

And if you accept a morality shorn of political context – the morality of superheroes – Obama’s position might make sense. It implicitly argues that terrorists are just bad people – stateless supervillains – and dropping a Hellfire on them is something like taking out Dr Doom. Except the people Obama is killing are just ‘suspected’ of being terrorists and sometimes not suspected of anything at all. Increasingly, people are being targeted because they engage in behaviour that looks suspicious. From the air.

I keep coming back to Obama’s comment on the death of bin Laden: that bin Laden would ‘no longer walk the face of this earth.’ If George W Bush claimed to answer only to God, Obama has become God: a vengeful deity striking evildoers from the heavens. Obama has eyes in the firmament that survey the entire globe and strike like Jehovah.

Of course the most obvious aspect of Obama’s assassination campaign is that it is a terrorist act. One can only imagine the response if US citizens were annihilated by missile strike in Iowa by another sovereign country claiming that those killed were suspected of plotting terrorism. When Obama was first elected I was worried that he wouldn’t make it through his first term, that he’d be topped by some fringe Tea-Party type with a high-powered rifle. Instead it’s Obama carrying out the assassinations.

Obama’s criminal use of drones brings to mind Alain Badiou’s idea of the Event, something that does not make sense within conditional paradigms, an irruption which must have the rules of conditional normality rewritten to accommodate it. To put it another way, getting your head around an Event like Obama’s use of Hellfires is like suddenly being told that Jaws was a really a Disney movie.

Badiou’s philosophical lineage goes right back through the work of Jacques Lacan; indeed, he and Chantal Mouffe, Slavoj Žižek and Ernesto Laclau and others, have been loosely grouped under the heading of the ‘Lacanian Left’, an invention yet to really exist but which is worth discussing nonetheless. This is a Left that foregrounds a radicalising of democracy, not the traditional utopian politics of revolutionary imagination, of which it is highly sceptical. Sometimes when we advocate revolution we can just be acting out our paranoia, our desire for a universal, actionable meaning.

The Left has often been plagued by paranoid orthodoxies. Perhaps that is why the Left often seems to factionalise so easily: it never seems to get its fill of orthodoxies. Everyone is convinced they are right. Replacing topographic dominant power structures with an isomorphic version built by the Left isn’t a viable option. We are past the stage of finding our paranoid rage useful.

Obama’s Hellfires openly raining down on his own citizens and on children have finally pushed the Left into the shadow of the Real, a shadow that has been troubling the Left for a long time, disturbing both its dreams and its waking hours. The Left has fucked up even worse than we imagined, and now every day we will be confronted with the unimaginable: the consequences of that failure.

Lacan was a strong supporter of the Events of May 1968. In fact his popularity with the students, many of whom he met with and whom he gave his written support to, led to the attempted cancelling of his university seminars. But Lacan also made clear his analysis of the Events to the students. ‘I won’t mince my words,’ he said. ‘What you want is another Master!’

In his excellent book on his idea of the Lacanian left, Yannis Stavrakakis argues, pace Freud and Lacan, that the Left’s inability to carry out the mourning of the traumatic failure of utopian politics has seen it fatally bogged down in a field of never-ending melancholia. Indeed this is where the jouissance of the Left is now often located, in its despair that nothing has gone to plan. Meanwhile the hegemonic fantasies of post-democratic neo-fascist political elites continue to eat away at the pillars of democratic possibility. Stavrakakis points out that Marx’s idea that elected governments are basically fronts for power elites themselves in bed with business interests was once a radical concept. Now, as the current economic debacle in Europe has shown, everyone accepts that this is the way things are done, and indeed should be done.

It seems to me that as far as the Left is concerned the revelation that Obama is personally unleashing missiles on civilians is of a very different order than, say, the story of the death squads of Latin America or the torture chambers at Abu Ghraib, and we need to recognise it as such. There is something being concealed here even as it is unveiled in plain sight. Some new beast is awakening, and while it may be clothed in the lineaments of the old, it is evidence of an unspeakable fracture in the administration and conceptualisation of justice.

This is not just another expression of the usual US fantasy of the extra-political act, of a complete and perfectly executed power. Obama’s use of Hellfires ruthlessly confronts the Left with its traumatic sense of loss over the failure of its historical endeavours. Millions of people protested against the Iraq War, but it went ahead just the same. Why has the Left been unable to turn mass dissent into a coherent program of change?

Knowledge of what is unjust is not enough to shift our practices of acquiescence. We have profound libidinal, toxic investments in remaining subordinate. The affective domain of hypercapitalism has saturated the way we relate and think and fantasise. As Lacan well knew it is our jouissance, our pleasurable investment in the conditions of our own subjection, that makes justice so difficult to achieve.

Maybe that is why we stay in weird relationships, continue to buy products made with great suffering, ignore the daily cruelties around us – because we have given little examination to the politics of our enjoyment. Leaving the strange politics of romance, childhood and adulthood aside for another time, merely looking at the objects that fill our daily lives makes this apparent. Though we know iPhones are made under cruel conditions by a totalitarian regime, we still buy them. The question is not, where is the green, ethically produced phone, but why we cannot give up the iPhone in the first place (and why we remain fused to practices, events and relationships we know are destructive).

One of the refreshing things about Occupy, perhaps it’s most radical aspect, is that it has no utopian agenda but asks a lot of questions, both directly and in its methods of organisation. Occupy was also an Event in Badiou’s sense. Occupy is the expression of a different politics of the Left, a demos that is local and particular. Occupy has disturbed elites, and we have seen representations of it almost immediately in Hollywood films such as The Dark Knight Rises and The Avengers.

The sustainability of any present or future mass movement is going to depend entirely on the countless small radical structures created by ordinary people in our seemingly ordinary lives. Without a loose network of a million tiny groups, each radicalising a demos that questions its own conditions and rewrites the economics of enjoyment, a mass movement is impossible. And these groups and relationships that will unknit the vast, ostensibly unstoppable enterprise of hypercapitalist destruction are things we can create ourselves.

A few days ago I was trying to recall something I had read at Overland that summed this up, then I remembered that I had written it myself:

In essence though, to dissent we have to know what we have assented to in the first place, where the Real lies. We have to know what we couldn’t possibly give up. And how we conceptualise that assent and what it looks like to us, in the morning or the evening, wherever you are, is where the vocabulary of dissent starts.

The use of Hellfire missiles by the President of the United States as tools of extra-judicial execution of his own citizens is a development that marks the proclamation of a new order of political action, redefinitions of justice and ‘citizenship’. And one shouldn’t ignore the fact that Hellfires don’t fall off trees, but are manufactured by a transnational corporation, Lockheed Martin, one of the top ten financial donors to political parties in the US. The meld between neoliberal economics and its conception of the practice of democracy is complete.

Anyway, for what it’s worth, I reckon Obama will win in November. I don’t know much about the byzantine structures of US electoral processes, but it seems to me that Romney has to be a standard GOP conservative, a raving Tea Party nutjob and a card-carrying Mormon all at once. And that’s probably an unplayable hand. But the real reason why I think Obama will win is because The Avengers went super-gangbusters at the box office.

As you may recall: Nick Fury (Samuel L Jackson as Barack Obama with one eye) is the head of SHIELD (i.e. America): a bunch of cool young people in a flying aircraft carrier (Obama staffers on Capitol Hill). Fury is accountable only to the mysterious ‘Council’, (Congress) a bunch of cruel white people (Republicans) on TV screens who all seem to be sitting in badly lit rooms on black and white TV (they live in the Fifties). Nick Fury wants to give the world ‘limitless energy’ and save the world from warmongering space-monkeys (Asian terrorists) so he recruits The Avengers, a bunch of oddballs who have had their idealism sadly tarnished (Democrat supporters). The Avengers include Iron Man (green capitalist), Thor (good aristocrat), The Black Widow (feminist, i.e. sexy but troubled), Captain America (old but sincere US imperialism) and the Hulk (Occupier who just wants to trash the system and go and help sick people in India).

But unbeknownst to them, The Avengers are really being manipulated by Nick Fury into saving the world. But he has to do it, because he lives in solitary moral grandeur and can see that sometimes you have to be unspeakably violent to be cool and moral. He wishes he didn’t have to do it, but there it is. That’s Nick Fury’s burden and why he is really even more virtuous and heroic than The Avengers.

So that’s why Obama will win in November. Because he is so ruthlessly cool, only Nick Fury can play him in The Avengers. And because Mitt Romney is so uncool that only a dorky dork from Dorktown could play him. But there is no movie dorky enough for him, so he’ll never be played by anybody. Not even one of the space-monkey-things. You heard it here first.

Stephen Wright lives in Nimbin on a land-sharing community. He has won some things (2009 Eureka Street Prize, 2013 Nature Conservancy Prize) and been shortlisted for others (2012 Creative NonFiction Prize, 2014 Calibre Prize). He is writer-in-residence at Blue Knob community cafe, Nimbin.

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  1. I think your sense of what Obama stands for (or doesn’t stand for) is pretty spot on.

    David Bromwich had an excellent piece recently in the LRB which dealt with many of the same issues. He wrote that:

    “Obama decided when young to offset the anxieties of mixed identity by seeing himself as a lucky convergence of opposite forces and tendencies: ‘Caught without a class, a structure, or tradition to support me, in a sense the choice to take a different path is made for me… . The only way to assuage my feelings of isolation is to absorb all the traditions [and all the] classes; make them mine, me theirs.’ So the stranger and outsider becomes in America the axial personality through whom all the cross-currents of national character must flow. It is a telling fantasy. As president of the United States, Obama has felt that his role is to reflect the presence of all points of view and to reject none. He finally becomes a fighter, or rather, talks in the tones of a fighter, when he can subject the most nebulous of foes to a stern rebuke. He is against selfishness, against ‘what is not best in us’ and so on.”

    The link to his piece is here: http://www.lrb.co.uk/v34/n13/david-bromwich/diary

    Thanks

    • Thanks for the Bromwich link Peter. I missed this, which is just as well. If I’d read it first I probably wouldn’t have written mine. He’s right on the money I think. It’s curious that Obama seems to have so much trouble (I think) knowing who he is, as it’s weirdly also a charge of his loonier critics that his identity is a fake, ie; not even born in the US.
      The paranoid often nail the truth of something in a mad, charged way, as with 9/11 conspiracy theorists (yes Bush was responsible – but because he was told very clearly months prior that the attack was going to happen.)
      There are a lot of telling moments in Bromwich’s analysis, and I was struck by many things but notably Obama saying that ‘Words are dangerous’ when as Bromwich says he probably meant words are powerful. One of the things about Obama’s language is how anodyne it is, but how ruthless and frightening his actions are.
      I haven’t read Dreams of My Father, but am tempted to now. And I wonder about the role of Michelle in this, in manifesting an identity. She appears to be as lively as her husband is boring. It can be the case though I think, in relationships that the dead get together with the alive.

      • It’s interesting that you raise Michelle. Her recent, widely praised, convention speech was striking me because she said her admiration for her husband was based on the very things that Bromwich (and others) have criticised, in particular his lack of core ideology and his willingness to take “the best idea, wherever it comes from” (usually Summers, Geithner and co with disastrous consequences). It struck me as honest a portrayal. She appears also to believe that he is, and can be, everything to everyone and that that is the great virtue of his presidency.

        I think people have the idea that Michelle is somehow more progressive than her husband. I’ve seen nothing to support that view.

        • I think Michelle’s likeableness is what gets her kudos. Plus she got an organic garden going at the White House and so on and so forth.
          But as I said before, it’s not unusual for a lively person to enter a relationship with an unsure and emotionally dead person. It works for both of them; the lively person is always trying to wake up the dead person, and the dead person gets to stay dead in the presence of liveliness. They can both go on forever like this.
          I wouldn’t normally speculate on spousal relationships of politicians, but Michelle made a big deal of it during her convention speech, so I started to wonder what was going on, given as her husband is dropping missiles on his own citizens as the whim takes him.

  2. That Jaws = Disney clip is brilliant! A man, A shark, and A Song…

    Everyone on the left is convinced they are right. Nice Lacanian slip, Stephen!…

    And The White House Guide to The Avengers a Masterstroke.

    Stephen you have really gone gang-busters in this blog post. Okay, that might seem glib given the subject mater, but somehow it seems you are really hitting on something.

    “We have to know what we couldn’t possibly give up.” Thanks fo that.

  3. I just had to find a way to fit that Disney Jaws clip in.

    ” Everyone on the left is convinced they are right.”

    Surely someone has made that joke before…Perhaps not in the Lacanian slip way, but surely….

    • It’s the great thing about slips of tongue, pen, or forgettings and misrememberings, they speak volumes to the speaker.

    • Well, some people are doing a lot of something cos it looks like its getting Facebook-liked and so on. I have no idea if I have a typical readership at all. I didn’t even know I had any readership til I got some Google stats from OL recently

  4. I just meant: the people that tend to comment on your posts aren’t seeming to comment at all. I’m wondering if it is because what you propose is ripe for the too-hard basket. Where does anyone that associates with ‘being left’ go after this?

  5. From the word go, Glen Ford and the other good folk over at Black Agenda Report have had the measure of the Michelle and Barack Obama as act of “national camouflage”, as a couple of cynical and high priced black lawyers in the service of capital:

    Frankly, who wants to be the one to point out, in the middle of the festivities, that Michelle Obama was just a Chicago Daley machine hack lawyer who was rewarded with a quarter million dollar a year job of neutralizing community complaints against the omnivorous University of Chicago Hospitals? She resigned from her $50,000 seat on the board of directors of Tree-House Foods, a major Wal-Mart supplier, early in her husband’s presidential campaign. But, once in the White House, the First Lady quickly returned to flaking for Wal-Mart, praising the anti-union “death star” behemoth’s inner city groceries offensive as part of her White House healthy foods booster duties.

    She also serves on the board of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, the corporate foreign policy outfit to which her husband dutifully reported, each year, in his pucker-up to the presidency. The Obamas are a global capital-loving couple, two cynical lawyers on hire to the wealthiest and the ghastliest. They are no nicer or nastier than the Romneys and the Ryans, although the man of the house bombs babies and keeps a kill list. Yet, former “green jobs” czar Van Jones, a convention night chatterer on CNN who was fired by Obama for no good reason, chokes up when he speaks of the Black family that fronts for America – a huge act of national camouflage.

    Full article here.

    • Interesting indeed. Thanks for the link. There’s definitely some more writing and comment to be made about the presentation of the Obamas as an ideal Black family. Whether ‘cynicism’ is a word that adequately describes them I’m not so sure. But it’s the weird splitting of them as caring, concerned pulled-up-by-bootstraps types with the devastating policies of the Obama administration that freaks me out.
      I think the Obamas may well be just very able to carry several disjointed and incompatible realities all at once; Obamacare and Drone attacks.

  6. Obamacare is in no way incompatible with the rest of Obama’s pro-corporate agenda; it does not provide universal health cover, which is what the insurance industry has always fought tooth and nail against; rather it forces the uninsured to buy health insurance from private health insurers and mandates tax penalties for those who fail to do so. This is akin to solving the homelessness problem through a law that requires homeless people to rent from wealthy real estate “providers” (ie landlords and real estate speculators) and financially penalises the homeless who do not have the means so rent.

    As Frank Smecker has noted in this article in Counterpunch, there is no substantial difference between Obama’s plan and Romney’s Massachusetts plan, [and] the origins of this [Obamacare] act are rooted in the right-wing Heritage Foundation.

    Given its antecedents in the Heritage foundation and the health plan instituted by Mitt Romney while he was Governor of Massachusetts, it is little wonder that veteran activists for universal health care such as Clark Newhall see Obamacare as another corporate bailout.

    That a pro-corporate boondoggle like Obamacare is so frequently raised as some sort of victory for the public, is further testament to the effectiveness with which this venal corporate mercenary and unscrupulous social climber (Obama) has camouflaged himself.

  7. I think I meant that in Obama’s world he can combine what he sees as liberal policies addressing inequity and hardline Commander-in-chief stuff. They are as you say embedded in the same values, and not separated at all. But I wouldn’t reduce it to cynicism. I think there’s something much more duplicitous going on.

  8. Is the corporate bailout called Obromneycare supposed to be one such example of a liberal policy that addresses inequality? By all measures, social inequality has continued to increase under the Obama administration. While his administration has given trillions of dollars in corporate bailouts to Wall St, and social inequality returns to levels not seen since the 1920s, Obama has been cutting benefits to the unemployed and waging war on public education and teacher’s unions. This is neo-liberalism, or Reaganomics/Thatcherism as it was called in the day.

    I doubt that there remains today any sizeable constituency for liberalism the US ruling class. The LBJ era “war on poverty” was long ago replaced by the “war on drugs” and “war on crime”; this reflected a decision to use police repression and the prison industrial complex, rather than social reforms (however tepid) to contain the domestic social tensions and increased inequality caused by the relative decline of US capitalism. The war on drugs in particular has been used to repress the most militantly progressive section of the US working class — the African American workers — and to roll back the political gains of the civil rights era. As the new Jim Crow, the prison industrial complex is so successful that on third of African American men today are under the supervision of the criminal justice system and a young African American has a higher chance of going to prison than graduating from college.

    The criminal wars which Obama engages in overseas cannot be separated in any way from the economic violence and repression which the US increasingly state directs towards the US domestic population. Both are a function of the economic decay of US capitalism and its increasing reliance on bubbles, swindles, naked criminality and, when these fail, public bailouts, to maintain its economic position. Politically Obama’s function is solely to provide a human face behind which the US ruling class and state attempts to maintain its global dominance through rapacious wars against populations at home and overseas.

    Obama will this year probably raise in the order of one billion USD to finance his election campaign. The corporate criminals and swine who “donate” campaign money to Obama do so knowing full well that they will be receive their pound of flesh (from the public) in return.

  9. Think you’re right to refer to The Lacanian Left. Stavrakakis and the writers he talks about should facilitate you and others to articulate the nature of this new beast and to develop a new politics of action in response without the almost useless rhetorical cliches of economic historiography.

    • Wel, yes, Lacanian thought could be very useful here. I aklways find it strange, and frustrating, that the Lit Left is fond of quoting Zizek, but he’s almost always decontextualised. Zizek is a commenter on Lacan, so it makes no sense to use Zizek to backstop one’s arguments unless one has an interest in Lacan too.
      Left political thought doesn’t work for me without a pscyho-geography such as that provided by Lacan.

  10. I found your point about the left not doing pleasure very well quite interesting. I have read too many tedious long articles using words like jouissance and talking about Rabelais in tones that suggest that the author wouldn’t recognise a joke if it inserted itself like a rancid banana in his USB drive. Pleasure and humour seem to be seen as inferior to earnestness and po-faced analysis.

    I just don’t understand this feral seriousness.

    • I sometimes if the anger of the Left gets in the way of so many things, of both radical thought and action. I’ve been thinking a bit about it lately and thinking there have to better alternatives to paranoid anger. Something that still allows you to make jokes.

      • I on the other hand, sometimes wonder if the smug complacency and wilful ignorance so often observed in the middle class liberal milieu gets in the way of both radical thought and action.

        I’ve been thinking (would you believe it?) a bit about it lately and thinking (there I go again) there really do have to better alternatives to stale old sneering liberalism — especially the sort which, from its vantage point, has the temerity to ask a sans culotte from the Global South (like this one) to regard late capitalism as some kind of matter to crack jokes about.

        • Point taken. I’ve just finished a post on the states of mind that I see as obstructive to the Left’s advocacy of radical action, which I have to send off to the OL Ed. But I think we can use humour as a kind of guerrila activity without sneering. I may not be the one with the talent or capacity to do this, but I think it may be an avenue that others with more insight could profitably explore,

          • Tastes differ of course, but I have always thought that the comedian George Carlin was a good example of the use of humour to the effect you describe. Here he (link) is talking about our obsession with “stuff“. Also (link) a segment by him on “elections which I had posted above — though arguably the elections segment includes quite a bit of both tastelessness and sneering.

        • Bugger. I wrote a lengthy reply and it vanished into OL space somewhere.
          Again.
          Carlin sometimes tips over into misanthropy doesn’t he? He critiques the Right very adroitly, and then criticising the liberal Left seems to destabilise him a bit, so everyone becomes corrupt.
          There are comedians of the Left, who are in one sense writers, and there are writers of the Left (Hunter S Thompson, Terry Eagleton) who use humour. There are comedians such as Jon Stewart who use humour to comment on politics, but when they get active (organising rallies in Washington) are neither funny or politically helpful. Terry Eagleton uses humour so relentlessly (see ‘On Evil’) that he starts to sound like a drunken uncle at a wedding who won’t shut up. He’s like the flip-side of Jon Stewart; a political writer who thinks he can do stand-up.
          I wonder about a humour that maybe has a steely-lightheartedness to it, perhaps as cutting as Thompson could be in ‘Kingdom of Fear’ but maybe more engaged or something.
          Locally one could think of Jeff Sparrow’s ‘Killing’ which has a nice line in self-deprecating humour, but is very engaged, sometimes puzzled but never hectoring.
          BTW, re Carlin’s take on ‘Stuff’ – Coincidentally early this month as I was flying out of Melbourne and looking down on the huge spread of suburbs thought of each house as a labyrinthine heap of largely useless stuff and feeling uncharacteristically good about myself realised that if I had to move house, as long as I left all my books behind I’d just have a bag of clothes. I’m not completely a write-off yet.

  11. Why is it so incredibly difficult to understand that Obama is an African American man of middle class background who attended Harvard”?The left, whatever they are should resist from reading Lecan worry less about hellfire missles and drones and worry more about sustaining and building social democracy up again. Why should Obama be any more left than someone white? The underlying tenor the article, of he is black, he is difficult to pin down so he must be an phycically absent corporatist who is nothing but a mere glove puppet for corporates and uses ‘illegal’ drones.
    Clearly many of the socalled ‘left’ seem to not have many relationships with educated African Americans.
    And, at the end of the day, the allies bombed Germany for a reason in WWII and the allies will need to use drones and hellfire missles again for a reason now.

    • Hi
      I’m not really clear what you’re saying about Obama here. It seems to me that his presidency is qualitatively different from his predecessors.
      I can’t see how the US administration’s use of drones and Hellfires can be compared to the Allied bombing campaign of WW2, and especially if that same campaign is considered to be unproblematic.
      Obama is killing his own citizens in countries in which the US is not at war. It’s a radically different idea of both justice and war and it’s very very dangerous.

      • I agree with you that Carlin veers into misanthropy at times. However, I tend to blame the politically bleak times that he lived in, and particularly the notable collapse of popular and progressive movements after the 1970s, for the growth of this strain in his thinking.

        To the list of distasteful innovations of the Obama administration we should also add the National Defence Authorization Act which allows the government to disappear citizens into the labyrinth of the military prison system. The Act is currently the subject of a legal challenge by Chris Hedges, Noam Chomsky and others (link and link).

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