Campaign Reflections 2008

I did something which no self-respecting radical, philosophizer, or independent mind should ever do: I volunteered my services for a presidential campaign beginning late last year.

This all started on a regularly slow December evening, ending over a delightful rouge from the affordable Petite Récolte series from “Nicolas.” When you live as I do, with little to no money to your name, you know how to fine treasures at 3 Euros a bottle. For American budget travelers to France: remember the Petite Récolte. Anyways, this night was winding down in much the same fashion as any other: discourse about how the “enlightened” Europeans were being rapidly led into the neo-liberal wastebin by the “ignorant” Americans. Sarkozy, Merkel, Brown and even Sweden had swung to the right! At the time, Italy and Spain were the only significant holdouts, and the former’s fragile lefty coalition was quite clearly falling apart.

So the only hope seemed to be that the French still knew how to take to the streets. They elect horrendous leaders, but they handle their social movement business far better than any other country on Earth.

Before going to bed alongside my goût du moment, I quickly checked my e-mail. And there was a message from the Kucinich for President Campaign, wherein he mentioned their need for interns. I responded, half jokingly.

One week later, I received an e-mail from a juvenile-in-charge, who told me to choose between New Hampshire and Nevada for campaigning purposes. This was the biggest no-brainer of my life, as a few days later I was airborne en route to an all-expense paid for vacation in Vegas.

One could say that it’s a bit peculiar to be campaigning for a progressive-leaning candidate in the city of material greed. The majority hippie contingent in the campaign seemed to find the place quite awful, repeating over and over that they were stuck in the “belly of the beast.” Not me! I adore Vegas, because it’s honest capitalism: it breaks the market system down to its most fundamental and comprehensible components, so that every jerk in the universe can understand that they only have a chance in a million at ever doing anything great with their life.

Besides, where else can you be working on a presidential campaign, find yourself rolling around at night jet-lagged, and then just jump up, walk down the hall and buy a slushie margarita for $2 and start playing video poker?

They put us up at the “Palace Station,” a middle of the road joint on the west side of I-15, made famous by the Juice’s latest incursion with the law. I arrive at four in the afternoon a few days after New Years, only to find that the person at the front desk had never heard of Kucinich despite the fact that dozens of campaigners were staying there. I try unsuccessfully to get a hold of my contacts, and irritated I decide to check into one of the casino bars. I went with the Irish theme establishment, as little would quench the thirst built up over a marathon day of travel better than a few pints of Guinness.

I soaked down the famous stout over Fitzgerald’s This Side of Paradise, his premiere and most revealing novel. He had only just lost his innocence as he recounts the life of Amory Blaine, a child of privilege who ultimately derides the American caste system and hints at a conversion to Socialism. Blaine’s metamorphosis is quite contrived, but perhaps purposely so. I think Fitzgerald is critiquing a bit more than the Princeton elite in this novel; I believe he is also taking a poke at the Gauche Caviar: those who wash their hands of society’s inequalities by artificially cheerleading movements for justice.

While it exists all over the Western world, the American “left” is particularly plagued by this dynamic. Take the Obama campaign for instance: white suburbanites get to feel fuzzy and “open-minded” by voting for this frat boy of a politician. Furthermore, they are inspired into thinking that they are part of an immense moment of change, wherein all the “cool” people are uniting against the forces of evil. Meanwhile, the outside observer scratches his head wondering why this warmonger is any different than all of the other psychopaths in Washington. Vote for Obama and he will open the floodgates to social movements, I’m told, even though he derided the ‘68 movements in his spirituality-laced load of crap entitled The Audacity of Hope.

Unfortunately, this Kucinich campaign was no exception to the rule of the “hip” do-gooder pretending to care. The vast majority of kids involved were so proud of doing something “helpful for humanity” that they lost track of what exactly was going on: they were selling their souls to work for a guy who was part of an imperialist party that excels in selling out votes of the working class to Wall Street.

Dennis and his young English Belle loved the attention: ambitious minds willing to be subservient to their political idols. They could seemingly sense that while still quite young, I am neither ambitious nor subservient, and so Elizabeth, in particular, treated me quite disparagingly from the beginning. I wasn’t there to stroke their ego, and I needed them for nothing. I was doing this because I think that Dennis is the best American legislator, which is far from being any sort of compliment. And I wouldn’t have done it at all if I didn’t get to go to Vegas.

In general, the campaign was made up of kids pasting together their CVs, with hopes of becoming full-fledged political hacks some day. This might explain why Dennis did worse in 2008 than in 2004, and lost nearly 100% of the country’s anti-war sentiment to a Republican (Ron Paul) and an imperialist Democrat (Barack Obama).

But the problem with Dennis’s presidential run goes deeper than Dennis, and goes to the heart of why there is no real “left” in the United States. I feel silly even referring to the “left,” since it’s rare to find an American under 50 that even understands the left-right distinction with any sort of clarity. So instead I will refer to “progressives,” though sometimes I am unsure that I am progressive myself, given some of the nonsense espoused by people identifying themselves as such. What I ran into with Dennis, as with nearly every progressive non-profit in the country, is a swarm of politically correct droids who really scared me shitless with their remarkable ability to have no sincere emotion and very little original thought. You figure that on occasion you could have a few beers and a real heart-to-heart with someone about what brings them to this candidacy or what they think about the bigger picture and so on, but these campaign goons never lose their plastic façade. It is scarily remarkable! That fake smile I saw plastered over everyone’s young and soulless face had me wanting to bring Dennis into custody for destroying what could have been ambitious, unique and creative people.

But then I realized that this wasn’t Dennis’s fault; this is a societal problem. Americans never learn how to socialize, since there are very few cultural mores directing social behavior. You add to this the grossly consumerist society bombarded with ads on every ounce of public space, and people find it quite normal to pretend to live. It’s rare to find an American, especially among those under about 50 years old, who ever demonstrate the remotest interest in what you think or believe. They will often show this fake, passing interest in what you say, and, for the sake of being politically correct, will over-exaggerate their enthusiasm for your ideas, but rarely anything sincere.

There was never a moment where I felt that the campaign train wasn’t completely derailed. There wasn’t even a day that passed where I felt that I had anything meaningful to do. In a state where Ron Paul’s anti-war candidacy finished 2nd, ahead of John McCain, Kucinich was entirely off the map. When I did finally find the occasion to leaflet and talk to potential voters, I found that almost no one had ever heard of him.

It was announced to campaign staff that the ship had sunk as soon as he was denied entry to the last Vegas debate. Meanwhile, he felt so bad for dragging so many “stellar” interns into this pathetic campaign that he decided to invite us to Cleveland to work on his congressional re-election campaign. Normally by this point I would have taken the next Airbus to Paris, but I had gotten myself romantically entangled. While sipping $2 slushie margaritas at the whirlpool, I met an Alaskan delight who was equally fed up as me with the loser-culture around us. Despite the old saying about what happens in Vegas . . . we decided that we might as well take the free room and board in Cleveland and get to know each other a little better.

Dennis put us up in apartments across from his office on Lorain Avenue in Cleveland Ward 19. These were basic lodgings with basic amenities, though certainly sufficient for their purpose. His part of town, rich in its Irish workingman tradition, has recently become increasingly Middle Eastern in flavor, as markets and restaurants reflecting this trend have popped up throughout. Cleveland, infamous for its inflamed river and rampant poverty, has all sorts of hidden treasures. Furthermore, it is culturally what I am used to, being a native of Chicago: no-nonsense working class Catholics. Because of the early Lenten schedule this year, we were campaigning right in the middle of fish fry time: marching into people’s Friday evening suppers with the famous yellow “Dennis!” placards, stickers and buttons, most often to cheers by his avid supporters.

Dennis is certainly not just another congressman. It is rare in the United States to find an elected official who is so well known and appreciated by his constituency. Almost everyone you would talk to at labor rallies or church picnics would have some touching Dennis story, or know someone who knew one of his brothers or some third degree of connection to Cleveland’s populist hero.

This is to say that for how backwards and absent-minded his presidential campaign was, his local grassroots effort was on track. Much of the reason for this has to do with the work of his labor-friendly campaign staff, including the alpha male and former MUNY Light union head Greg Somerville. Greg’s connection with Dennis goes back to the former Boy Mayor’s unsuccessful attempt to save the public utility system, as the local banking elite forced the city into default to damn his efforts. Among labor leaders and movement makers, Dennis became a hero, and it is this connection that has cemented his seat in the congress as the nation’s most principled legislator.

I was like a pig in shit working with these blue collar Midwesterners. Greg would make fun of the holdovers from the presidential race, calling them “wa-hoos” and “wackos.” He referred to that campaign as “the biggest drum circle on Earth.” He was the first person I had met in weeks who was saying exactly what was on his mind. For the first time since passing customs, I felt like I was in a free country, and that I wouldn’t be hauled into PC Prison for expressing an emotion or heart-felt sentiment.

It is of little surprise that this is the culture that has actually elevated Dennis to power. It is built of real people looking out for their own interest. This isn’t people pretending to care about the world because it’s a la mode. This is a movement of people in the heartland making sure that their man in Washington is, indeed, one of their own.

It should also be of no surprise that the best legislator in the country comes from the Midwest and not from one of the trendy west coast cities. Instead, the west coast has given us this tragic culture of politically correct, which destroys any semblance of intelligent debate in the Land of the Free. The PC industry has grown to silly proportions. Rather than attack societal ills with actual change in the direction of racial and class equality, we pretend to by watching what we say and keeping data on what races are applying for what jobs.

That is what these bourgeois movements for “change” have produced in the United States: “nonsense upon stilts.” These are the words used by Jeremy Bentham to describe a similar phenomenon of his day: giving people “rights” rather than guaranteeing them liberty and equality. The Rights discourse and the culture of politically correct are both adaptations made for idiot societies in order that the government can continue to persecute with only a small minority realizing it. You convince everybody that they live in a free country by telling them that they have the right to free speech, whilst you do everything in your power to treat the words of dissenters as disparagingly as possible. This is easy to do when only the top .1% of the wealth has access to the airwaves.

In the end, March 4th, the Ohio primary came with expectations of victory by the incumbent over the pro-business punk of an Alderman, Mr. Joe Cimperman. In the end, the vote total for Dennis was a bit worrisome, as he barely eclipsed the 50% threshold in a five-way race (there were three small candidacies in addition to Dennis and Cimperman). Nonetheless, he hung on to his seat for another two years, fending off the fate faced by his friend Cynthia McKinney on two occasions.

I wobbled out of Cleveland alongside my new goût du moment, still caught in Vegas mode, and headed to her abode in Alaska. On the outskirts of Fairbanks, I was able to only passively listen to the ongoing charade of an election. Friends and family throughout the nation were caught in heated discussion over the Obama vs. Clinton drama. Me? I could care less if Obama wins in November, or if Hillary found a way to steal the Democratic nomination. It’s of little consequence to anybody. Until we build a movement, get out of the paralysis of politically correct thinking, and take to the streets like our brothers and sisters in France, Americans will continue to live as droids. People need to stop blinding themselves with the fog of this damn election and start taking their country back from the pits of this neo-liberal hell.

Matt Reichel is a writer currently living in New Orleans. He can be reached at: mereichel@gmail.com. Read other articles by Matt, or visit Matt's website.

18 comments on this article so far ...

Comments RSS feed

  1. Chris Crass said on June 2nd, 2008 at 9:39am #

    This is great. It makes me happy and sad simultaneously.

  2. Deadbeat said on June 2nd, 2008 at 3:18pm #

    People need to stop blinding themselves with the fog of this damn election and start taking their country back from the pits of this neo-liberal hell.

    So what happened in 2003-2004 when people got active against the War in Iraq. Perhaps the “left” was too busy dismantling and diffusing that energy because people didn’t think the war in Iraq was about Oil and that there were many others pointing to something else.

  3. Wallace said on June 2nd, 2008 at 4:16pm #

    Being over 50 and living outside of the U.S. makes it easier to perceive the emptiness of current American culture. On the other hand a little honesty at any age would eventually produce the same results. Most Americans obviously prefer baloney over reality and this won’t change until they are forced to see and be more authentic! That will probably happen sooner than we think!

  4. hp said on June 2nd, 2008 at 6:56pm #

    How’s this for honesty?
    Deadbeat, are you saying that too many people are realizing the invasion and occupation of Iraq isn’t about oil but about fighting “wars for the Jews?”

  5. hp said on June 2nd, 2008 at 7:16pm #

    50% war for Israel.
    30% war for oil.
    20% old fashioned imperialism.

  6. Marxist-Socialist said on June 2nd, 2008 at 10:00pm #

    most americans are so antisocial and hate each other, that the only way people will talk to you is if you own a luxury Mercedes Benz or a new luxury SUV, in the states it is a must to have a luxury car in order to “fit in” the consumerist church and that’s why people bust their asses 16 hours a day in order to have a luxury SUV. even Mcworkers want SUVs, it is like if America needs to go to heaven so bad, that it created its own version of it like the new SUVs with GPS and modern gadgets, etc. all at a monthly lease increasing our federal fiscal deficit of course which is around 9 trillions already

  7. Max Shields said on June 3rd, 2008 at 6:38am #

    100% empire

  8. hp said on June 3rd, 2008 at 8:56am #

    “Socialism is nothing but the capitalism of the lower classes.”
    Spengler

    Yeah, right Max. That’s why all three candidates for POTUS and half the Congress are declaring fealty to Israel this week at the annual AIPAC hate Iran fest?

  9. Max Shields said on June 3rd, 2008 at 11:31am #

    Spengler wrote a great book. More should read it.

    AIPAC is part of empire. Israel is an extension of empire. So, yah, empire 100%.

  10. hp said on June 3rd, 2008 at 9:01pm #

    AIPAC is a parasite, one of many remoras which attaches themselves to host (empires) after host (nations) after host (individuals), it seems, in perpetuity.

  11. Deadbeat said on June 4th, 2008 at 4:48am #

    Deadbeat, are you saying that too many people are realizing the invasion and occupation of Iraq isn’t about oil but about fighting “wars for the Jews?”

    To be clear, what I’m saying is that there were voices in 2003-2004 who were saying that the problem of the Middle East was due to the racist ideology known as Zionism. However those same voices were also pointing out the power of AIPAC and the support by our politicians of HOMEGROWN Zionism. Such voices was a threat to the establishment but also a threat to these phony “leftist organizations” whose job it is to distract people away from such notions.

    I specifically call out Noam Chomsky — the oracle of the left and others like Naomi Klein and Greg Palest and the whole “War for Oil” crowd who effectively diverted people attention away from the grip that Zionism has on the U.S. political economy. I also call out those who use broad and dilutive explanations such as “empire” and “U.S. Imperialism”.

    It is clear that every epoch of tyrants has motives behind their tyrannical behavior but such rhetoric is empty because it fails to zero in on the impetus of the CURRENT epoch of tyranny. Are we to use 19th century techniques to challenge 21st century tyranny? This is what is inferred by the “empire” and “imperialism” crowd.

    For example, the outcry for aggression surrounding “War for Oil” could find “acceptance” while a “War for Racism/Zionism” would find very little support among the populous. Since the left does not have the pulpit in this very “conservative” country getting the MESSAGE straight is crucial. An esoteric message (“empire”, “imperialism”) become diversionary and watered-down.

    The question then becomes why are these erudite oracles promoting such rhetoric? IMO it is not to educate the masses and what I experienced in 2003-2004 seeing how much energy the “left” expended to dismantle the anti-war movement and then throw their hat behind warmonger John Kerry rather than support Ralph Nader who was the only anti-war candidate and accurately describe GWB (messianic militarist) was revealing and thought provoking.

    In addition, the Scott McClellan revelations confirms that the war in Iraq was never about oil and not about “empire” not about resource thief. But clearly having to do with expanding Zionism and racism. As has been reported by James Petras the oil companies was against the war from the start.

    Clearly the “left” has been derelict in providing guidance to the most progressive and active sectors of the society. Had the “left confronted Zionism it would have open space for politicians to target the real impetus of today’s militarism. Only by confronting Zionism can the rationale for the “War on Terrorism” be defeated. This is because the word “terrorism” itself has become part of the lexicon that stereotypes all Arabs due to Zionism.

    Until the “left” stops the esoteric rhetoric and take on Zionism head on there will be no change. It is also hypocritical of the “left” to argue that Obama has to kiss Israel’s ass this week when there there is no criticism of Noam Chomsky who essentially is doing the same when the tells the American people that AIPAC is “just another lobby”.

    Here’s a link to Real News that has some reports regarding AIPAC:

    The Real News – AIPAC and the American Right

  12. hp said on June 4th, 2008 at 9:12am #

    Six of one, a half dozen of the other.

  13. Max Shields said on June 4th, 2008 at 9:13am #

    DB Scott McClellan (and forgive me Scott’s parents) is a moran who still believes in George W. Bush as a man if great vision. So, let’s be clear before quoting Scottie.

    When so-called left do “take on Zionism” you ignore it. You seem to want everyone to agree with you because they are, on a number of issues, left of center. IT AINT GOING TO HAPPEN!!

    No “leftist” that I know is asking Obama to do ANYTHING. But then you seem to be including the progressive marxist Democratic leadership in your “blame it all on the left…”

    Your arguments DB are always about leftist. I think the solution for the Middle East is to re-constitute Israel/Palestine as one state with right of return for all Palestinians. Chomsky doesn’t speak for anyone but Chomsky. But that is not to say that I disagree with him just because we may differ on the viability of a two state solution. Many Palestinians agree with Chomsky.

    But yes, this is about empire and resources. Racism, at its root and from the power elite, is about economics and resources; as was slavery. Demonization and racism is a tactic not an end. The history of the US is born of empire and expansionism way before Zionism or Israel ever existed.

    Obama, DB, wants to be POTUS more than anything else. And if he has to kiss ass, or rings of various power brokers or bend down…he will as all the vetted candidates do. And if elected, he’ll continue to kiss whatever to keep those power brokers happy. And Noam Chomsky will have absolutely NOTHING to do with it.

    hp as far as AIPAC being a parasite; it does appear to be. But that does not nullify the empire that is EVERYWHERE.

  14. Max Shields said on June 4th, 2008 at 9:41am #

    DB Scott McClellan (and forgive me Scott’s parents) is a moron who still believes in George W. Bush as a man of great vision. So, let’s be clear before quoting Scottie.

    Some spelling corrections. Pardonne moi .

    Max

  15. Deadbeat said on June 4th, 2008 at 2:30pm #

    DB Scott McClellan (and forgive me Scott’s parents) is a moron who still believes in George W. Bush as a man of great vision. So, let’s be clear before quoting Scottie.

    “Scottie” as you refer to him provides an insider account to the process and rationale that led to the War on Iraq. He clearly confirms what many who never agreed with the “War for Oil” canard flatly tried to make clear. The war on Iraq was never about such esoteric rationale that “left-wing” experts were advancing to the public. THAT is the crux of my argument here on DV.

    The “left” has a RESPONSIBILITY to provide accurate analysis not “fairy tales” dressed up as analysis. The reason why the “left” MUST provide clear analysis is that:

    1) The left does not have a bully pulpit or a megaphone.
    Here Chomsky is correct with his explanation of how the ruling class manufactures consent. Therefore when the “left” engages in such “manufacturing” it is doubly devastating.

    2) The “left” cannot afford to squander opportunities.
    The anti-war movement of 2003-2004 was the left’s BEST opportunity to communicate with citizens who genuinely wanted to prevent a war with Iraq. The millions of people that hit the streets needed information to clearly understand the rationale behind the possible invasion. The “left” rather than educate decided to deceive, divert and distract and finally demobilize the anti-war energies leaving itself weak and irrelevant.

    I believe it will be a LONG while before we see such an opportunity and is why the left so “angry” at Obama. Obama is skillfully is filling the void caused by the left’s missed opportunity.

    When so-called left do “take on Zionism” you ignore it. You seem to want everyone to agree with you because they are, on a number of issues, left of center. IT AINT GOING TO HAPPEN!!

    Sorry Max but that remark is extremely off base and an “ad-hominem” especially since I continually site James Petras who takes on Zionism head on and is especially articulate regarding Zionism’s influence on AMERICAN political economy unlike YOURSELF! I’ve also cited Jeffery Blankfort as well as Joel Kovel. So clearly your attack is unwarranted and weak and illustrates my point about “leftist” regarding their desire to dismiss this problem.

    The problem are NOT the “left of center” or liberals hacks. They were NOT the ones coordinating the anti-war energies. The problem was within what we recognize as the “left” which includes people like Chomsky who has a MAJOR following and has MAJOR influence upon the left that has used his position NOT to elucidate but to obfuscate.

  16. Deadbeat said on June 4th, 2008 at 2:40pm #

    the left that has used [its] position NOT to elucidate but to obfuscate.

    And that is what the author of this article does by primarily blaming the citizens without fully examining the missed opportunity when citizens took action in back in 2003-2004.

  17. Max Shields said on June 4th, 2008 at 3:33pm #

    McClellan does not confirm your position either. So why invoke him? Seems like you’re cherry picking.

    Again, your rant about some left – who is now manifested in Chomsky – seems way off the mark. Your point is clear – Zionism and Israel rule the world. The US is a puppet of Israel through the arm of AIPAC. All else is inconsequential and meaningless. On Obama you regularly look for excuses. Here you seem to be saying the Zionists have him over a barrel otherwise, who knows, he might be ok (again you never quite say it but you never speak of him with any vitriol).

    For you, DB, only those who see the world as Zionist controlled have got the story right; regardless of what political views they have on any other issues. You seem to forgive Obama and are disturbed by the arguments made by progressive blacks on Black Agenda Report because they demand something that Obama does not have. Obama has forsaken any opportunity to make a stand when it counted and he’ll do that as president (it’s part of who he is and he’ll not escape) – that includes genuflecting to AIPAC. But you continue to go light of O for some reason.

    Instead it’s all about some leftist this and that who don’t go head to head with Zionism. I’ve posted extensively about the deep problems that Zionist ideology has created in the Middle East. I’ve said the state of Israel should be re-constituted along with the West Bank and Gaza and made into a single multi-ethnic state (I’m not even that big on nation-states). But you aren’t satisfied with that.

    The uprising at the run up to the invasion of Iraq was a moment in time that never got traction. The organizers couldn’t “organize”. What sustained the Vietnam protests was the daily display of death and the fact that YOU’RE next-draft. That gets people’s asses out on the street. Otherwise it fades into the unsustainable world of “empathy”. And that’s just not compelling enough. The pain in America is just not great enough – yet. Even our poor are incapable of uprising.

    So, blame it on the left. It takes a lot more than a mercenary army doing the Empire’s bidding to get real people action!

  18. Giorgio said on June 11th, 2008 at 6:26pm #

    A fine in-depth analysis of the American political psyche, BUT then this…

    “This might explain why Dennis did worse in 2008 than in 2004, and lost nearly 100% of the country’s anti-war sentiment to a Republican (Ron Paul) and an imperialist Democrat (Barack Obama).”

    and more,

    “In a state where Ron Paul’s anti-war candidacy finished 2nd, ahead of John McCain, Kucinich was entirely off the map.”

    When I started to get a feeling that the author was building a case for supporting Ron Paul, it fizzles out into a whimper with this final melodramatic flurry:

    “I could care less if Obama wins in November, or if Hillary found a way to steal the Democratic nomination. It’s of little consequence to anybody. Until we build a movement, get out of the paralysis of politically correct thinking, and take to the streets like our brothers and sisters in France, Americans will continue to live as droids. People need to stop blinding themselves with the fog of this damn election and start taking their country back from the pits of this neo-liberal hell.”

    Then my question:

    Isn’t Ron Paul building a movement to get out of “the paralysis of politically correct thinking”, not just anti-war, but also anti-Patriot act, anti-imperialism, anti-doling out aid to Israel, anti-Reserve Bank (unaccountable to the American people, privately owned by faceless, conniving bunch of Rothschild’s clones and goons) AND for Freedom, smaller government, upholding the Constitution, restoring the economy and the dollar to full strength . etc, etc, etc…

    Isn’t this Revolution a GOOD ENOUGH movement for your refined
    “goût du moment” tastes?