Jerry Garcia Meets Barack Obama

August 1st would have been Grateful Dead guitarist Jerry Garcia’s 68th birthday. While not of the same importance as Christmas is to Christians, the date is a way for those who enjoyed the Grateful Dead’s music and countercultural traveling medicine show to mark their time on earth since discovering the phenomenon the Dead represented. It is also a harsh reminder of how little some things change and how many hopes have been dashed since that moment of discovery. The counterculture of the 1960s and early 1970s is more historical artifact for most westerners nowadays. Indeed, those that imitate it today are few and, like other subcultures that return amongst certain members of western society, the current version is more about appearance than substance. Like virtually everything else under capitalism, the counterculture, which was packaged and sold almost as quickly as it made its appearance, is now available at almost any shopping mall. Naturally, it has been stripped of political meaning, yet it still continues to represent a certain type of freedom and is usually associated with a desire for peace and a hatred of war.

Nine or ten years ago a friend of mine whom I had not spoken to since 1982 called me. After a minute or two of establishing our current situations vis-a-vis our place of domicile, employment and family situation, my buddy (whom I’ll call C) asked if I still imbibed in the cannabis. Despite my aversion to speaking of such things on the telephone, I answered yes. “Hard to believe,” he responded. “We thought the stuff would be legal by now and look at it. People getting busted for it and seeing time like they did in the 1950s. That utopia we dreamed about and threw rocks at the cops for sure took a nosedive. Instead, we have a Brave New World drug scene where doctors pass out pills whose sole role is to homogenize our emotions and our essential beings.” I listened and agreed. “Besides the weed thing,” I said. “Look at the political spectrum. From authoritarian neoliberalism to authoritarian neoconservatism.” The far left is microscopic and the so-called progressives are unable to move beyond their moneyed sponsors.”

We continued on this track for about half an hour before bidding each other goodbye. Since then, C and I stay in touch via email and occasionally visit each other in person when I am in the DC area for a protest or family visit. His cynicism does not seem greater or lesser than mine and neither of us engage in political organizing as much as we did back in the early 1970s. Like many of our contemporaries who were engaged in left organizing back then, we are following the current US presidential campaign with a special interest in the Obama phenomenon. Being grounded in both leftist analysis and the aforementioned cynicism, Obama’s rapid swerve to the right once it became apparent that he had clinched the votes necessary for the Democratic nomination did not surprise us. It did, however, make voting for him less likely.

The remaining members of the Grateful Dead regrouped before the California primary this year and endorsed Barack Obama’s run for the presidency. In addition, they performed a benefit concert for his organization. The setlist was fantastic and recordings I have heard of the concert prove that the band still has the ability to turn in some good sets even with other guitarists playing in Garcia’s place. However, the endorsement of a candidate by the group was uncharacteristic. Garcia once commented when asked about voting in the US elections: “Constantly choosing the lesser of two evils is still choosing evil.” He wanted no part of such a choice, preferring instead to put his money and energies towards grassroots causes. It seems he understood that once one makes an allegiance with evil–even the lesser one–they risk becoming part of that evil themselves. The more active the allegiance, the greater the risk. Just look at the major national antiwar organization United For Peace and Justice (UFPJ) and their public stance regarding the desire of organizers of the protests at the upcoming Democratic convention to stage a large antiwar march at the convention. According to a recent press release from some organizers of the march, Leslie Cagan of UFPJ told some Denver organizers, “We don’t think it makes sense to plan for a mass march that might not end up being all that mass!” In other words, UFPJ is refusing to help build support for the march.

There can only be one reason for UFPJ’s stance. That reason is UFPJ’s allegiance to the Democratic Party. This allegiance is not an allegiance found among the grassroots of UFPJ but at the top. It involves a political misunderstanding of the Democrats’ role in maintaining the US empire and a fear of losing funding from elements of UFPJ that are tied to the Democratic Party. Ignoring the fact that it is the Democratic Congress that has kept the Empire’s wars going, UFPJ continues to call the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan “Bush’s Wars.” Besides the attempts to silence the antiwar voice in the streets, there are also ongoing attempts by Democratic Party manipulators to keep antiwar language out of the Party’s platform. This is in spite of a statement signed by the progressive wing of the party demanding that the language be included. If 2004 is any indication, there will be no antiwar language in the 2008 Democratic Party platform. At least in 2004, there was a candidate (Kucinich) whose supporters struggled to get such language included until Kucinich rolled over and called off his supporters. It is unlikely that the battle to include such language will even make it to the convention this year. On top of that, one can expect some rather bellicose statements in support of Israel and against Iran. Not exactly the antiwar party you might have thought it was, huh?

I know Jerry Garcia was not a politician or even a politically inclined guy. Perhaps that was why he could see the bullshit that passes for representation in this country for what it is.

Ron Jacobs is the author of The Way The Wind Blew: A History of the Weather Underground and Tripping Through the American Night, and the novels Short Order Frame Up and The Co-Conspirator's Tale. His third novel All the Sinners, Saints is a companion to the previous two and was published early in 2013. Read other articles by Ron.

12 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. Jeremy said on August 4th, 2008 at 9:04pm #

    It’s just like, what’s wrong with the world that we can’t all just accept one another for who we are? Are we so blind that we only see the differences and none of the similarities? Are we so engrossed in our own little egocentric world that we forget about the big picture all the time?

    I’d say the readers here don’t so much, but we’ve been sequestered by the entertainment industry to stay inside rather than go out and protest. We’ve been culled into submission, separated by large roads so that you have to be a part of the system to go anywhere. It’s crap.

    If someone knows an organization fighting this type of thing, please let me know, because I’d be very interested in helping them.

  2. Lloyd Rowsey said on August 5th, 2008 at 6:27am #

    IVAW, White Light Black Light, BAR, Naomi Klein, Counterpunch… there’s a jillion out there Jeremy.

  3. Deadbeat said on August 5th, 2008 at 9:32am #

    Lloyd Rowsey responding to Jeremy says…

    IVAW, White Light Black Light, BAR, Naomi Klein, Counterpunch… there’s a jillion out there Jeremy.

    The main problem is coming from the Left itself. To place Naomi Klein in the same sentence as CounterPunch is part of why Jeremy faces confusion. The problem is not really the Democrats or the Mainstream Media. Of course they are very powerful and have a great deal of influence. However national polls indicate that both the Democrats and the MSM have a very low trust rating.

    The real problem is the lack of alternatives. The “Left” is a major source of adding to the confusion. People did get active in 2003 so therefore the people are not at fault because the Left betrayed those people who got active. The Left deliberately dismantled the anti-war movement in order to obscure question about Zionisms role in the lead up to the War on Iraq. The Left promoted the extremely dishonest “War For Oil” canard in order to misdirect the underlying reason for the War and the consequential economic problem caused from the War.

    To put Naomi Klein on the same level with Alexander Cockburn is tantamount to slander upon Cockburn and obscures the role Ms. Klein is playing in obscuring and camouflage the core reasons of the War. Actually her primary reason for the War on Iraq is to advance Chicago School economics. However somehow Project For A New American Century (PNAC) escapes her. And to add irony upon irony, Milton Freedman, who is primarily associated with Chicago School economics was against the War on Iraq.

    The reason why Jeremy is confused is because cannot find solidarity from the Left because he cannot find truth, justice, and adherence to principles from the Left.

  4. paul street said on August 5th, 2008 at 10:12am #

    Big name musicians are often pretty clueless and irritating on politics. Bob Dylan and Neil Young have joined the post-Garcia Dead in endorsing the authoritarian neoliberal Obama phenomenon. So I think has the Boss. Pretty standard. Zimmy should trust his older instincts to ignore all that “Tweedledum and Tweedeldee.”

    Anyone with two functioning gray cells (speaking of cannabis) knows that imperial control of oil is a critical factor in the invassion of Iraq and in why the Empire (under an Obama no less than under a McCain) can’t and won’t leave Iraq anytime soon.

  5. Sam said on August 5th, 2008 at 12:57pm #

    Right-on Paul Street.

    Add Barbra Streisand to the list. I often would visit her website after the stolen 2000 “election,” and began to realize she was (and I suspect still is) an intense Dem koolaid drinker. Not a word of criticism about the congressional Bush-enabling Dems anywhere on her website. Only criticism of the Repugs. I would read her comments about the Repugs and say to myself: Well, what you just wrote about the Repugs can also be said about your beloved Bush-enabling Dems, but because of your partisan blinders, you’re not about to say that are you? No. I suspect things haven’t changed with her in that regard. I don’t feel like going back to her website to find out. I read on another site where she said recently she would sing for Obama. Well, of course you would Barbra, the man has a big D behind his name—that’s all that matters to you—when there should be a big R behind his name.

    As for Bush’s terrorist attack on Iraq, I thought it was a given to most people at this point in time that the imperialist control of oil was the #1 reason for the attack of Iraq (remember the oil fields were protected during the attack?) and occupation and is why the PNAC Empire (under an Obama no less than under a McCain) can’t and won’t leave Iraq until the last drop of oil is extracted from the sands of Iraq.

    Of course some lying scum politicians will say Iraq has nothing to do with oil but rather it’s about bringing so-called “democracy.” Yeah right. Tell that to somebody foolish enough to buy it:

    Oil a factor in Iraq conflict, says Australian defence minister

  6. Joe Anybody said on August 5th, 2008 at 3:39pm #

    I am supporting anti war – anti corporate Ralph Nader in this election

    Cynthis McKinney is another choice … but my vote logic reasoning (as discussed in comment and the article above) will go to the grassroots Peace Candidate “Ralph Nader”

  7. Giorgio said on August 5th, 2008 at 6:36pm #

    “Garcia once commented when asked about voting in the US elections: “Constantly choosing the lesser of two evils is still choosing evil.” He wanted no part of such a choice, preferring instead to put his money and energies towards grassroots causes.”

    Well, I bet Garcia would love to put his money and energies towards such a grassroots cause as RON PAUL’s REVOLUTION !

    Sadly, it still baffles me that “has been” Ralph Nader ever so often emerges as a candidate of choice. PATHETIC!

    No wonder that either warmonger, Obama or McCain, will grace the Oval Office in 2009 with free LICENCE to KILL , as often and for as long as they wish, because the Left is JUST TOO DUMB and STUPID and sees no further than tip of their noses…

  8. Sam said on August 5th, 2008 at 9:09pm #


    What I find pathetic is that some people criticize some candidates for running. Nader has as much right to run as anyone else. And even though I can’t stand Walk-On-Water Obama or McCain both have as much right to run as anybody else.

    Ralph Nader is hardly a “has been” since he hasn’t been in congress or in any elected position. The “has beens” have unfortunately gotten re-elected one “election” cycle after the other and have made a total disaster of things.

    Nader/Gonzalez are the true anti-war, pro-US Constitution, pro-impeachment progressives. If one had taken the time to look at what Nader/Gonzalez stands for one might not be writing negative comments about them.

    Those who are “just too dumb” and “stupid” are frankly the partisan Dem koolaid drinkers who vote solely for a candidate because the candidate has a big D behind their name. And I don’t consider that group necessarily “left” whatsoever because they enable—vote for, send them $$$, support and make excuses and apologize for them—the scum in congress who have enabled the illegitimate Bush regime. Someone who is truly “left” or “progressive” would not do that.

    As I have said before, most people won’t have the intelligence to vote for Nader/Gonzalez because all most people know is D or R party line. That D or R has been programmed in most people from an early age.

    Assuming there is an “election” and assuming that Bush and Cheney leave in 2009, no matter who gets in (Obama or McCain), this nation and the world is going to lose. The Repugs will continue to control the agenda whether they are in the minority or the majority…the way they always do. And most of the Dems will, as usual, continue to eat the Repugs’ ass.

    ————> Nader/Gonzalez 2008, if there is an “election.”

  9. Timber said on August 5th, 2008 at 9:24pm #

    Way too many liberals are looking for an easy, feel-good panacea; I’ve had more than one conversation with people I actually like and generally agree with politically who refuse to acknowledge hypocrisy on the part of Obama, Pelosi, Reid, Kerry, et al. as being too “negative” or “depressing.”

    I think the disillusionment guaranteed by an Obama presidency will be a great opportunity for a real paradigm shift in politics. It will be the first Democratic presidency in the internet age, and unless Dems are still so deep in denial that they blame Obama’s positions on “fear of Fox News” (not a great statement about a politician’s integrity or courage to start with), I think it will prove to many of them just how alike the Dems and Republicans are when it comes to treating the rest of the world like our own slave plantation, toilet and all-you-can-eat buffet.

  10. Sam said on August 6th, 2008 at 10:03pm #

    Timber wrote:

    “It will be the first Democratic presidency in the internet age, …”

    Obama is not a Democrat. He’s a Bush-enabling Repug when the truth be told. He just calls himself a Democrat, like most of the other “Dems” who are really Bush-enabling Repugs.

    The Dem supporters will remain in their Denial. We already have 7+ years of evidence of how the so-called two parties are the same, yet it has little bearing, if any, on most of the Dem koolaid drinkers. The suckers. They refuse to see it and will not see it no matter how much it is shoved in their face. They refuse to see the reality. They will continue to make excuse after excuse and apology after apology for their useless and worthless Bush-enabling Dems, no matter what they do.

  11. Giorgio said on August 7th, 2008 at 2:52am #


    OK, may be I’ve desmissed Nader too harshly, but I feel that he has not got the charisma of a Ron Paul…

    “Nader/Gonzalez are the true anti-war, pro-US Constitution, pro-impeachment progressives.” If so, why doesn’t he join forces with Ron Paul who is just as anti-war, pro-US Constitution?
    United they could scare the shits out of the “status quo”, divided they will be just voices in the wilderness which will suit perfectly the warmongers…
    Why?… because Paul is a Libertarian Republican and does not display a “progressive” pin on his lapel? …even though, I feel, he is far more progressive than all the progressives around…

  12. Sam said on August 7th, 2008 at 12:33pm #


    You wrote that you “feel” Ron Paul is far more progressive than all the progressives around.


    One can “feel” anything whether it’s the reality or not. I look at what the candidate writes and says (outside of prepared pabulum speeches) and their platform.

    I’m not going to sit here and argue back and forth about Ron Paul. I don’t give a damn about Ron Paul. He does nothing for me. Just 3 examples that come to mind:

    He calls abortion murder (April 2008)
    Roe v Wade was harmful to the Constitution (April 2008)
    Voted YES on building a fence along the Méxican border. (Sep 2006). .

    That’s so-called “progressive” huh? (Rhetorical question). Sounds rather reich-wing to me.

    Why would Nader join with Ron Paul when Nader already has a running mate: Matt Gonzalez.

    I campaigned for Matt Gonzalez when he ran for mayor in San Francisco. I like him a lot.

    None of this really matters in the end, because most people won’t have the intelligence or ability to vote for anyone other than Walk-On-Water Obama or McCain. That’s how the sheep have been programmed. D or R is all they know or can think.