A Revered President, a Non-Existent Society

Watching President Obama’s press conference on Wednesday evening, one couldn’t help sensing certain hopelessness in his delivery: an understanding that he was advocating a continuation of the same old insurance company racket. Obama is first and foremost a politician and not an academic: an inherently reactionary personality-type without a significant and principled national health care movement to react to.

This nation’s prime dysfunction is the lack of a genuine social movement for anything substantive. The last movement died somewhere in 2003-2004: drowned in a sea of Democratic propaganda about changing the Emperor’s clothes. I was busily organizing the peace movement throughout Illinois at the time. We were turning out thousands of protestors on a regular basis, and backing the street manifestations with a frontal grassroots blitz of letters and calls to congresspeople, followed by the occasional sit-ins at their offices. To all involved, it was clear that the anti-war movement would shut down the war after a few years of persistence.

But alas, the movement completely discombobulated right before us. I watched willing volunteers start spending their time working for an “exciting” new senate candidate in Illinois, and others join the Howard Dean campaign and ultimately the John Kerry campaign. By the time the “exciting” Illinois senator rose to national prominence, based primarily on his capacity to string multiple coherent sentences together in a forceful manner (what low standards we have come to possess), the social movement had become the man himself. When this happens, the social movement stops existing: it is trumped by the ambitions of one man and the party that supports him. Wall Street, the banking industry, the health insurance racket, and the military industrial complex had not-so-cleverly beaten this nation’s last great movement.

According to many sociologists, the Frenchman Alain Touraine prime among them, a society is defined by conflict among social movements. As such, a nation without social movements is also void of society. As in the Soviet Union, Nazi Germany and other authoritarian systems, society has become thoroughly entrenched by the ruling elite in the Land of the (buy one get one) Free. The uniquely American brand of government is particularly trying and burdensome insofar as a significant portion of the population is convinced that we have a functioning democracy.

I would argue that we are governed by a bureaucratic plutocracy: a system that intentionally drowns the populace in trivial details so as to guard against independent thought. Social interaction is frequently driven by promotion rather than genuine amicability. Since no one in my generation seems to be gainfully employed, everyone is an independent contractor: peddling some sort of pseudo-art or music, or their graphic design or website design “business,” and so on. Even those supposedly working for grassroots political movements operate on a business model of consuming all who stand in their path. To them, you are a name on a list and a potential donor. The message becomes nothing but a tool to procure sustenance for the organization: to the point that the movement gets engulfed in the organization.

For six years, we have been functioning as a nation without society. We have the skeletons of society: people bustling around doing stuff, newspapers printing stuff, televisions broadcasting stuff, and a couple political parties advocating stuff. But the stuff is primarily noise and irrelevant sound bytes.

The closest thing to a genuine social movement today is the inspiring conservative anti-war movement, as evidenced in the appreciable success of the Ron Paul presidential campaign and the succeeding Campaign for Liberty movement. In addition to offering a principled opposition to war, this movement raises prescient criticisms of this nation’s monetary system and an essential reform: abolishing the Federal Reserve.

Unfortunately the Left has been more hesitant than the right to critique its mainstream party, though there are notable exceptions. Two of them are right here in Illinois. Firstly, the sit-in at Republic Windows last winter demonstrated that Chicago might still be the labor movement capital of the universe, and that not all workers have been consumed by the ravenous Democratic Party. Secondly, the Illinois Green Party, through persistent and painstaking grassroots work, has become an established party on par with the two corporate parties. Their Gubernatorial candidate, Rich Whitney, won greater than 10% of the vote in 2006 and looks to build on that atop an eclectic slate of seasoned activists in 2010.

Nonetheless, a significant portion of the largely dormant left has been looking to the president for guidance. He is undoubtedly a brilliant man insofar as he navigated the confusing legal, bureaucratic jungle that is our political system and achieved a historic feat last November. However, his accomplishment was not, as is widely regarded, the result of some social movement. In fact, he shunned the remaining minute traces of social movements at every opportunity. He said he would fight to end the war, and then expanded it, said he would fight to restore civil liberties and take a principled stand against warrantless wiretapping, and then reversed his decision. And most recently he said he was for “universal health care,” and yet echoes the same drivel of bygone years.

People must stop looking to the president for solutions to this nation’s numerous problems: unending wars of empire, avarice throughout the banking industry, a political class that is a mere shill for said banking industry, and a national discourse that has become incredibly trivialized by the saturation of corporate-controlled media. Addressing these deficiencies, re-instituting a democracy and reconstructing civil society will require arduous labor over the course of many years. I invite all concerned citizens to join a local anti-war group, or create one if there isn’t one already, and be as visible and intelligently provocative as possible. Do the same with alternative political parties that build off of local involvement, such as the Greens or Libertarians. Join one of the local movements for single-payer health care, or any other movement built upon substance rather than noise. We need people of courage to take on the duty of lifting Americans above this feeble reverence of Wall Street’s latest White House implant.

Matt Reichel is a freelance writer and PhD student at Rutgers University. He can be reached at: mereichel@gmail.com. Read other articles by Matt, or visit Matt's website.

12 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. Wendy said on July 25th, 2009 at 9:42am #

    Very interesting to see the president referred to as ‘President Osama’ in the first line. I must say that is very unprofessional of Mr. Reichel. This is why his candidates never do successful.

    Americans made up their minds last November, and Barack Obama (with a ‘b’, not an ‘s’) was the winning choice by a good margin. I see from the mini-bio that Mr. Reichel was a congressional candidate for 3 months. Guess he couldn’t survive Election Day, like attention-hungry Cindy Sheehan, who only received an irrelevant 17 percent of the vote against Speaker Nancy Pelosi. That is a sad result considering Cindy carpetbagged her way into San Francisco, also known as one of America’s biggest anti-war cities. Now she has lost all credibility by hosting a radio show in the Bay Area on Green 960 AM, even though she continuously speaks out against corporate media. Oh yeah, did I mention Green 960 AM is a Clear Channel-owned station?

    America is better off with leaders like Barack Obama and Nancy Pelosi. We will recover economically, and we will continue to bring the troops home with our beloved Democratic Party. If anybody doesn’t like our president, then move to Canada, because Obama is ours until January 2017, like it or not.

    Peace on Earth.

  2. Obstreperous said on July 25th, 2009 at 2:41pm #

    Hilarious for Wendy to invoke a love it or leave it position. How very Bush-like. That’s not exactly the spirit for enouraging free thought and expression. It is the type of fascism that you can expect from Crook County politicians and anyone who’d blindly support them. I agree with the author that we need to overcome the corporate-media sponsored division of Americans and talk to one another with honesty and civility. Forget about whatever bogey-man of your choosing (Soros, “Wall Streeters”, etc.) you wish to blame for the current situation. We need to support real ideas that will work in the real world and not grind up the people by subjecting them to the latest political fad. We then need to instist that whoever is in power listen to us, rather than having to settle for the scraps that they’re willing to feed us. If Washington will not lead, then they need to be led.

  3. rick said on July 25th, 2009 at 6:08pm #

    Wendy – Take a swig of that cool-aid for me.
    As the insane economic policy takes every cent you own
    and the very ones who derailed the economic train fail to wright it
    all bets will be off when their clowning culminates in the destruction of the currency, as our young men and women continue their journey into the same meat grinder that has taken our youth through administration after administration. They aren’t dismantling any of the 14 PERMANENT military bases Bush started in Iraq. Now Afghanistan, Pakistan and maybe Iran will be the killing fields now. I detested Bush, Had some hope for Obama, but am becoming convinced he is little more than George Bush – purchased with a Kenyan optimization option…
    In fact their fully-adjustable puppet strings are actually the same part number….

  4. David said on July 26th, 2009 at 10:25am #

    “discombobulated” – Now, there is a word not in everyday usage. Nicely done, Mr. Reichel.

    I would like to suggest that the political system is simply too cumbersome as a tool for effective and positive change. It is simply another filter, a barrier. As for presidents and Wall Street and corporate America, these are enormous targets, not prone to change or accessibility.

    Instead, why not work with the educated, wealthy class for the change that this country needs. Notice that I said ‘educated, wealthy” and not educated or wealthy. Paul Newman was a member of this group. There are many others. They are powerful and influential.

    One suggestion, though. Ranting will not get you a foot in the door. Nor will poorly thought-out ideas and inarticulate presentations. In short, you will need to work with the gatekeeper system and to have your shit together. Sadly, many Progressives still think that shouting will garner attention. It’s the well-placed whisper that works best.

    Rick: Well put. Let’s not forget about the forthcoming reinstatement of the draft.

  5. bozh said on July 26th, 2009 at 12:40pm #

    relying on movements and orgs to change things for better and which the ruling class doesn`t want to change, appears almost never fruitful.
    surely, palestine, afpak, iraq, wmd; no heatlh care, right to be infomed, free higher education, etc., prove that.

    US needs a second party. Political parties seldom, if ever, melt down or do away with their basic demands, or rather, demand back our inheritance.
    and no matter how small second party wld be, let`s say, having one mn voters, it never stops yapping, yelping, screeching, etc.

  6. B99 said on July 26th, 2009 at 1:46pm #

    Activism is useful for its own sake, even if its fruits are never certain, even if we can never know what it takes to galvanize a population to act. People really should not be passive – it is not enough to discuss things on websites. Movements can change things – and have.

    If you believe US needs another party then get busy.

  7. beverly said on July 26th, 2009 at 5:23pm #

    Can anyone find the freaking antidote for that kool-aid Wendy and 99% of every damn body else keeps swilling?

    I encourage Wendy to keep reading this site along with counterpunch.org, blackagendareport.com, and chris-floyd.com. A few weeks of fact-based news should cure her delusions and naviete and have her throwing shoes at Barack and Nancy in no time.

  8. Max Shields said on July 26th, 2009 at 6:36pm #

    Matt, I, too, am against the war machine. But that is not the cause, which is why the Conservative Ron Paul “movement” is not the solution.

    The problem, so it seems, is not the endless war, and an anti-war movement, nor is it purely the need for a social movement, as in national movement.

    You are right, we live purposelessly from one stuff to another stuff; but the problem must be taken in small doses of “cure”. Focus on local chanage, experiment and new democratic forms of governance. Take pride in building local transformations. Start a local food grocery market, compost and recycle back to local farmers. Support the many purposes of local agriculture, environment services they can and do provide, water filtration and the like. Create land trusts, and renovate residential areas rather than displace the people who live there. Make a local difference.

    Change beyond that, is regional, these will take shape as one experiment of success leads to models of change, clusters multiply.

    Obama is about the end of the modern industrial society. He’s a waste of time and energy. War will end only when the transformation is complete, when the old empire is gone. We must prepare for what follows…

  9. Melissa said on July 26th, 2009 at 7:17pm #

    Ditto to what Max says . . . and says well.

    Don’t get paralyzed by the untouchable stuff. Work for the health, safety, freedom and full-bellies right where you are. Learn, teach, share, build relationships, community and solidarity for the transition and for posterity. Preserve and stock up your pantry while the harvest is coming in as we write. Get familiar with your city council, become city council.

    Start now.

    Peace, Resistance, Hope,

  10. russell olausen said on July 27th, 2009 at 4:35pm #

    If the U.S. of A was only of the North American continent it would be an empire. As it is today it is vastly more than just a continental empire.The only politics that you have available to you are the politics of empire. That cute 13 colony story is long gone and it is on to Rome. The only topic big enough for empires is religion and that’s why it is the currant subject that is big enough to carry that 300 lb. gorilla known as war and all the collieries to it.It is a bitter pill to swallow but the N.A. core of the empire is shrinking with every overseas aquisition.Us little people have known as much for a while and just try to work around the nasty parts.

  11. rick said on July 27th, 2009 at 8:09pm #

    This is just my opinion, I still think the freedom-movement is important and key and not to be discounted.
    I agree on working the things you speak of as we still are able to but-
    The society I believe they have planned for us
    is one feudal in nature. All you write about might not be achievable without liberty. Their goal is a control grid of the finest granularity. I have seen much of the technologies they will be employing in my 26 year career as network engineer for a fortune 50 company. I’m not a conspiracy theorist… More an AGENDA ANALYST. The thing the government hates more than anything is our independence and self-sufficiency.

  12. Nick said on August 13th, 2009 at 10:17am #

    Great article! I am a part of what you termed the “conservative anti-war movement”. However, I would not hesitate to support Greens or independants like Nader, Mckinney, and Jesse Ventura. It is my opinion that Greens could be well served by adopting the “Ron Paul model” of infiltrating the Republicrat party. Maybe if peace loving/police state hating Greens and peace loving/police state hating Conservatives/Libertarians can take over the Democrat and Repiblican parties, we can finally have an honest ideological debate in this country. Still, good luck in the third party route. It is difficult but not impossible!