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An Open Letter To
Senator Barack Obama

By Case Wagenvoord

02 July, 2008

Dear Senator Obama,

You had us going there, for awhile. We really thought you were the stiff breeze from the West that would dissipate the rankness wafting from the vomitorium that is our nation’s capital.

We should have known better. You are simply another in a long string of Democratic candidates who sing the Populist Rag on the way to the nomination, until it is locked up. Then a strange thing happens: party hacks crawl, like vermin, from their nooks and crannies and mute the populist theme.

This is a practice that that has a long and noble history. As one writer explains, “Its [the Democratic Party] particular function, well established by the latter part of the nineteenth century, was to capture mass discontent and channel it along non-revolutionary lines, so as to uphold the essential class interests of American big business.”

We keep forgetting that the Democratic platform has but two planks: fear of the neocon right and fear of a genuine populist uprising.

However, to a people fatigued by an endless flow of political rhetoric that says nothing by pretending to say everything, any promise of change, no matter how vacuous, is seized upon; just as an air bubble offers a split second of hope to a drowning man.

True to form, you have moved towards that traditional graveyard for democratic candidates, the center.

--When you appeared before APIAC, they fiddled and you danced to their tune.

-- One writer calls our attention to an article you published in last year’s Foreign Affairs, titled “Renewing American Leadership” in which you said, “This century’s threats are at least as dangerous as and in some ways more complex than those we have confronted in the past.” It’s Cold War rhetoric all over again, and a variation on the mantra that has governed American politics since the end of World War II: If you scare the chickens enough, they’ll vote for the fox.

On Monday you promised to expand Bush’s faith based programs, saying, "The challenges we face today, from putting people back to work to improving our schools, from saving our planet to combating HIV/AIDS to ending genocide, are simply too big for government to solve alone. We need all hands on deck." Of course government can’t do it, It’s spending all its money on empire building.

--When Rep. Keith Ellison, the only Muslim in the House, asked you to appear at a mosque, your campaign refused. In explaining why, one of your aides told Ellison, “We have a tightly wrapped message.” This is a polite way of saying that you’re running scared of the neocon right.

Finally, in commenting on the FISA bill that further undermines our democratic republic you said, “Given the legitimate threats we face, providing effective intelligence collection tools with appropriate safeguards is too important to delay.”

The Cold War warriors of old beat the bass drum of communism; our new-age warriors are tapping the tin can of terrorism. Thanks to a supine media, the decibel level remains the same.

I was saddened to see you picking up a tin can.

Another writer described your game plan when he said, “There are nuances of liberal thought in the Obama campaign, but that is terribly overshadowed by the ‘though police’ in his campaign that don’t want to give the McCain people any ‘talking points’ that they can use against him.”

Senator, if you were serious about change, you wouldn’t consider a day complete until you had made at least one statement that sent the neocon right into a spittle-spraying frenzy of black rage.

Some commentators see your move to the center as the exercise of old-fashioned political pragmatism. Such an approach makes sense, all things being equal.

But, senator, things ain’t equal.

The last asset bubble has popped; the Pentagon and our misguided quest for empire are bankrupting us. Empire building is a form of dementia that ultimately destroys all who attempt it. Faith-based initiatives would be unnecessary where we to redirect our resources away from trying to build a corporate empire overseas, to repairing our damaged social safety net.

In truth, Senator, these problems pale compared to the elephant in the room everyone is trying to ignore. We are chained to an economic system that is grounded on a geological fluke, the Age of Oil. Capitalism is on life support, and we act as if it’s still a randy young stud, screwing everything that crosses its path. That’s hubris for you. On the grand scale of things, our Industrial Age will barely register as a cosmic fart on the scale of geological time.

This is why power has to scare people about all the wrong things; fear-mongering directs the public’s attention from real problems. The paradox of fear mongering is that the further down the scale of probability a threat is, the greater is its potential to generate fear. Real threats don’t faze us, which is why nobody puts on a flame-retardant suit and crash helmet before getting behind the wheel, even though driving is one of the most life-threatening activities we engage in.

We really shouldn’t be too hard on you, though. The truth is that even if you were serious about change, there would be little you could do if elected. A toxic, bureaucratic momentum has driven us to the precipice, and we are staring down into the abyss. It is not a conspiracy, but an accretion of forces and bad decisions driven by a toxic combination of hubris, exceptionalism and greed.

Our only hope is that once we have plunged into the abyss and once the dust has settled, we will construct a decent and democratic society out of the shards that remain, though it is possible an even ranker society would emerge. (Those who envision an ecological paradise after the fall would do well to contract for protection with the nearest motorcycle gang before they begin plowing their fields.)

Some have suggested we start the revolution by voting for Nader, or by not voting at all. In my moments of dystopian bleakness, I think the best way to bring on the revolution would be to vote for McCain. McCain is mad, and his madness may be all we need to push us over the edge so we can began building anew.

That could well be the change we could count on.

I hope to hell I’m wrong.


Case Wagenvoord

Case Wagenvoord blogs at He welcomes comments at


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