Plenary: Round Table: Troubling Times: The Right, The Left and The Obama Factor

I made a point of getting up and getting out earlier this morning as I wanted to attend this plenary panel on the oppositions around Barack Obama, and “what it invokes for the citizenship” of the US. The chair is D. Soyini Madison, who is introducing the topic in a convincing manner. I knew about some of these challenges, though she helped me to frame how President Obama is not seen as doing enough of what any political side of every issue wants. No matter what he does, nobody seems happy.

The panel is comprised of Bryant Alexander, Aisha Durham, Claudio Moreira, Norman Denzin, and Michael Giardina.

Bryant spoke about the need for environmental emergency, partly due to the BP spill in the Gulf, as well as the range of concerns involved in the environment. He also spoke about what it means for President Obama to be a black president. He is waiting for Barack Obama to demonstrate how he is a black man in the White House, though he is not reallly sure what that means. Makes me wonder what that means, since it is so obvious about the president, but the fact that race is present in conctested ways on many levels, this is a very useful concept to consider. I found Bryant’s perspective refreshing; I would like to hear more from him.

Aisha Durham spoke next; she introduced herself as a Texas educator (with all that means today given the Texas curriculum problems). She does believe in the emancipatory, affirming, and transformative aspects of knowledge and education. When students ask her why she is there, she responds by stating that she is there in pursuit of freedom. Quite inspiring.

Michael began by announcing that he did not prepare a script, but he did want to speak about Sarah Palin. He read several quotes from a Palin rally, and the examples he read were partly anti-Obama as well as Islamaphobic. Now a quote from Chomsky, who stated that this right-wing position is really addressing issues that happening to them — those are answers — but they are not hearing anything else.

Claudio Moreira spoke about various mythologies (is Elvis still alive? Was Obama born here?). He spoke about how we can not be a hostage of this state; we need to take care of ourselves. Do we talk about the politics of cynicism or a politics of hope? Thoughtful.

Norman is speaking as being caught between 3 discourses. Driven under a relentless framework of fodder or injustice under Bush, and then we get caught up in this Obam / Clinton / McCain /Palin conflict. The politics of Bush gets pushed to the side and there is an issue of this conflict in every manner. Then, with the Obama victory. Sleeping well that night with the sense that the Left Won, and almost the next day the fire of rage began with the counter-Obama discourse and now the air has once again been sucked out of the room, as the same issues used against Bush are now used against Obama. We are now back where we started. In this, he then mentioned a book Acts of Acitivism and an essay in it —  Crazy Patriotism and Crazy Post-Black Woman (did not catch the author reference).

Can we find a space today that is not distracted by the right and is straight forward to focus on within universities and journals and culture? That is Denzin’s challenge.

Great question from somebody from the UK about what the Tea Party is.

What are the Democratic messages of the Left? That may just be the problem — there is the lack of any other vision. The Left does not seem to have a message of its own to stand on, as opposed to being only in reaction to. The Left gets caught up in all its individual issues, rather than a leading strategy. Wondering if that is what the situation is — the Right has the same message it pounds home, while the Left is only seen in reaction to while not fostering its own vision.

So, what is the vision of the Left? Dare we hope that there be some strategy?

The attendees of this session who are asking questions, or at least the past 5 questions, are all from people who are not American. Very telling of the issues at hand?

The Right seems to have a rhetoric, filled with sound bites and a message that in some way speaks to enough of a base that it is easy to rally the troops. What is the base for the Left? Is there a base that can have its own rhetoric with sounds bites that does not react to, but instead directs its troops toward some goal, some vision of the future? With the Right’s base in a Christian self-righteousness and a whiteness that makes an automatic us vs. them (and by them I mean anybody who is not white) seem like a safe place, an all of us together with enough shared (hegemonic) stories, including even those that are not there. This reminds me when I was a Rupublican; there was a certain sense of safety as being a member of something that has a message and an identity of a sense of us (god, guns, and gays; white christians, pro-life, etc.). Even if I did not fit all (or even most) of the stereotypes in the party-line, at least  there was a party-line.  It was not intellectual, not overly thought-out, and was hammered home again and again, without ever feeling a need to apoligize or respond to criticism.

How can the Left do the same?