Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

January 20, 2009

Deconstructing Obama

Filed under: Obama — louisproyect @ 7:23 pm

Comments on selections from Barack Obama’s Inaugural Address

Thank you, thank you.

My fellow citizens:

I stand here today humbled by the task before us, grateful for the trust you have bestowed, mindful of the sacrifices borne by our ancestors. I thank President Bush for his service to our nation, as well as the generosity and cooperation he has shown throughout this transition.

[Ariel Gonzalez wrote an article on Huffington Post about whether Obama should thank Bush or not. He concluded, “If Obama thanks this miserable incompetent, I won’t be angry. I’ve decided not to criticize our new president for a year.” Well, that’s the reasons that ingrates like me and Dennis Perrin exist, I suppose.]

That we are in the midst of crisis is now well understood. Our nation is at war, against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred. Our economy is badly weakened, a consequence of greed and irresponsibility on the part of some, but also our collective failure to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age. Homes have been lost; jobs shed; businesses shuttered. Our health care is too costly; our schools fail too many; and each day brings further evidence that the ways we use energy strengthen our adversaries and threaten our planet.

[Hard choices… Our health care is too costly… Guess what comes next. If you said “Medicare benefits reduction”, you win the prize-you crafty extremist.]

On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord.

[No thanks. I vote for conflict and discord, the more the merrier.]

On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn out dogmas, that for far too long have strangled our politics.

[Worn out dogmas? Like this? “In one word, you reproach us with intending to do away with your property. Precisely so; that is just what we intend.”]

We remain a young nation, but in the words of Scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things. The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better history; to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea, passed on from generation to generation: the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free, and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness.

[Who ever wrote this gob of overblown, purple prose should be taken out and horsewhipped.]

In reaffirming the greatness of our nation, we understand that greatness is never a given. It must be earned. Our journey has never been one of short-cuts or settling for less. It has not been the path for the faint-hearted – for those who prefer leisure over work, or seek only the pleasures of riches and fame. Rather, it has been the risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things – some celebrated but more often men and women obscure in their labor, who have carried us up the long, rugged path towards prosperity and freedom.

[Yes, they wrote books about that. They are called Horatio Alger stories and they are bullshit. Bill Gates got where he is by being born into one of Seattle’s richest families and by exploiting technology that had hitherto been common property.]

For us, they packed up their few worldly possessions and traveled across oceans in search of a new life.

For us, they toiled in sweatshops and settled the West; endured the lash of the whip and plowed the hard earth.

For us, they fought and died, in places like Concord and Gettysburg; Normandy and Khe Sahn.

[You’ll note the inclusion of Khe Sahn here, clearly an attempt to co-opt even further the right wing of the Republican Party. Poor Abe Lincoln would be rolling over in his grave to see Gettysburg and the imperialist nightmare of Vietnam linked together.]

For everywhere we look, there is work to be done. The state of the economy calls for action, bold and swift, and we will act – not only to create new jobs, but to lay a new foundation for growth. We will build the roads and bridges, the electric grids and digital lines that feed our commerce and bind us together.

[Really? Today’s NY Times reports on the meager infrastructure spending that we can expect from your administration:

When President-elect Barack Obama announced last month that he would revive the economy with the largest public works program since the dawn of the Interstate System of highways, advocates for the nation’s long-neglected infrastructure were euphoric.

Some hoped that the time had finally come to bring high-speed rail to the United States, or to wean the nation from its dependence on foreign oil with new or transformed public transit systems, or to take bold action to solve the problems of rising populations and falling reservoir levels across the Southwest.

But those hopes are fading. As the details of the plan come into focus, big transformative building projects seem unlikely. And the plan does not begin to provide the kind of money that civil engineers believe is needed to bring the nation’s aging bridges and water systems and roads and transit systems to a state of good repair.

Less than one-third of the $825 billion plan that was introduced Thursday in the House would go to infrastructure, and much of that would go to high-tech projects, rather than traditional concrete-and-steel building and repair work. The rest would go to tax cuts and aid to help states pay for health care and education. At a time when the American Society of Civil Engineers has estimated that $1.6 trillion is needed to improve the nation’s crumbling infrastructure, the proposal calls for spending $30 billion on roads and, to the consternation of transit advocates, only $10 billion on transit and rail.]

Recall that earlier generations faced down fascism and communism not just with missiles and tanks, but with sturdy alliances and enduring convictions. They understood that our power alone cannot protect us, nor does it entitle us to do as we please. Instead, they knew that our power grows through its prudent use; our security emanates from the justness of our cause, the force of our example, the tempering qualities of humility and restraint.

[What was the force of our example that convinced the people of Nicaragua to vote for the U.S. backed candidate in 1990? I always had the impression that killing peasants, burning their crops and bombing their tractors had more to do with the outcome than the writings of Thomas Jefferson. As far as “humility and restraint” are concerned, I would advise you to eliminate these words from your vocabulary after the spectacle of a 150 million dollar inauguration, which is 3 times what George W. Bush spent.]

We are the keepers of this legacy. Guided by these principles once more, we can meet those new threats that demand even greater effort – even greater cooperation and understanding between nations. We will begin to responsibly leave Iraq to its people, and forge a hard-earned peace in Afghanistan. With old friends and former foes, we will work tirelessly to lessen the nuclear threat, and roll back the specter of a warming planet. We will not apologize for our way of life, nor will we waver in its defense, and for those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents, we say to you now that our spirit is stronger and cannot be broken; you cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you.

[Inducing terror and slaughtering innocents? You wouldn’t be referring to the Israeli Defense Force, would you? Oh, I see. You were referring to the filthy Hamas that was trying to wipe Israel off the face of the earth.]

To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect. To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict, or blame their society’s ills on the West – know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy. To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history; but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.

[Well, now. Can we interpret this as a signal that Egypt will no longer be the beneficiary of 10 billion dollars a year in American aid? What’s that you’re saying? You only were speaking of the corruption of our enemies, not our friends. Gosh, I should have known better.]

To the people of poor nations, we pledge to work alongside you to make your farms flourish and let clean waters flow; to nourish starved bodies and feed hungry minds. And to those nations like ours that enjoy relative plenty, we say we can no longer afford indifference to suffering outside our borders; nor can we consume the world’s resources without regard to effect. For the world has changed, and we must change with it.

[You have certainly picked the right person to carry out such a mission. Larry Summers was infamous for suggesting that the U.S. export its pollution to Africa since the desperate continent was likely to accept poisons for cash payments.]

[6 paragraphs of concluding blather was clipped.]


  1. 6 paragraphs of concluding blather was clipped.]

    The blather is in your comments

    Comment by Charles — January 20, 2009 @ 8:09 pm

  2. ha ha. thanks for translating in plain english.

    you left out the line about markets being the best way to generate wealth, though a “watchful” eye needs to be kept on them. That certainly was a lot to swallow.

    and was dianne feinstein giving an answer to Malcolm X in her introduction? talking about the ballot or the bullet? what was that about?

    Comment by veh — January 20, 2009 @ 8:13 pm

  3. Thanks for cutting through the malarkey.

    Comment by Grace Marie — January 20, 2009 @ 8:19 pm

  4. Keep this one, Louis… so – when you turn out to be wrong – you can acknowledge your errors.

    Comment by Richard Greener — January 20, 2009 @ 10:04 pm

  5. Louis your comments are right on target!

    Comment by Clifford — January 20, 2009 @ 10:33 pm

  6. My early assessment of Obama was he is just another American politician who has his share of inevitable subjective commitment to the capitalist parliamentary democracy thus his rhetoric about change and the constituents’ passionate yearning for a sort of unidentified justice which is also mobilized around this little object “change” is merely the setting that frames the existing the political reality. This little object “change” frames the reality only by its extraction from the setting and in this vein forming a window by its absence on the middle. This was my alleged Lacanian interpretation: The object called change frames the political reality only with its absence, when really there is no change. Here, Badiouean interpretation has already been given: You cannot participate in a system without a subjective commitment to it. “We must keep our distance from this subjective figure of politics”.

    But after his nominations and this inaugural jamboree and this speech that he gave, now, I’m convinced that he is really after some substantial chance. In the Marxist perspective, the change is obvious: In the minds of the crises, the common affairs of bourgeoisie are now much more complicated that the executives of the state must find a way to restore the previous contradictions among the ruling class and remind them their common interests. I think Mr. Obama is more than capable to accomplish this restorative function.

    Comment by Mehmet Çagatay — January 21, 2009 @ 1:01 am

  7. The Big Depression was transformed by World War II and rebuilding Europe. Now that the US has the weaponry to destroy any nation, WWIII is not an option.

    The Keynesian approaches didn’t work before, and won’t now.

    Unfortunately many on the left might acknowledge Obama shares goals with Bush. I don’t think they are prepared for his change of tactics, as diplomacy.

    Comment by Renegade Eye — January 21, 2009 @ 8:08 am

  8. Nice…..

    Comment by Marc — January 21, 2009 @ 1:19 pm

  9. In light of Renegade Eye’s comment here about switches in boojwah tactics,I wanted to share with you all that The World Socialist Website ran an interesting piece this morning comparing Obama’s inaugural address to that of Roosevelt http://www.wsws.org 1/21/09

    Comment by MIchael Hureaux — January 21, 2009 @ 1:45 pm

  10. I agree completely. Good work.

    Comment by John W — January 21, 2009 @ 2:01 pm

  11. Just remember, Barry is just a politician. He will steal your money, piss it up the wall on stuff you don’t want and generally interfere in your lives.

    The last messiah that walked this earth was nailed to a plank of wood and left to die, I suspect that once the euphoria wears off and the media wankfest is over, people will begin to realise that Barry does not walk on water and his downfall will be just as painful.

    Comment by henry crun — January 21, 2009 @ 3:07 pm

  12. The white corporate power structure’s new “Commander-in-Chief” apparently forgot to mention when the Obama Regime is going to free Leonard Peltier, free Mumia Abu-Jamal and other U.S. political prisoners.

    But “Czar Obama” did indicate that he’s opposed to finally creating a leisure-oriented egalitarian society in the United States (although Obama, himself, apparently hasn’t been forced to work as a wage-slave at a 9-to-5 factory or clerical office job like most U.S. working-class people, for many years).

    Comment by bob f. — January 21, 2009 @ 6:07 pm

  13. I hadn’t listened to the speech or read it. I’d heard that as inaugural boilerplate goes it wasn’t half bad. So, thanks Louis for cutting through this mess of crapola and sparing me the time of having to read it myself. (It’s much worse than I thought it would be– Gettysburg and Khe Sanh?) Be afraid; be very afraid of this bunch. BTW: The guy who wants this saved so you can eat your words or some such– I have a wager for him/her on that one. My email is available:
    I’ll bet up to $7500– All I’ve got in the account. The bet is that LP is right in every comment. Settle up in one year.
    Bob Montgomery

    Comment by Bob Montgomery — January 21, 2009 @ 6:15 pm

  14. That we are in the midst of crisis is now well understood. Our nation is at war, against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred. Our economy is badly weakened, a consequence of greed and irresponsibility on the part of some, but also our collective failure to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age. Homes have been lost; jobs shed; businesses shuttered. Our health care is too costly; our schools fail too many; and each day brings further evidence that the ways we use energy strengthen our adversaries and threaten our planet.

    [Hard choices… Our health care is too costly… Guess what comes next. If you said “Medicare benefits reduction”, you win the prize-you crafty extremist.]

    Lou wins the prize for non sequiturs. What you say is a tortured interpretation of the words you quote.

    Comment by Charles — January 21, 2009 @ 7:00 pm

  15. It is well established that Obama developed his economic ideas through discussions with Austan Goolsbee of the U. of Chicago. Goolsbee is the chief economic consultant to the Democratic Leadership Council, a group that is associated with entitlement “reform”. Now I don’t know why the idea of a Democratic president attacking Social Security and Medicare should strike you as so outlandish. After all, it was Bill Clinton who enacted welfare “reform”, not a Republican.

    Comment by louisproyect — January 21, 2009 @ 7:08 pm

  16. “Settling of the West,” is a nice way to disguise the genocide of a continent..

    Comment by Comrade Basa — January 21, 2009 @ 11:52 pm

  17. […] not being appalled by his speech. The first commentary I read on the speech which made sense was Louis Proyect’s: In reaffirming the greatness of our nation, we understand that greatness is never a given. It must […]

    Pingback by Alas, a blog » Blog Archive » Choosing Conflict and Discord — January 22, 2009 @ 12:31 pm

  18. “As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals.”

    This repudiation, perhaps, of his own vote to give amnesty to the telecoms? Maybe an apology for his failure to filibuster as promised?

    Obama rejects the choice without specifying what he will choose when the choice presents itself again. Will ideals always be subordinate to safety?

    Say much, say nothing.

    Comment by Glenn — January 22, 2009 @ 7:33 pm

  19. Worn out dogmas? Like this? “In one word, you reproach us with intending to do away with your property. Precisely so; that is just what we intend.”

    Can anyone tell me what that means?

    Who ever wrote this gob of overblown, purple prose should be taken out and horsewhipped.

    Critique of style is one thing. But I’m more curious what you thinks of the ideals that paragraph sets forth.

    or to take bold action to solve the problems of rising populations and falling reservoir levels across the Southwest

    I actually have a lot of space to agree with you on the issue that only a small fraction of the stimulus money will go towards rebuilding infrastructure. But I slice the above out because my answer to that part of the question is that the aquifers in the area just can’t support a lot of people – it’s a damn desert. People there should either a) pay the market price for local water, or b) move somewhere where there is cheaper water. It’s not something that’s been in the national media much, but there is fear in the in the Midwest that one of various proposals to pipe Great Lakes water out there is going to gain traction. And I still see no one talking about municipal sewer systems, which are in pretty sad shape. Hell, here in Chicago they still occasionally dig up WOODEN pipes.

    The fact that you live somewhere doesn’t mean that you have a right to take my money to ameliorate the costs of living there. The Southwest is dry and water is in short supply. Big deal. I live near Chicago and in the winter it’s cold as Dante’s Hell. So my heating bill costs a lot of money. Do I get to get a government subsidy for it? No. Nor should I. If I can’t afford that or I don’t like being cold I should move.

    What was the force of our example that convinced the people of Nicaragua to vote for the U.S. backed candidate in 1990.

    Yeah, we’ve done some bad stuff. We’ve also done a lot of good stuff. You want perfection, go to Heaven. Overall the U.S. has led, not hindered, the struggle towards the ideals that our Declaration of Independence set forth and our Constitution was written to further. That it’s been a bumpy ride with betrayals along the way is inevitable. Our government is made up of humans, not gods.

    Comment by RonF — January 24, 2009 @ 5:24 pm

  20. we’ve done some bad things but were not perfect? god thats pathetic!

    People should freeze or sweat because of where they live? If your poor especially you should be poor somewhere else I imagine? You make living anywhere except a mild clime sound like a luxury choice!

    Comment by SGuy — January 24, 2009 @ 7:14 pm

  21. 1) No, that’s not what I said. Try re-reading it.

    2) That’s not what I said either. It’s not an issue of what people should do – it’s an issue of what people will do. Wherever you live there are benefits and challenges. It’s great to live on the seashore but you risk damage from storms. It’s wonderful to live in a valley but you risk getting flooded out. Live in Chicago and the summers are relatively mild but the winters are cold. Live in the desert and your winters are mild but it’s hotter than hell in the summer. Chicago has cheap water, the desert has expensive water.

    If you live in the desert and I have to subsidize your water, why shouldn’t you subsidize my heating bill? There’s benefits and challenges wherever you live. Make your choices and pay for them. But don’t expect me to pay for your choices for you and still have to pay for my own as well.

    Comment by RonF — January 26, 2009 @ 3:56 pm

  22. I finished undergraduate school in the mid-70’s. I was living in New England and the economy sucked, a lot like right now. I didn’t sit around and whine about how someone owed me a job and this and that – I moved to Chicago to find a job. Which I did, after some looking. Nobody has a right to be supported by government subsidy so that they can remain living in a particular place. It’s up to you to do what it takes to support yourself.

    Comment by RonF — January 26, 2009 @ 4:01 pm

  23. I thought Obam’s speech was dreadful. After the Khe Sanh reference, I had a hard time listening to the rest.

    Michael Yates

    Comment by Michael Yates — January 26, 2009 @ 5:05 pm

  24. oooh wow personal details ‘I got on with it, I found a job’ geeze well your personal experience 30 years ago is a perfect model for today! Sounds to me that your the kind of person who thinks people shouldn’t get much government support for anything, they should just struggle on and pull themselves up by their bootstraps, even if they can’t afford boots. Buddy try reading what I write! you’ve done nothing but reiterate the same tired crap, failing to engage with my point that the choice to live somewhre may well not be a completely free choice. So what if people do want to ameliorate their surroundings, isn’t that what we as humans have been doing for thousands of years? You completely ignore the economic aspects, that some people arer able to live cool in the middle of a desert many others aren’t. Im not surprised if your just pushing the cliched notion that government help is going to those who have no need of it.
    Also try to own responsibility for your own arguments, whatever higher meaning you had in your head your argument was complete shit! Look to heaven for perfection? does that mean that one is obscurantist or utopian to expect a government not to support, for example, the Contra terrorists in Nicaragua who killed thousands of people attempting to overthrow a democratic government? You didn’t even begin to deal with the reality of US foreign policy, you just made a sweeping vague judgment about it that fit your idealized version of world history. Believe me if I wasn’t reading shit I wouldn’t be calling you on your shit!

    Comment by SGuy — January 26, 2009 @ 5:40 pm

  25. Louis, you should know that “deconstruction” is not Critical Analysis but de-construction, removing or resituating interpretations (e.g., psychoanalytic ones) that monopolize the experience of texts. Derrida speaks of Heidegger’s “letting beings be” in this context, and that’s exactly what you should do: let Obama be. One has a green light to proceed with genuine leftist projects in American society today, which one didn’t under the Bush Administration it hardly mattered that Nader shoe-horned in, and the left which is more concerned with action than striking intellectual poses — we two should at least be included in this set — should put radical alternatives “on the market”, so to speak. Otherwise you are simply the beneficiary of the administration’s carefully calibrated tolerance for “discontents” that helped it get elected (check Obama’s repudiation of McCain’s theocratic grab for his grandmother, who art in heaven, in acknowledging nonbelievers as first-class citizens).

    Comment by Jeff Rubard — January 26, 2009 @ 6:52 pm

  26. RonF, your parody of a clueless windbag was hilarious, though perhaps a bit over-the-top.

    Comment by John — January 27, 2009 @ 4:13 pm

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