Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

March 14, 2011

Taking Obama’s Measure

Filed under: Obama,swans — louisproyect @ 6:10 pm

Taking Obama’s Measure
by Louis Proyect

Book Review

Hodge, Roger D.: The Mendacity of Hope: Barack Obama and the Betrayal of American Liberalism, HarperCollins, 2010, 259 pages, ISBN 978-0-06-201126-8

Ali, Tariq: The Obama Syndrome: Surrender at Home, War Abroad, Verso, 2010, 153 pages, ISBN-13 978-1-84467-449-7

Street, Paul: The Emperor’s New Clothes: Barack Obama in the Real World of Power Paradigm, 2010, 274 pages, ISBN 978-1-59451-845-4 (paperback)

(Swans – March 14, 2011)   Starting in 2005, just after things had turned completely sour in Iraq, a visit to your local bookstore would reveal a plethora of books about how rotten George W. Bush was. Eric Alterman’s The Book on Bush: How George W. (Mis)leads America and David Corn’s The Lies of George W. Bush were fairly typical offerings, amounting to the printed version of what could be heard any evening on MSNBC.

While people like Alterman and Corn viewed Barack Obama’s election as a kind of Second Coming, it took not much longer than a year for disillusionment to sink in. Criticisms of Obama, however, do not go for the jugular as they did with Bush. No matter how many terrible things he does, there will be a lemming-like march in 2012 to line up behind him in order to stave off Republican control of the White House. Liberals have trouble understanding that it is exactly the “centrist” politics of the current administration that will lead to its ouster, if such an ouster takes place.

Given the abysmal record of the Obama presidency so far, which amounts to Bush’s third term in many respects, it is testimony to his continued hold on liberal America that only three critical books have emerged from the left. (The ones emanating from the right are exclusively crackpot exercises making the case that Obama is spearheading a drive toward socialism.)

Of the three, Roger Hodge’s The Mendacity of Hope is likely to be the only one for sale in Barnes and Noble or Borders. Published by HarperCollins, it has been widely reviewed in the mainstream press. The author was formerly an editor at Harper’s Magazine, which has no connection to the publisher HarperCollins although they were initially part of the same company launched in the early 1800s by James and John Harper. Today Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation owns HarperCollins, an outlet obviously calculated to make money based on whatever sells — right or left.

That being said, it is doubtful that HarperCollins would have had the slightest interest in Tariq Ali’s The Obama Syndrome or Paul Street’s The Empire’s New Clothes, the two other books reviewed here. Ali and Street approach the Obama administration from the standpoint of Marxism, an ideology that will not get you in the front door at HarperCollins. Ali’s book was published by Verso, where he has been an editor for decades. Street comes to us courtesy of Paradigm Publishers, a left-oriented scholarly imprint that will likely never be able to afford a quarter-page ad in The New York Times Book Review or The New York Review of Books. That being said, readers trying to make sense of arguably the most reactionary Democratic president since Grover Cleveland should seek out all three books.

full: http://swans.com/library/art17/lproy66.html


  1. Good reviews. I already have both of Street’s books on my bookshelf, but I have yet to get around to reading Empire’s New Clothes. I’ll definitely have to check out the Tariq Ali book. I’ve been meaning to read more of his work, but I’m so bogged down in books now that I don’t know when I’ll get to him. I took your advice and read Michael A. Leibowitz’s “Build It Now!” and was deeply impressed, so now I’m reading his “Beyond Capital” and while it’s only about 200 pages, it’s some pretty heavy stuff.

    Comment by Rob — March 14, 2011 @ 6:41 pm

  2. I should sue Hodge for stealing my title:


    Comment by Binh — March 14, 2011 @ 9:48 pm

  3. Binh, I imagine that you are not much of a Madisonian either. Just joking myself.

    Comment by louisproyect — March 14, 2011 @ 9:54 pm

  4. Great reviews, Louis.
    However, it’s depressing to think that after the 2012 Democratic Convention, in which yet another rising star makes a “great” speech that sets him/her up for 2016, you might end up reviewing another book by Paul Street that unmasks the new guy.

    What are the odds?

    Comment by Brian Gallagher — March 14, 2011 @ 11:17 pm

  5. Yes, Tariq Ali did say in 2004 that electing John Kerry would open up more space for challinging the “war on terror” and the neoconservatives (when I heard hims say this, there really wasn’t an economic component to it, he wasn’t suggesting that it would assist anticapitalist efforts), but, by 2009, I think that he no longer had even this sliver of hope, as he openly stated that he wasn’t voting for any of the three major parties, Labour, the Liberal Democrats or the Tories, in that parliamentary election.

    Comment by Richard Estes — March 14, 2011 @ 11:20 pm

  6. I do believe many of the more mainstream dissidents were advocating more of an anti-Bush vote rather than a pro-Kerry vote. I view Ali’s position as similar, if not the same, as Chomsky’s back in ’04 and that a lesser Bush would be less of a nightmare rather than the nightmare full blown. Chomsky and Ali has always been extremely critical of the Dems and they know what really makes the two parties, and the whole political system tick. It is a wonder that they still hold some kind of fervour for the voting system.

    Comment by Joshua — March 18, 2011 @ 2:08 am

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