Robert Johnson’s analysis in the current issue of The New York Review, which examines President Barack Obama’s jobs program and the speaking tour he gave to promote it, provides a valuable perspective on reality at its harshest. Obama’s biggest challenge in going before any large public audience is that he will probably best be remembered for his campaign speeches in 2008 and for all that rhetoric about the “audacity of hope,” which encouraged so many to believe that this would be the man to undo all of the messes visited upon us by the preceding Bush Administration. The problem is that all of that rhetoric ultimately added up to little more than a new formula for getting elected, leaving the country with a disenchanted electorate will little to do now other than nurse its wounds of rejection. I tried to sum up this situation last week as follows:
Indeed, Obama may well have left the legacy of a nation that no longer has the audacity to hope that a failed system of representative government can give way to a new “way of doing things.”
Johnson had his own way of putting it, which does a better job of homing in on specifics:
Many Americans see government as an insurance agency for rich and powerful people and corporations, who deploy lobbying dollars and campaign contributions to take care of their interests but not those of others. Faced with the choice of having their tax dollars spent for the benefit of elites or demanding that taxes be radically reduced, they see cutting taxes as the only rational course of action. Our nation appears to be caught in a downward spiral where lack of trust leads to dysfunction and disappointment, which, in turn, reinforce distrust and set our society on an ever lower trajectory.
In this context that “audacity of hope” has been so enfeebled that we seem incapable of imagining any strategy to reverse that downward spiral. This is not because we lack the individuals with the necessary imagination but because those individuals have been systematically excluded from the corridors of policy-making to make sure that those individuals who represent the various special interests that caused the mess in the first place are not undermined.
When we have a disenchanted electorate, we get elections whose outcomes are accidents of default. People do not like choosing the lesser of two evils, so they opt out of choice altogether. There are, of course, other choices; and the Occupy Wall Street campaign may well resonate with a substantial percentage of our voting public, regardless of party affiliations or sympathies. The potential that this campaign has to appeal could easily explain why our country’s consciousness industry, through its primary agency, the mainstream media, has been working so assiduously to keep this story out of the focus of public attention. Put another way, when you have special interests that in the past have been so good at convincing the general public that a deadly product like cigarettes is actually good for them, those interests can also convince that same public that our current downward spiral is actually for the public good. Whether or not Occupy Wall Street can break this stranglehold remains to be seen, but right now they certainly have more audacity than anyone trying to run in the next Presidential election.