Friday, February 11, 2011


On the night Barack Obama was elected president, Berkeley celebrated. You could hear car horns honking late into the night. Kids were celebrating in the street. It was as though winning the election were a revolution, the voice of the people heard at last.

This Al Jazeera video is instructive. It's a few seconds of Cairo celebrating an actual revolution, one that the Obama administration did not meaningfully support.

It puts things in perspective.


Gladys said...


Anonymous said...

As someone who was honking and celebrating that night, I want to say that my joy was due largely to the fact that the country elected an African-American to the presidency. Cynics may role their eyes, but for many who witnessed and remember the horrors of Jim Crow-era segregation, or who have relatives who do, or, indeed, who have simply read about that era and are able to imagine and empathize, that fact alone was reason enough for jubilation.

I take it you’ll grant that point. What leaves me most puzzled is the vague condescension to the Berkeley (and Oakland) revelers. All that video shows is the relative puniness of the Berkeley celebration compared to the one in Cairo. Okay, but so what?

Your argument seems to be that the celebration here at home was both too much and not enough. Too much because it was incommensurate with what had actually been achieved (i.e., the election of another centrist, corporation-loving, dictator-supporting Democrat); not enough because ideally we, too, should be able to throw off the yolk of oppression so that all our countrymen, not just the kids (and why say “kids” and not, for example, “young people”), will be compelled to spontaneous dancing in the street.

I think that’s unfair to the people who were overjoyed at Obama’s election. The goal of our politics isn’t to cast off violent dictators who fix elections, and whom the vast majority despises. Rather, it’s to nudge people to the left by getting them to see the merits of the progressive agenda (universal healthcare, priority spending on education, etc.). Do you not agree? It would be nice to elect Dennis Kucinich, but there are a lot of ill-informed people out there in Middle America. Many of them love Sarah Palin, and many, many of them vote. I think that’s too bad, but we do share the world with them.

Though a mainstream Democrat, Obama was not the establishment candidate. He was against the Iraq war at a time when few were, and he was elected at a moment when it seemed many supports for conservative economic policy were beginning to crumble. There was reason to be optimistic (also, remember Bush?). Yes, I think Obama has been a disappointment, but the full extent of that disappointment could not have been known beforehand. Indeed, it remains to be seen.

- Steph fj