Naomi Klein : Hopebroken and Hopesick

In Obamafanland:
A Lexicon of Disappointment

by Naomi Klein / April 17, 2009

All is not well in Obamafanland. It’s not clear exactly what accounts for the change of mood. Maybe it was the rancid smell emanating from Treasury’s latest bank bailout. Or the news that the president’s chief economic adviser, Larry Summers, earned millions from the very Wall Street banks and hedge funds he is protecting from reregulation now. Or perhaps it began earlier, with Obama’s silence during Israel’s Gaza attack.

Whatever the last straw, a growing number of Obama enthusiasts are starting to entertain the possibility that their man is not, in fact, going to save the world if we all just hope really hard.

This is a good thing. If the superfan culture that brought Obama to power is going to transform itself into an independent political movement, one fierce enough to produce programs capable of meeting the current crises, we are all going to have to stop hoping and start demanding.

The first stage, however, is to understand fully the awkward in-between space in which many US progressive movements find themselves. To do that, we need a new language, one specific to the Obama moment. Here is a start.

Hopeover. Like a hangover, a hopeover comes from having overindulged in something that felt good at the time but wasn’t really all that healthy, leading to feelings of remorse, even shame. It’s the political equivalent of the crash after a sugar high. Sample sentence: “When I listened to Obama’s economic speech my heart soared. But then, when I tried to tell a friend about his plans for the millions of layoffs and foreclosures, I found myself saying nothing at all. I’ve got a serious hopeover.”

Hoper coaster. Like a roller coaster, the hoper coaster describes the intense emotional peaks and valleys of the Obama era, the veering between joy at having a president who supports safe-sex education and despondency that single-payer healthcare is off the table at the very moment when it could actually become a reality. Sample sentence: “I was so psyched when Obama said he is closing Guantánamo. But now they are fighting like mad to make sure the prisoners in Bagram have no legal rights at all. Stop this hoper coaster-I want to get off!”

Hopesick. Like the homesick, hopesick individuals are intensely nostalgic. They miss the rush of optimism from the campaign trail and are forever trying to recapture that warm, hopey feeling-usually by exaggerating the significance of relatively minor acts of Obama decency. Sample sentences: “I was feeling really hopesick about the escalation in Afghanistan, but then I watched a YouTube video of Michelle in her organic garden and it felt like inauguration day all over again. A few hours later, when I heard that the Obama administration was boycotting a major UN racism conference, the hopesickness came back hard. So I watched slideshows of Michelle wearing clothes made by ethnically diverse independent fashion designers, and that sort of helped.”

Hope fiend. With hope receding, the hope fiend, like the dope fiend, goes into serious withdrawal, willing to do anything to chase the buzz. (Closely related to hopesickness but more severe, usually affecting middle-aged males.) Sample sentence: “Joe told me he actually believes Obama deliberately brought in Summers so that he would blow the bailout, and then Obama would have the excuse he needs to do what he really wants: nationalize the banks and turn them into credit unions. What a hope fiend!”

Hopebreak. Like the heartbroken lover, the hopebroken Obama-ite is not mad but terribly sad. She projected messianic powers on to Obama and is now inconsolable in her disappointment. Sample sentence: “I really believed Obama would finally force us to confront the legacy of slavery in this country and start a serious national conversation about race. But now whenever he seems to mention race, he’s using twisted legal arguments to keep us from even confronting the crimes of the Bush years. Every time I hear him say ‘move forward,’ I’m hopebroken all over again.”

Hopelash. Like a backlash, hopelash is a 180-degree reversal of everything Obama-related. Sufferers were once Obama’s most passionate evangelists. Now they are his angriest critics. Sample sentence: “At least with Bush everyone knew he was an asshole. Now we’ve got the same wars, the same lawless prisons, the same Washington corruption, but everyone is cheering like Stepford wives. It’s time for a full-on hopelash.”

In trying to name these various hope-related ailments, I found myself wondering what the late Studs Terkel would have said about our collective hopeover. He surely would have urged us not to give in to despair. I reached for one of his last books, Hope Dies Last. I didn’t have to read long. The book opens with the words: “Hope has never trickled down. It has always sprung up.”

And that pretty much says it all. Hope was a fine slogan when rooting for a long-shot presidential candidate. But as a posture toward the president of the most powerful nation on earth, it is dangerously deferential. The task as we move forward (as Obama likes to say) is not to abandon hope but to find more appropriate homes for it-in the factories, neighborhoods and schools where tactics like sit-ins, squats and occupations are seeing a resurgence.

Political scientist Sam Gindin wrote recently that the labor movement can do more than protect the status quo. It can demand, for instance, that shuttered auto plants be converted into green-future factories, capable of producing mass-transit vehicles and technology for a renewable energy system. “Being realistic means taking hope out of speeches,” he wrote, “and putting it in the hands of workers.”

Which brings me to the final entry in the lexicon.

Hoperoots. Sample sentence: “It’s time to stop waiting for hope to be handed down, and start pushing it up, from the hoperoots.”

© 2009 The Nation

[Naomi Klein is an award-winning journalist and syndicated columnist and the author of the international and New York Times bestseller The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, now out in paperback. Her earlier books include the international best-seller, No Logo: Taking Aim at the Brand Bullies; and the collection Fences and Windows: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the Globalization Debate (2002). To read all her latest writing visit]

Source / The Nation / CommonDreams

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6 Responses to Naomi Klein : Hopebroken and Hopesick

  1. Well-written article; one thing missing.

    Hope is subjective; you have to rely on things happening the way you ‘hope’.

    Believing is what must be done; trust must be had, and Obama can’t do it single-handedly.

    Most of what’s going on is the result of the greed of the regular good old USA citizen.

    My mother and I were talking tonight. Why 3 or 4 televisions when 1 – 2 at best is enough??? Why 2 or 3 cars when 2 (and she has just one) is sufficient???

    Why a boat that requires an expense and maintenance that most rarely use that often???

    Why designer clothes when we can do well with simple clothing for moderately-priced clothing stores???

    Why 20 pairs of shoes when 4 probably will work for most???

    Why piles and piles of jewelry???

    Why expensive watches when mom says the one I sent her (it cost me $30) tells her time just fine.

    Why gourmet foods when fresh, natural and moderately-priced foods suffice???

    Why multiple vacations in ‘far off places’????

    Why high tech gadgets and expensive electronic sounds systems and devices when mom still relies on her radio and tape player with a few tapes that keep her company as she lives alone at age 85????

    Why spend $500 on a puppy; costs to license; groom and feed when you can get one at the SPCA for a donation????

    All of these (and more) demands are what drove the retailer to bring in droves of ‘stuff’ to feed the hungry and demanding public!

    Why a 5 bed-room home with 4 baths when we could have lived in a modest home???

    We drove the economy; we drove fancy cars – we drove ourselves into debt, and we drive ourselves nuts trying to blame someone else for our excesses.

    If we’re going to have ‘hope’, we have to have the courage to admit our mistakes, and reign in on our demands – demanding from one president who walked into 8 years of wasteful spending; deficit budget, and hair-brained wars and conflicts based on a bunch of blithering idiots, is not what we should be doing.

    As mom said, we should quit our bitching and moaning and get our own lives back in control by cutting out our material expectations and get our lazy asses up and work for ANY wage – 2 or 3 jobs as some of us have done (as I did as a single mother).

    I am not sympathetic to the theories and rants as to what and who is responsible; I look in the mirror first and start with me – me; I’m responsible for me and my mistakes as well as my thrifty ways.

    We lost our basic concept of what a good life is; we fell for the stories told to us by television commercials; channels that sell high-priced ‘stuff’, and the other methods used to part us from our money.

  2. a-muse-d says:

    I agree that Obama will do nothing that the grass rooters don’t demand. Like all those who questioned what he was going to do about the continuing Drug War with the illegal marijuana centerpiece which has landed 49% of non-violent prisoners in our penetentiaries. His call-in questioners for his first town hall meeting asked preponderantly as to his position on legalization of marijuana. His spokesman, went “Uh” and giggled. It is up to us to keep his feet to the fire on this issue, among others. He has concilliatory tendencies for the status quo so his supporters need to rise up over the things they want to see accomplished. He won’t take the lead without intense pressure.

  3. Anonymous says:

    I just left the previous comment with the links to 5 petitions. These petitions have TEETH !! You will notice somethign different about these petitions when you go there and read them.

    It doesn’t matter what Barack Obama appears as whether progressive or wall street installed. It matters what we do. I want to see if hundreds of thousands of people will join with me to begin a new type of movement to challenge the companies that put representatives and senators and the President into power.

    My petitions do that. My petitions have demands and not requests like most petitions do. I have no book to sell like Naomi Klein. I don’t ask people to send me money. I ask people to stop spending money with a few friends of the people they put into office and power. Multiply that by hundreds of thousands and you will help move the pirate ship of state and turn it into a vessel for our vision.

    If you visit those links, you will see something different. I promise you.

    I like Barack Obama however I do not wait for him to do something. I’m doing something and I hope you will join me.

    The Liberal Democratic Party of the United States of America.

  4. a-muse-d says:

    Many of those calling in questions for President Obama specifically asked whether he would support the legalization of marijuana. I would be most interested in signing a petition to that effect.

  5. Great article – thanks for posting

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