Thiher — and The Rag Bloggers — on Obama, Heaven, Hell

Updated April 6, 2008 by The Rag Blog

The following comes to us from Gary Thiher, our compadre from the sixties and seventies who now professes philosophy in Arkansas. His comments are in response to The Left and Barack Obama by David Hamilton and Thorne Dreyer on The Rag Blog. You are invited to add your comments.

After 40 years, our radical critique still applies.
By Gary Thiher / The Rag Blog / April 5, 2008

Duuuh! Have we forgotten our radical critique, which has proven so accurate over 40 years and more?

That Obama will bring the era of peace and freedom seems profoundly doubtful, let alone that he and Clinton would both do so. He has after all racked up slightly more Wall St. money than even Clinton (over $6 million), has endorsed no change in Israel-Palestine policy, advocates increasing not contracting the military, opts for a clearly inadequate health care policy, etc., etc. I myself would opt for Obama over Clinton only because it is slightly less clear that he would inevitably move to a moderate/conservative position, while it is virtually certain that she would.

If there is a reason to work for the Dem candidate, it is surely a fairly strong “lesser of 2 evils” argument – because the contemporary Republicans have become sooo evil. This is not merely a matter of their forthrightly and purely reactionary policies (reactionary in the literal sense – to take us back to a previous era, viz., the Gilded Age). As the current administration reveals, they have the souls of tyrants in the most literal sense. Even in the sixties, when we knew there existed contingency plans for mass incarcerations in concentration camps, I never felt the immanent, real possibility of outright dictatorship and tyranny the way I do with Bush and Co. Torture, attack on habeus corpus. On habeus corpus, for chrisake!, the oldest and purest guard against absolutism.

I know that seeking heaven is a more lovely motivator than is avoiding hell, but let’s don’t fall for the fantasy that so often leads radicals astray in one way or another, in defiance of what a cold-eyed analysis of the real historical conditions indicates.

Response from Alice Embree

I find a few more reasons to support Obama than Gary mentioned.

He has aroused a stunning grassroots level of support that holds some promise of being aroused post-election to hold him accountable to his agenda of hope. His own grassroots organizing resume holds some promise that he will listen to those who are mobilized.

The real problem is that no one ever seems to lay out a coherent strategy for post-electoral mobilization. If we believe that an independent peace movement is needed to end the war, then we have a responsibility to resurrect that peace movement to at least pre-war numbers. Otherwise, we will have a re-deployment of ground forces and a shift to air attacks. (Does that sound familiar? It is already happening.) If, we want universal, single payer health care, then we have a responsibility to mobilize numbers that can counter the corporate forces that so easily cratered the Hillary effort.

I have tasted the kool-aid, been moved by the speeches, and been amazed by the legions of supporters. I respond to the message of hope and the language of “we,” not the Hillary language of “I”. It has been a long time since we’ve had a president that can put two sentences together, much less speak eloquently of what is possible. We are like thirsty souls in the desert. But, as radicals we know that movements make changes and politicians respond. Our job description is to build and sustain a movement for peace and justice.

Alice Embree / The Rag Blog / April 5, 2008

And more: from author and former Austin activist Dick Reavis

Old Comrades:

I now live in North Carolina, which will conduct a Democratic
primary on May 6. I have contributed to the Obama campaign and am
helping a little, standing with a clipboard in my hand in front of
supermarkets on weekends, registering voters.

I am doing this because I believe that Obama’s presence in the
presidency would further debilitate racism. He doesn’t have to be a
good guy to achieve that end. In my view, even Powell and Rice
helped clear the nation’s mind in the same way.

I see signs in the campaign that perhaps others of you saw in
1964, or in the McCarthy campaign of 1968, or in 1972. Idealistic
young people have been drawn in. The campaign has in several ways
deprofessionalized politics.

The volunteers I encounter expect more justice from Obama’s
election that they are likely to see if he reaches the White House. It
is unclear to me how he will feel if they are disillusioned–but we
know how they will feel, and I think we need to be on the scene, if
only to empathize. Had Democratic supporters of our day empathized
with our disillusionment over Lyndon, our lives would have been much

The one thing that I am seeing clearly at the supermarkets is that
the people, “rich” and poor–I have worked both at Whole Foods and
Food Lion–white and black, are sick of Bush, sick of the war, sick of
the fat-cat ripoffs.

I don’t think that any of us can know what the outcome of that mood will be. The Obama campaign is built on hopes that may be dashed, I agree. But when, in the last 30-plus years, has it even been possible to entertain hopes of any kind?

Dick J. Reavis / The Rag Blog / April 6, 2008

And this from Roger Baker

Support Obama?

I think there are two issues here that tend to get in the way of each other and confuse things.

Issue #1: is Obama the sort of guy who can inspire hope among the 80 per cent (or pick a number) who feel they are getting shafted by the system the worst; those who understand that and say in polls that indicate 80 per cent think the USA is on the wrong track but probably think the right politician could offer relief.

The answer to that is pretty clearly Yes. But about the same number seem to support Hillary for about the same reason. And yet apparently McCain narrowly leads in the polls because folks think he could turn around a country run by special interests and on the wrong track. Go figure.

The best reason to vote for Obama, IMO, is that he best represents hope for those on the bottom. And because in politics, appearance is reality. And because I really think he is a sincere reformer just as much as his mother was. I really like Obama, whereas I think Hillary is a power junkie.

Issue #2: Can Obama come out looking good as he tries to clean the Aegean stables of corporate domination? Could he get the country back on the right track like FDR got acclaim for doing during the great depression? Almost certainly not; that is what the facts seem to me to argue.

Here the answer is a lot more clear in my mind. We are in a global economic crisis (closely tied to fossil fuel energy). Under Bush and Clinton deregulation of corporate control, there are tens of trillions of dollars of worthless paper IOUs like “credit default swaps” permeating Wall Street. All that debt can never be repaid; its all based on cheap oil and exponential growth, so the global economy is going to REALLY crash at some point. The fed is in a desperate situation, caught in a liquidity trap, trying to inject enough liquidity to prevent a general panic, with further devaluation and serious inflation only a matter of time.

Economics is really the predictable face of politics; I think we can see that things are about to get worse, no matter who is elected, and this will leave the whole nation greatly disappointed.

A few guys like Richard Heinberg and William Howard Kunstler seem to me to tell the truth about how serious our problems are, and the likely social outcome. Here is Heinberg, who at least is somewhat optimistic:

Robert Heinberg: Resilient communities – paths for powering down.

No Democrat can tell such truths under such circumstances and hope to get much support. The Socialists and Greens are much better in their program than the Dems, but they offer false hopes too. (The Green Party platform is a long unprioritized list of individually good policies, but with an unaffordable price tag which means they cannot be implemented. I say that while being personally a fairly Naderish Green.)

I’ll likely vote for Obama, but my expectations are low. Even so, I certainly wish him the best of luck and hope he can pull off a miracle in navigating the white waters of a nation full of suffering, angry voters looking for scapegoats.

Meanwhile, I won’t stop fighting for a better world. I’m programmed that way, I think, and its hard to break old habits.

Roger Baker / April 6, 2008 / The Rag Blog

From Paul Spencer:

My daughter and her husband were talking with friends last Summer, one of whom had worked with Obama in Chicago in the ‘projects’. She told Pasha and David that Obama was enthusiastic and dedicated in his work there. This was at the time that the campaign was just beginning to take shape, so it was not a recruitment speech on her part. She added that she felt a strong affinity for Obama on the basis of her experience with his work and character.

I agree with those who are concerned with some of his policies. I agree with those who doubt that he can – or will try to – make systemic change. I agree that we are in for bad times, and Obama will not be able to solve the basic problems. But I completely agree with David (Hamilton) that: 1) he has the best program suggestions of the current candidates; 2) he is the only candidate who may turn ‘left’; and 3) his ‘rock star’ celebrity status has activated a large number of citizens who believe ‘left’ but feel disenfranchised.

Our task is to keep our programs in front of both the Obama campaign and these potential progressives. Our task is to create and maintain a presence in local party organizations – Democrat, Green, or similar. Our task is to be ready with program and organization when Naomi Klein’s “Shock”(s) destabilize our government.

That’s why David’s idea to promote a programmatic discussion of the Israel/Palestine crisis is vital. Of course, he had to pick the most intractable of the lot, but the template is there. (See The Rag Blog’s Israel-Palestine peace plan discussion.)

Paul Spencer / April 6, 2008 / The Rag Blog

And David Hamilton:

Obama as an agent for progressive change.

Obama has already done something very important to improve democracy in America. He has significantly democratized the process of presidential campaign financing. Howard Dean deserves some credit for pioneering the model, but I doubt he knew what would happen in advance when he started raising money over the internet in 2004. Obama has carried this approach to new heights.

The last figures I read in the NY Times, Obama has over 1.25 million contributors. That’s a record several times over. Through February, his campaign had raised over $193 million, already a historic record for an entire presidential campaign. Virtually all of it came from individuals and none of it from PAC’s. In March he raised another $40 million, doubling the amount Clinton has raised each month this year.

Corporations are barred from making direct contributions, so his top 10 contributors as of March 1, were individuals (limited to $2300 each) who work for the following institutions: (

Goldman Sachs $523,478
University of California $339,168
UBS AG $327,302
JPMorgan Chase & Co $317,142
Lehman Brothers $302,697
Citigroup Inc $301,146
National Amusements Inc $293,022
Sidley Austin LLP $271,857
Harvard University $268,491
Google Inc $259,010

Eliminating the two universities, that totals $2,595,520 from people who work for major corporations, mostly financial institutions. That’s a little over 1 per cent of his total contributions and what he is now raising every two days. I have heard that his median contribution is $109. Sally and I have given him more than that.

A very important part of our analysis over the last 40 years is that we have a system of legalized bribery of politicians in this country called “campaign contributions.” By this means more than any other, politicians became beholden to big donors who represented the corporate ruling class. Although we would prefer public financing of all political campaigns, to fundamentally change this system is no small accomplishment.

David Hamilton / March 16, 2008 / The Rag Blog

Go to The Left and Barack Obama, Thorne Dreyer and David Hamilton.
Also see Progressives for Obama by Hayden, Ehrenreich, Fletcher and Glover.

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