Note on post-socialism and post-racism

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An emerging progressive narrative countering various attempts to push Obama in a ‘centrist’ direction likes to repeat that he’s not a socialist. Obviously, he’s not, but the denial is also useful as a pushback against the left. I actually haven’t seen much of this — usually when ‘socialism’ comes up the response from liberal progressives, even on TV, is curiosity and/or mild condescension rather than angry dismissal. More common is the response to Obama’s so-called terrorist ties (which was always a much more outlandish allegation — there are lots of nice Europeans who are also ‘socialist’ after all). Not only is he not a terrorist, he’s ready to use the specter of terrorism as an excuse for more war in the mideast. I don’t agree with the purely negative reading of Obama’s victory in this article, but I too couldn’t help but notice the liberal version of jingoism rear its tolerant head last night:

I was struck by the first reaction to Obama’s victory speech by Rachel Maddow, MSNBC’s rapidly rising left-liberal star. What was the line that Maddow seized on? “I was delighted,” Maddow exclaimed, “to hear him say, ‘A new dawn of American leadership is at hand. To those who would tear this world down, we will defeat you’.” She went on to snarl against “nihilists seeking world domination” with all the fervor of a right-wing radio shock jock or, for that matter, Bush or Cheney.

Terror, the flipside of Hope, is post-racial — an empty signifier capable of containing and rationalizing the irrational power of a thoroughly discredited racism: terror is bad and threatening, terrorists (who happen to be muslim, who happen to be brown) are bad and threatening, therefore the deaths of brown people, the abrogation of their rights, and their submission to American authority are all acceptable as collateral damage. Hope is good and successful, Obama (who happens to be brown), bearer of Hope, is good and successful, therefore brown people also have the potential to be good and successful, a potential that doesn’t have to be realized or institutionally guaranteed in any measurable way in order to exist — we ‘just know it’ now. Can the latter myth be turned against the former?

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