An article run by BusinessWeek and Bloomberg News on February 9th, 2010 read “Obama: I Don’t Begrudge JPMorgan Chase and Goldman Sachs their multi-million dollar bonuses”, quoting Obama as saying “I, like most of the American people, don’t begrudge people success or wealth. That is part of the free-market system.” This of course led the Huffington Post and other left-wing sites to respond with headlines such as ‘He Doesn’t Get It!’.

Candidate Obama: Progress
Candidate Obama: Progress
We have to differentiate between the political demands of a moment, and the sober judgments involving time for reflection on history. Obama may be too much of an intellectual and philosopher for his own good as a politician. I know that he has read Nietzsche and other writers critical of populism Left and Right and its resentment (or resentiment). Although the lesson is against populism in general, for someone like Obama the arguments come home to show how the Left and progressives can be self-poisoning by means of resentment.

Of course we want the economy to improve so that everyone is helped, but Obama implicitly recognizes the the usually-conservative charge that rage against individual success — even when that success is quite extravagant — has never been a sustainable American political strategy. It is because this sentiment is not embedded in American culture that Marxism never took great hold here, and despite my empathy at times, it is probably for the best. Being too smart for his own good weakens Obama politically. I am inclined to agree with conservative critics that he may be too much of an intellectual, having too much of a sense of being above politics, to be effective at the presidency. Even if he is not reelected, I believe American history will remember him for being one of its more philosophic politicians, like a John Adams or Abraham Lincoln.

4 thoughts on “Obama

  1. “Whatever happens”? So your a “centrist”? Too much Hegel maybe? I wonder. I resent, if you will, the dismissal of progressives as resentful losers and the dismissal left-of-center politics as a dead end, inevitable failure. I also strongly suspect your “radical” is the mainstream medias’ radical, which isn’t radical at all, historically, or in say Western Europe. I don’t know how much Nietzsche influenced Obama either!

  2. stable: In a Nietzschean spirit of philosophical honesty I’ll admit that I wrote this post during a certain mood of deep frustration with Leftist politics and frankly it does not express a well-considered philosophical argument. I defend myself however against your accusation that my “radical” is simply the mainstream media’s “radical”. To clarify, I refer by “radical” to the litany of postmodernist academic radical literature that has appropriated Marxist political language but is ultimately the aesthetics of an aristocratic but empty feeling in the mold of Adorno. This Left is centered on the Art or Aesthetics of Resentment, and is therefore mostly useless in any practical sense for working people in hard circumstances. I do believe that Obama also came to roughly the same conclusion in the course of his experience, if not precisely via Nietzsche (although he did read Nietzsche). On this basis I affirm the centrist and pragmatic efforts of Democrats like Obama to make those small but important incremental extensions to the social safety net, i.e., his flawed but real health-care bill, which make a difference to working people in hard circumstances.

  3. Appreciate your reply. My post was written in knee-jerk fashion and I guess I’ve had it with liberal defenses of Democratic politicians’ woeful lack of what most liberals themselves (much less lefties) can honestly call “success”. Particularly Obama, tho I do find his persona and style to be classy and a refreshing step-up from his predecessors.
    Actually, I think I largely agree with you on the Left. Or what is called the New Left. Or Cultural Left and Academic Left…. See, I often disregard this left as a deviation from what I take to be the more traditional left or progressive left of, for ex., the early 20th Cent. labor movement. However I realize this pre-Baby Boomer 1960s left is probably nonetheless still guilty of the resentment Nietzsche loathed. I’m not against resentment so long as it doesn’t get in the way of belief in the ability to win, which it didn’t back in the day. Anyway as fascinating as N. is and his talk analysis of our morality I don’t know how we should trust him.. lol. I mean the guy had little love for people like me or most of the herd. And didn’t the slave morality sorta work and help make Western society eventually less brutal for the herd? Reminds me, there’s a N. line.. ‘democracy is Christianity made natural’.. I like that.

    Some points: I guess I feel my place isn’t to be sympathetic to politicians but to hold them to their campaign bullshit and stick to what I believe is right as a voter. The health care plan is crap. Better than nothing is maybe all that can be said and that is so far removed from Obama the campaigner as is his foreign policy and his total commitment to Bush policies enacted after 9-11. For Obama/Democrats to do better we have to be stubborn and speak out like Cornel West just did. If you’re already so ready to compromise with non-compromising right-wing fanatics you’ll loose the respect of the rabble like the Dems have indeed and you’ll not win what you could have.. Btw, in response to Cornel West’s criticism of Obama this guy Glen Ford with the “Black Agenda Report” says:
    “Cornel West’s foray into Obamanalysis gave them the opportunity to explode in reams of outraged words that had little or nothing to do with policy. It is a shame that Princeton professor Cornel West did not stick to a disciplined critique of the corporatist policies that have made Barack Obama richly deserving of the label, a ‘Black mascot of Wall Street oligarchs.’ Instead, the Princeton professor slipped into psycho-babble, musing on the president’s supposed ‘fear of free Black men’ and associated personality deformities. The particularities of Obama’s racial background may, or may not, have contributed to his malignant neglect of the African American condition, but we will not forge a movement to defeat Obama and his Wall Street masters by putting the president on the couch.”

    West provided a nice example of what resentful academic New Lefties tend to do. And Ford’s criticism is on the money, seems to me.

    Anyway you ever take a look at Richard Rorty’s little book “Achieving Our Country: Leftist Thought in Twentieth-Century America”?
    Rorty shares your frustration. Interesting that the New Left is deeply influenced by Nietzsche while simultaneously being guilty of what Nietzsche clearly despises.

  4. PS: I should have said speak-out like West did about Obama’s *policies* and disappointing progress in helping the working class, etc. As pointed out, we should NOT be babbling on about Obama’s discomfort with blacks or his whiteness, etc., and analysing his personality..

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