Saturday, August 30, 2008

The Organic Candidate and the Machine Candidate

Antonio Gramsci, the Italian political theorist, spoke of “organic intellectuals”, those who are self-taught and make their own way, as opposed to the intellectuals churned out by universities. Eric Hoffer, the “philosopher/longshoreman”, comes to mind. Perhaps only in America can one also speak of “organic politicians”, citizens whose ambitions or desires to get involved find their expression outside the settled political establishments. Such an organic politician is Sarah Palin. And it is in this characteristic that we find the most telling, and most important, distinction between her and both Barack Obama and Joe Biden. Both of the latter attended top drawer universities and law schools before being fed into the intake machinery of the political apparatus to which they are still beholden. Both are utterly conventional politicians, despite the gauzy promise-making, dream-weaving shtick of which the Obama campaign mostly consists. Sarah Palin went to a western university little heard of, then returned to the little backwoods berg where she was reared, to marry and rear her own family.

Sarah Palin’s almost inadvertent involvement in civic affairs had its genesis in about as local a concern as it gets—she joined the PTA. Being a person of firm convictions, she found it easy to weigh in on issues and help guide decision-making at the micro-scale of American political society. She exhibits the spirit of the early American “genius” Alexis de Tocqueville pinpointed—the proclivity of Americans to form and join organizations to solve problems. Her rise through the levels of political organizations—PTA, School Board, City Council, the Mayoralty, a seat on an important state commission, and finally the Governorship, was accomplished mostly against the wishes of the party bigs. Her campaigns have always been grass-roots in the most authentic possible meaning of that term, drawing support not from established party bosses but from the broad electorate disgusted at the closed room deal-making that all party establishments tend toward. In other words, her success is in spite of, not because of, the existing party organization. Now, political associations are perhaps the main sort of group de Tocqueville was so impressed by, and they surely form one of the main pillars of political liberty in America. But all human efforts tend toward corruption, and when power is involved, the tendency is all the starker. Thus, the real need for critical outsiders to bring reform.

Obama, by contrast, merely used the political machinery ostensibly in place to work as “community organizer”on neighborhood problems to build his resume for the next rung on the career ladder. His accomplishments are thin because at the attainment of each new level, his sights are shifted to the next step up. Why were millions wasted with no results in those South Chicago neighborhoods? Why did he not publish anything from his coveted perch at the Harvard Law Review? Why all the “present” votes in the Illinois State Senate? Why has he not held a single hearing as Chair of the Veterans Affairs sub-committee in the US Senate? He is more a vehicle for the party apparatus, an empty vessel for them to fill, than a public servant working to actually produce results. Think of it: how antiquated and quaint the term “public servant” seems next to the image of cosmopolitan, jet-setting celebrity he quite consciously cultivates, following the excrescences of the Clinton presidency. The hope and change campaign themes obscure the utterly cynical and conventional Chicago-style ward politics that provide the gears for his machine, while Soros' money provides the grease. Being all about being all about himself, there is no there there when actual policy questions are brought to discussion. Hence the celebrity-lite responses when he has no script.

Sarah Palin knows the ground in a way that Obama never will—she has been a foot soldier at the front, earning her stripes, while he, a connected and elite officer at the rear, has been pinning fabulous ribbons and medals on his dashing uniform, in preparation for his coronation.


Mark Larson said...

Thank you Dr. Kildow for a brilliant analysis. I rejoice in the pick of Sarah Palin.

Anonymous said...

thanks mark. I too see this a major game change. Maybe we'll escape the nightmare of an Obama administration. Are you a regular reader?