Happy Mortal

This life, well-lived.

Obama’s First Press Conference: Or, If We Ever Needed Di-lithium Crystals…

roads and railways series #4 The first press conference of president elect Barack Obama has come and gone. The blogosphere appears nonplussed. Rightpundits.com focused on his “fuzzy campaign rhetoric” suggesting that change was not coming to the White House and that under Barack it would be business as usual. A few cyber spaces over at theprovocatuer.com, Mike Volpe assured his readers that the wealth was already being spread around. Most of the conservative posters are afraid of Barack’s intentions, but they didn’t find much to satisfy that fear in this first press conference. Most depended on previous right-leaning rhetoric, falling into the same trap as the McCain campaign: criticize rather than offer better solutions.

Believe it or not, the progressive response to Obama’s press conference was a bit underwhelming. Sohighabove.com suggested that the president elect’s demeanor “bodes well…” for the coming years. But other than touting Obama’s eloquence, tone, and posture, the leftist pundits didn’t have much to say about policy. They focused more on how he said things rather than what he said.

Obama seems obsessed with the real. Sorry pundits, we’re not in a Disneyland Republic anymore. This is no longer just about entertainment. When he says that he will not underestimate the depth of this crisis, and that America is a strong and resilient country, he isn’t playing games. It will take a strong and resilient people to rebuild America. We are/have been complicit in this financial crisis, and it will take more than government handouts to set things right. This was the message that was between the lines of his speech.

I didn’t hear what I wanted to hear: new solutions. But I’m happy waiting till January.

Before the press conference Chris Matthews talked about the two ways that the government can stimulate the economy: lower interest rates and/or increased government spending (creating jobs at the expense of increasing the deficit). It will take new models to solve this crisis. Capitalism as we have known it for the last 80 years has passed away.

It is no longer a question of regulation and taxes for the rich or poor. We live in an immediate global market where we can no longer consider resource as a bottomless well. What this means is that we need to think–Obama and his cabinet need to think–in terms of the 21st c. It means we need to establish new models to deal with a problem that is both global and local, a problem that has exposed the unstable roots of western capitalism.

Alan Greenspan’s testimony revealed the carefully reasoned mistake at the center of free market ideology. I like how dispatchpolitics.com put it:

“Greenspan, 82, acknowledged under questioning that he had made a ‘mistake’ in believing that banks, operating in their own self-interest, would do what was necessary to protect their shareholders and institutions. Greenspan called that ‘a flaw in the model … that defines how the world works.'”

The flaw is that we don’t look out for our own self-interest because many of us are shortsighted enough that we don’t realize that our self-interest includes the health of those around us; it includes the health of the world around us.

In the coming months I’d like to hear Barack Obama, our president elect, clearly define an economic policy that is akin to his campaign policy. It would sound something like this: A strong and resilient America begins with a strong and resilient infrastructure. Yes, infrastructure, in this case includes people. This is where 21st c. economics shatters the economic dialogue of the last 50 years. Phrases like trickle-down economics and welfare state, the concept of a two lever financial control panel (interest rate, spending) are passe. Welcome to 2008. An infrastructure that raises the base level economic status in America is not a welfare state that ‘spreads the wealth around.’

Unlike captain Picard, we don’t have di-lithium crystals. But we do have the technological means to rebuild the physical and social infrastructure here and now in our United States of America. To accomplish that, we have to adopt a new posture toward our fellow citizens, toward other countries, and ultimately toward the world. It is in understanding that our self-interest extends to our larger environment that we can rethink an infrastructure that increases the standard of living for any and all, not just the rich, not just those on welfare. Trickle-down and welfare are tired concepts; today, we have a whole new world in front of us. It is ours for the changing.


  1. Obama may stand for a lot of things–change, reconciliation, hope–but he his election was not the event that came crashing into the hegemony of Disneyland politics. Nor was his press conference “real.” Let’s not confuse being glad that a respectable candidate has entered the system with something that shatters the system itself.

    The amount of money the Obama campaign spent on promotion (8 mil for internet ads alone) testifies to the fact that the image of Obama is more important than Obama himself. We can go round and round about levels of hyperreality, but if we are talking Baudrillardian philosophy, Obama is not an event.

  2. A quick follow up. I found a great article by Judith Butler on the election. Here is a quote that places him in the order of the symbolic:

    “Fulfilling that representative-function, he [Obama] is at once black and not-black (some say “not black enough” and others say “too black”), and, as a result, he can appeal to voters who not only have no way of resolving their ambivalence on this issue, but do not want one. The public figure who allows the populace to sustain and mask its ambivalence nevertheless appears as a figure of “unity”: this is surely an ideological function. Such moments are intensely imaginary, but not for that reason without their political force.”

  3. Obama, insofar as he is/has become a symbol, functions as an event. What is curious to me is that Obama, insofar as he is a man and the president elect, seems interested in the continuing the interruption of the hyperreal of the American political scene.

  4. I agree that the symbolic dimension is not part of hyperreality, though I think that we should more carefully consider the way in which Obama symbolizes (as Judith Butler has–see below). But did the Bush admin not symbolize anything?

    Also Baudrillard writes the following about what media coverage does to an event:

    “The singularity of the event, that which is irreducible to its coded transcription and mise-en-scene, that which quite simply makes it an event, is lost. With this we enter the transhistorical or transpolitical realm – the realm where events no longer really take place, precisely by dint of their production and dissemination in ‘real time’; where they disappear into the void of news and information…If we see history as a film (which it has become, whether we like it or not), then the ‘truth’ of information consists in the post-syynchronization, the dubbing and subtitling of the film of history (Impossible Exchange, 132-133).”

  5. Usually I would defer to Baudrillard, but here I want to explore this idea a bit more. The sense of mise-en-scene is nothing new. Shakespeare felt it: life is a stage, we are merely players. “Dissemination in real time” alone is not what propagates the hyperreal. This begs the question. What does propagate the hyperreal?

    Before we try to answer that, let’s go deeper into the void. Baudrillard continues: “they disappear into the void of news and information…” First, we must ask after why events disappear. Is it because they are (re)produced in real time? Did not the ‘real’ event take place in real time? Is it the impossible proximity of the past–experienced in dissemination–that ruptures the event? No. The absolutization of proximity is an effect of the hyperreal, not its cause. The cause of the hyperreal, rather, has everything to do with the mise-en-scene of an event. Hyperreality is the framing of the real–the staging of the real–rather than a participation in the real. That is why the unexpected collapses the hyperreal. It is outside the frame, unstaged and unpredictable.

    Finally, if an event is disseminated absolutely, but is of the unexpected, does it collapse into the void of annihilation that is the hyperreal?

  6. Excellent questions. I do not know that I have worthy answers. So I will only offer a few observations about Baudrillard’s thought, not to contradict your statements, but to “think out loud.”

    Baudrillard is maddeningly (and deliciously) coy in his uses of the term “real.” We have spoken of the hyperreal, but what, for Baudrillard, is the real? In Lucidity Pact, he states that physical reality exists, but that objective reality is an illusion (39, 40). By “objective reality” he intends “the Real as something face-on,” that is object-ive, as opposed to subject-ive (39). However, because”consciousness is an integral part of the world, and the world is an integral part of consciousness” (Ibid), objectivity and subjectivity are illusory. Thus, “[human consciousness] will never produce an objective truth, since the mirror is part of the object it reflects” (41).

    So what? Often we focus on the “illusory” nature of the hyperreal, we are threatened by the notion that we might be living with a “copy” instead of the original. But for B, it is the hyperreal that destroys illusion not the other way around. In a world where everything is realized we lose the “sign and the artifice . . . the spectacle, alienation, distance, transcendence and abstraction” (67). It is in this context that we speak of the symbolic as belonging to the order of the real not to the order of the hyperreal, where everything is “disseminated absolutely.”

    So we come full circle and ask, was Barack Obama’s election an event? Did it crash into the hyperreal from outside of the frame? For, though it was completely en-framed by the media, it holds a strong symbolic power. Barack is a sign which stands for unity, hope, change.

    This is where I will leave it for now, but it deserves more probing. It seems to me to be an extremely important question: “Just who is Barack Obama?”

  7. Zizek agrees with you about Obama. Pretty strong article.