Train Kept a’Rolling

For me, 2009 actually started on election night, 2008.

Tamara and I spent an evening with fellow Libertarian Party candidates and activists (yes, we’re among those heretical anarchists who remain involved in electoral politics) — pizza, beer and conversation — then headed home. Along the way, every thirty seconds or so, we’d pass a car with its horn honking, its lights flashing, fist pumps out the window from the driver. Barack Obama was very popular in St. Louis.

I recall two conflicting thoughts at the time.

The first thought was “maybe it won’t be so bad.”

“Hey,” I figured, “Obama can probably be counted on to keep the Iraq withdrawal ‘timeline’ established by the Busheviks. Maybe he won’t put the pedal to the metal on his AfPak war rhetoric. He’s promised to close Gitmo and that’s an easy promise to keep. And surely he’ll put the kibosh on the torture thing and maybe send a few of the most egregious offenders to jail. Sure, he’ll try for a New New Deal, but McCain would probably have done the same on slightly different lines.”

The second thought was “give these guys a year and they won’t be honking their horns and pumping their fists for Obama.”

I was wrong on both counts.

The Iraq shoe hasn’t dropped yet, but I’ll give you even money there are still US troops there long after we drop off the right edge of the “timeline.”

Obama has announced, and begun implementing, his “Afghanistan surge.” He’s also re-authorized, and announced an expansion of, the “murder by remote control” drone campaign in Pakistan.

Gitmo’s still open and its planned closure isn’t an actual closure but just a transfer to a new facility for the abductees. “Indefinite detention,” tweaked, is officially part of the Obama Doctrine. The torture probably continues, its perpetrators remain at large, and “the most transparent administration in history” has gone to court to prevent the public from knowing its full extent.

It’s hard to compare Obama’s actual New New Deal with the hypothetical New New Deal McCain would have brought us. McCain’s might have been worse or not, but we got what we got and it ain’t good.

While Obama’s popularity ratings have dropped considerably, and while a few brave liberals and Democrats have tried to hold his feet to the fire on detention and torture, he remains fairly popular with most of the people he was popular with a year ago. Yeah, yeah — just keep pumping those fists, that’ll help.

I never really fell for the whole “hope and change” scam myself, but I thought maybe we’d get a little relief. The main effect of the Obama presidency on me personally so far is that I’m a more convinced anarchist than I was a year ago. He’s living proof that in politics at least, the more things change the more they stay the same. New boss, same as the old boss.

Why is that? Because even if one president wanted to, he couldn’t change the nature of the state. Government is a big machine, built on layers and layers of previous machinery below it. It’s on rails, going in the same direction it’s always gone — downhill on a steep grade, terminating in a cliff edge — and its mass gives it momentum.

The idea that one guy could come sit down in the train’s cab, push a few levers or tighten a few bolts, and actually change the direction of the thing is absurd. Not in a year, not in four years. He’d be lucky to slow it down, and chances are he isn’t going to really want to do even that. More fun to blow the whistle and yell for the fireman to stoke the boilers. Toot, toot — let’s see how fast this thing can go!

The history of libertarian involvement in electoral politics is a history of attempting to get in the cab and turn the train around, reverse its direction, or even just slow it down a bit. Even for a political junkie like me, that’s a marginal activity … an addiction, or a fascinating hobby.

The real task — not just for libertarians and anarchists, but for anyone who’s interested in survival at a level above that of, say, the Dark Ages — is laying new track, uncoupling the cars of society from the locomotive of government, and routing ourselves in a different direction so that it doesn’t take us over the edge with it when we reach the bottom of the hill. Let’s make this next year about that.

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