Vote Harder: The Barack Obama Story

In theater productions of Peter Pan, there’s a scene where Tinkerbell is dying. Peter exhorts the audience to clap their hands to save her. If everyone just claps harder and says “I believe in fairies!” Tink will be restored to life by the power of faith and love.

Progressive calls to defeat corporate power and the warfare-surveillance state through more enthusiastic engagement in electoral politics sound about equally plausible.

In 2008, progressives attempted to achieve these goals by voting for the most anti-war, anti-police state Democrat in decades. Obama entered the primaries as a challenger from Hillary Clinton’s left, packaging himself as the alternative to her national security establishmentarian brand. He opposed the Iraq war, promised to shut down Gitmo and denounced warrantless domestic wiretapping by the NSA.

In 2013, we see this “progressive” superstar, who all but promised to usher in a 21st century Church Committee, presiding over the massive expansion of illegal drone warfare around the world and the largest expansion of the surveillance state in history. We see this man, who promised the “most transparent administration in history,” pursuing vindictive reprisals — on a scale rivaling Woodrow Wilson or Richard Nixon — against whistleblowers who expose the surveillance state’s terrifying scope.

In short, progressives voted harder in 2008 than they had in decades, electing a man who promised to radically scale back the total warfare and surveillance state and rein in corporate power. And the man they elected went 180 degrees opposite every last expectation.

Worse, some of Obama’s most diehard “progressive” supporters have become a Kool-Aid cult defending him against any and all criticism of his reversals of position. These people, including both the “pragmatic progressive” communities on Twitter and in the blogosphere and most of the establishment liberals on MSNBC, denounce critics from Obama’s left as Republican dupes in tones reminiscent of the Democratic establishment’s treatment of Ralph Nader a decade ago. The very people who should be holding Obama’s feet to the fire instead react like Gollum to the desecration of their Precious.

So, to summarize:  1) The biggest grass-roots progressive effort in decades to elect an anti-war, anti-police state president successfully elected a man who immediately proceeded to do the direct opposite of what he promised; and 2) some of the people who elected him are the most strident defenders of his betrayals.

Do you really think voting even harder next time is the solution? No. All of this just shows what a monumental waste of effort and resources it is trying to capture the state.

The lobbyists of the military-industrial complex, security-industrial complex, and other corporate interests will always have more time and money for influencing policy than their opponents. The internal influence of the “permanent government” of the military and security bureaucracies will always have more influence on government policy than the public. Trying to outcompete these interests and stage a hostile takeover of the commanding heights of the state is as foolish as it would have been for Heinz Guderian to attempt a head-on assault on the Maginot Line in 1940.

Fortunately, we don’t have to storm the barricades and capture the giant corporations and the state. We don’t need them. We don’t need enormous concentrations of capital or giant hierarchical institutions for coordinating things. The prerequisites for building the kind of society we want — open-source garage micromanufacturing technology, permaculture, encrypted currencies, free software — are all dirt cheap and getting ever cheaper. The only thing the state and the corporations it serves can do is try to impede us.

Fortunately it’s much, much cheaper to develop technologies for evading the law and the state’s enforcement apparatus than it is to try to influence the state and change the law. Trying to get “a seat at the table” alongside the RIAA and MPAA to influence a few punctuation changes in the next global copyright treaty is an almost total waste of time. Developing file-sharing and encryption technologies to break such laws with impunity  is not only doable — it’s already been done.

We don’t need to capture the state or the corporate economy. Leave them to rot. We’ll build the new society in their ruins.

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