Alexandra Pelosi on the Obama Bubble
Salon interviewed Alexandra Pelosi, best known for her documentary “Journeys With George” (2000) and as daughter of the current Speaker of the House. In her new documentary Pelosi attends McCain-Palin rallies and interviews rank-and-file Republicans about their fears. One thing I have always liked about Pelosi is that she treats people like humans first, not as stereotypes of political affiliation. I think that helps her cut through the bullshit.
Well, more than 58 million people voted for John McCain, and I know that everyone on the coasts is on an Obama honeymoon right now, and they seem to forget that more than 58 million people did not want Barack Obama to be their president. And when I was traveling over the summer and I would go to rallies and 20,000 people would be there, it’s hard to say I knew Obama was going to win. They had some real enthusiasm at these events for the GOP ticket. So, I did not go out presupposing that Barack Obama was going to be president. I wasn’t trying to make a point about, “Ooh, he’s going to be president and here are the losers, let’s go check out what they have to say.”
They had huge crowds, and I felt they were really underrepresented in the media. I didn’t feel like I saw these people on TV. And when I went out to talk to people, the first thing they would say to me was, “I can’t believe you’re talking to me.” They were so flattered that I wanted to hear what they had to say because they’d say, “The media doesn’t listen to us. You turn on the TV and all you see is Obama nation and you don’t see us.” They had some points. My liberal friends, I have to remind them that they have some really good points. No. 1, the media did not fairly represent them in this election. Obama was on the cover of every magazine all summer long. I understand Obama sold magazines. It’s a business. But when you’ve got a presidential election and you have half of the country feeling really underrepresented, I think that’s a real problem. And I think that’s a bigger problem than Obama versus McCain.
They’re really unhappy that Obama won. And they’re really having a hard time dealing with this whole economic stimulus package. They’re totally opposed to that kind of government. I talked to people who had bad holidays, who had a hard time getting through the inauguration, are disappointed in their country, are sad about the direction this country is going. And it’s not getting better, it’s getting worse. They’re looking at this, “We’re all socialists now,” and they’re not laughing. The Newsweek cover, “We’re all Socialists Now”, I got like literally a dozen calls the day that Newsweek came out. I don’t know what Newsweek’s intentions were, but that is terrifying to a lot of people.
I remember Elaine Tornero in Reynoldsburg, Ohio: She called me and said, “I drive through downtown Columbus, Ohio, and I see these iconic, artistic images of Barack Obama with the word ‘Hope’ under it, and I feel like I’m living in Castro’s Cuba.” I live in Union Square in Manhattan, and I walk out my front door and there are just lines of buttons, lines of T-shirt salesmen selling these artistic images of Barack Obama. I’ve been to Cuba. That’s exactly what it looks like. There are some things that they see that make them uncomfortable. And I think we have to respect that and understand that. Not say, “Oh, they’re just extremists. Oh, they’re just freaks. Oh, they’re just racists.” They’re not. They just don’t agree with us on, like, moral and cultural and political issues. They don’t agree with us on anything, really.
Of course, some of those “moral and cultural and political issues” arise from extreme positions on race, sexuality and sexism – “extreme” in terms of fear, ignorance and ideological indoctrination, but hardly (sadly) out of the so-called “mainstream” or “middle” where our current President is happy to reside in exchange for, say, the marriage rights of same-sex couples. Just saying.
What interests me here is the nature of the “Obama honeymoon.” It raises a lot of questions. If Newsweek declares a triumph of socialism, that implies more a glib understanding of socialism (Pelosi herself discusses this in the interview) than an actual transfer of real political and economic power via democratic processes to the interests of working classes. I mean, shit, if that is what actually happened, then yay, us! At best we might get a European-style social democratic state, wherein capitalism and the disproportionate power it gives to the owning class persist, but the working poor have access to educational and health care services. And, again, if we actually get that far – yay, us.
Another important question the honeymoon raises pertains to critical thinking by the people regarding the power of the state and the powers of persuasion — the “manufactured consent” — employed by the corporate media. Obama himself has extraordinary powers of persuasion, not only as a speaker, but as a user of 21st Century communications technology, not to mention good old graphic design. All effective leaders need to be great communicators. However, I grew up under the reign of another so-called “Great Communicator” who stripped reforms that had benefitted the poor, waged covert illegal wars against peasants in Latin America, and created the basis for a right wing ideology that has recently brought our society to ruin. Another “Great Communicator” gave us Social Security, but also Japanese internment camps — and, thanks to WWII, a powerful military superpower. I think Obama is better than either of these examples, deriving the benefit of historical study and the relatively more progressive nature of our times (I say hopefully), but we still have cause to be wary. There are still two wars going on, after all. So far, not his fault. Let’s see how he comes to own them.