Time for Obama to show some class

So what does it augur for the future that the Republicans have come up with some comic book inanity to cast Barack Obama as a socialist? I suspect that it will further amplify the conclusion a few in the media reached in midsummer when they finally woke to the realization that Obama was in fact a conventional, decidedly centrist politician, harboring the timeless characteristics of caution, expediency, ambition, vanity and no little tactical ruthlessness.

Indeed, the late-campaign McCain mudslinging has exacerbated the main consideration an Obama presidency would have confronted anyway: Thwarting any tendency to fashion and implement “change” that might be construed as moving too far leftwards from his carefully crafted neoliberal posture. Not only Republicans would resist such attempts, but the Democrats with House and Senate majorities, as Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter learned, are no guarantors of aid to any presidential agenda that could jeopardize them politically. Also, Carter enjoyed a filibuster-proof Senate advantage. Obama supporters, of course, covet similar electoral leverage as a sort of talisman which will usher in the change–juggernaut they’ve been blissfully hearing about for nearly two years.

Under such conditions, Obama will revert to what he has always essentially known would be the outcome, if elected: He will govern like Bill Clinton. In lauding Clinton the other day at a joint campaign appearance, Obama left the implication that perhaps no one should be surprised to find that this could be a possibility. In effect, the “reaching across the aisle” Obama trademark is a fit with the classic Clintonian dialectic: (1) Postulate (2) Retreat (3) Reassert and halve the difference, and assume the resultant laurels. Clinton was, and remains, a master of political illusion, and in Obama we’ve increasingly been detecting a worthy successor.

My initial instinct some three years ago about Barack Obama was immediate and succinct: Endlessly conflicted.  That was from the gut, and since I come at Obama with probably a singular prism — I’m a former community organizer, as well, and also trained in the Saul Alinsky methodology — that assessment was borne, symbolically and literally, out of the Alinsky tutelage. Above all, Alinsky taught us how to listen. Which meant that timbre and intonation suggested deeper inclination and motive and that could beget total portraiture, if you were really paying attention. It held true for both the street and the corporate boardroom. And what I heard from Obama was the diction and precision and sensibility of an upper middle-class academic; a writer with a gifted lyrical style; and a distinctly moderate politician with an obvious sense of his own self, how that played out in the world, and the ambition and willingness to package that persona to greater gain. What I detected simultaneously, and what my subsequent reading of his books confirmed, was that the racial component in his life was for all intents and purposes, moot. I didn’t have the slightest doubt about it; this was someone who was indeed post-racial, in attitude, inclination and perspective. What Obama had personally breached was that plateau where race had now far less consequence and implication, and where the crucial element that remained for the nation and Barack Obama to finally address, was class.

Class. We’ve hardly heard the word used these past two years. Even John Edwards never actually used it, that I can recall. And class is the direction, the utterance, in which Obama has not been able to go, until very recently. It’s the source of the pervasive conflict I see in him, and only the onset of the financial crisis in September provided him sufficient cover to finally express any specific populist rhetoric. The crisis spared him from having to test himself again in Appalachia, where Hilary Clinton bested him. Could he finally “close the deal?” It’s useful in this context to regard those contests not as primaries, but rather as a series of local union elections, where respective memberships were offered two questionable candidates that they had absolutely no illusions about. In each case, they chose the person they thought could go up against the employers and get them their contracts. At turns diffident, supercilious, evasive, mendacious, Clinton could be Big Nurse incarnate, and yet it’s never seemed to me that Obama was the antidote to her.

From the start the operatic rhetoric of Obama has been ceaseless with appeals to end divisiveness, with little more than Rodney King-ish “Can’t we all get along?” supplication. Obama offered no methodology, no approach, beyond paeans to the nobility of our “common purpose.” Once you dispense with race relations as the determinate social problem facing the country, as Obama has, any remaining color line dividing us then presumably becomes green — as in money, and you guessed it, as in class. And since mid-September we can reliably locate that dividing line in America in the chasm between those who have capital, and those who are at the mercy of capital.

Since the credit crisis began there’s been general agreement that it’s saved the election for Obama. But his skein of luck began with the caucus primaries, and that impact abides, because he wouldn’t be the nominee had his adoring, youthful legions not packed those caucuses. They’ve truly served Obama well, expressing hardly a discouraging word to the candidate about his taking copious contributions from nuclear, coal and Wall Street interests. And they’ve furnished him, gratis and intact, the TheAfroCelt/WorldBeat/LinkTV/Facebook/Twitter “transformative” narrative and identity which for many months held the media in thrall, and which a Boomer like Obama would not naturally assume.

The Obama cadres may well take him to victory, and yet they’ve demonstrated their considerable power by registering their displeasure with him over the FISA vote and the other supposed issues of high principle he swiftly caved-on this summer. His supporters’ use of the Obama official website to do so must have evoked a tinge of familiarity for Obama. Saul Alinsky had two overarching cardinal rules: (1) Never pick a fight you can’t win (2) Be prepared to work yourself out of a job. The latter can also translate as Obama’s oft-repeated admonition, “It’s not about me, it’s about you.” Indeed, the successful organizer inculcates a sense of self-mastery and an understanding of power to the group, and in the end he himself is disposable. It’s a trenchant metaphor, to be sure, and as an Obama presidency proceeds and his cohorts possibly come to realize he’s not the promised avatar, the most formidable and proven electronic networking tools imaginable can readily be put to other uses.

But it’s Alinsky’s first rule which necessarily dominates. Obama picked the fight. And what were the stakes? Twenty million African Americans who vested in him everything they have, pushed all their chips into the middle of the table, prepared to lose it all, to take the hit one more time. And he knew they’d do it, for all the obvious reasons. The stark fact was, he had never thought it through, never considered all the ramifications. As I watched him stride into the streets and black churches of the South and mimic the cadences of the street corner and the pulpit, intimating that there’d be an eventual payoff as exchange for their votes, I knew that this guy would proffer no special consideration for African Americans, because he’d said as much elsewhere, and moreover had distilled it into a published formal canon. The unforgivable part is that in eschewing race and identity politics he seemed incapable of substituting the one vector, class, which held the possibility of transmuting his change mantra from tediousness to reality. That’s what Jackson and Sharpton did, you can hear Obama thinking. Class-consciousness, Rainbow Coalition stuff, class equals militancy equals black anger. Don’t need any of that. The endless conflict unresolved. And we’ve seen Obama assiduously avoid any invitation to meet with prominent black public policy people or academics.

But, of course, in recent days he’s utilized the protection of the financial meltdown to quite substantively address the concerns of working people. Beyond tomorrow, does he attempt to maintain this pattern, steering the rhetoric into action, or does he ease into the Bill Clinton slipstream? I’d like to think I’m wrong about the Barack Obama I see, that the sharp shards of visible ambition, calculation and cynicism don’t denote just another yuppie on the make, but instead cloak genuine emerging stature. I do know this, we were trained to size–up people by the same man, and so I’ll ask: Have I got it about right, Mr. President?

Posted in Class, Politics | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Long ball delivered

On the occasion of the first rebranding of naming-rights for our ballpark, from Pac Bell to SBC in early 2004, I published the following letter in the (then-Hearst-owned) Examiner:

Editor — The Jake, the Bob, the Pink, the Maid.  Delete from those examples the Bell, the beloved shorthand Giants’ fans use to humanize corporatized ballpark signage.

3Com imploded here, as will SBC Park, despite our new phone company’s belief. But because the name change won’t finalize until March, why not give SBC one last chance to get to know us?

It’s simple: They add an “e” to “Bell,” and the stadium becomes SBC’s Pacific Belle Park.  The obvious association of the modified word with the uniqueness of ballpark and city alike should spur even the dullest corporate cognition.

Regardless, fans will keep the faith. We should insist news outlets use the Belle in their reportage. We can produce our own signage, with T-shirts and other products: “It’s the Belle for our ball!” (But you get the idea.) Proceeds could go to charity.

It’s consummate good neighbor policy for SBC. Their apology alone proffers unheralded P.R. value. Or will we instead look back and regret that there hadn’t been a comparable cinch since Bill Buckner stooped to conquer?

The Examiner Sports section, in short order (and purely coincidentally, I was later informed), proposed a name-change contest to the fans. As it happens, Giants’ management, at the no doubt subtlest of SBC suggestion, prevailed upon the Examiner and (full disclosure here) my old friend and former Ex colleague of 30 years earlier, sports editor Glenn Schwarz, to cancel the contest after two weeks.

The Belle name, I might add, led the voting when the contest was shut down. Coming at the heels of Candlestick reemerging as the inglorious 3Com Park, local fandom’s distaste for sports facilities as corporate billboards had become quite pronounced, if not vehement. As for me personally, we’ve all known people in our lives who’ve tried to play God, but who do you know who’s named a ballpark?

Certainly corporate signage hasn’t augured well for baseball. It’s fast approaching ludicrousness when no high point of on-field action can be described without prefacing and conjoining it with corporate sponsorship. But we’re faced with something far more ominous right about now.

Indeed, we find our local nine wallowing last in both leagues for home-field winning percentage. The reason should be obvious. The second rebranding of naming rights for the ballpark, in 2006, went to AT&T. Yep, that bunch that illegally assimilated billions of Americans’ phone calls, voicemails and e-mails from 2001 to 2006, made a mockery of the Fourth Amendment at the behest of a president who has intimated that he receives divine inspiration daily, are the same crew that was given immunity from private lawsuits last week with the passage by the House of the FISA Amendment Bill.

In a nutshell, that’s where the jinx lies, gang.

I mean, how could it be otherwise? The great social laboratory and legendary mecca for political inclusion which is the city of San Francisco is attempting to win baseball games in a facility named after handmaidens of domestic espionage who unquestioningly took their orders from a man whose last name ought rightfully to be rebranded C-e-a-u-s-e-s-c-u.  Perhaps I put too fine a point on it. Then again, I live here.

So how do we best proceed? A glib first thought might be a pertinent re-shaping of the Ballad of Joe Hill: “I dreamed I saw Zito w-i-n last night.” Hmm, maybe not so glib, at that. Zito has an acoustic guitar, he sings, the refrain could be a helpful pre-game mantra and perhaps induce a change in his woeful fortunes.

Surely we’re due for another fan name-change convocation. Not China Basin or Mays Field or the Belle, again, but something more appropriate, along the lines of, for instance, Data-mine Park, Eavesdrop Field, Surveillance Stadium. And, of course, we can consider multiple names. Assholes Through & Through could possibly be one of them. I invite your suggestions, and I’ll list them.

Given our particular ethos and proclivities, it seems we’re tasked with nothing less than rubbing the nose of AT&T into its own merde. T-shirts, sweatshirts, viral videos, our own infrastructure signage, on-site performance art, visible boat-mast banners, etc., serve us well.  We decidedly encapsulate a certain sensibility here, inclusive of the Yippie “mindfuck” lineage of 40 years ago.  It all could be as historically momentous as, for example, Wally Pipp taking the day off.

The possibilities are delicious, and foremost among them, I would think, should be repetitive real-time (as in, game-time) acknowledgment of the incalculable contribution of former AT&T technician Mark Klein, who blew the whistle on the data-mining “secret room” Big Brother NSA had installed in the telecom‘s offices here, one of at least 15 similar sites around the country.

Time will reveal Klein deserving of Mt. Rushmore–equivalent placement, frankly, but I’m personally prepared to take my turn in draping his visage over, say, the Arcade wall next to Mel Ott’s number, or anywhere else in the yard where genuine Giants’ heroes and friends are displayed.

Overall, our complementary objective is to get our guys out of their home field slump. But given the context in which they’re enmeshed, the methodology of payback is in order. Think of it as that crucial 7th inning of the final day of the 1982 season against the Dodgers, with Joe Morgan at-bat. Except that now, Tom Paine is pinch-hitting for him.

As an advisory, it’s well to bear in mind that nothing in the new FISA bill precludes the great “Decider” from designating anything he wishes as threats to national security, and nothing that stops him from immediately siccing these immune telecoms onto his targets without need of a warrant. And as I upload this piece into the ether a few minutes from now, I’ll definitely have that in mind, as should anyone desirous of partaking of what I’ve laid out. Who knows how the tinky minds that have set loose the scumbaggery of usurping the Constitution these many years might react to a variety of nonviolent but necessarily caustic playfulness intent upon illumining the extremely serious straits in which this nation finds itself. To say nothing of the plight of the Giants.

The plate’s been dusted off. Let’s get under way.

Posted in Sports | Tagged , , | Leave a comment