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Zizek: The Audacity of Rhetoric

November 12, 2008

I love Slavoj, even though he makes my head hurt. I hope to hell he’s wrong, but then again, I have to agree with his assessment:

The danger for Sen. Barack Obama is that he is already doing to himself what later historical censorship did to King: He’s cleansing his program of contentious topics in order to assure his electability.

In a famous dialogue in Monty Python’s religious spoof The Life of Brian, which takes place in Palestine at the time of Christ, the leader of a Jewish revolutionary resistance organization passionately argues that Romans brought only misery to the Jews. When his followers remark that they nonetheless introduced education, built roads, constructed irrigation, etc., the leader triumphantly concludes: “All right, but apart from sanitation, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, the fresh-water system and public health, what have the Romans ever done for us?”

Don’t Obama’s latest proclamations follow the same line? “I stand for a radical break with the Bush administration!” Or: “OK, sure, I pledge to support Israel unconditionally, to maintain the boycott of Cuba, to grant lawbreaking telecommunications corporations immunity, but I still stand for a radical break with the Bush administration!”

When Obama talks about the “audacity to hope,” about “a change we can believe in,” he is using a rhetoric of change that lacks specific content: To hope for what? To change what?

One should not blame Obama for his hypocrisy. Given the complex situation of the United States in today’s world, how far can a new president go in imposing actual change without triggering economic meltdown or political backlash?

Read whole article.

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