Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Gordon Gartrelle Says: The Practical and the Symbolic

Chauncey wrote a great piece on what makes him excited and scared about the election. I’ve chosen a different approach: looking at the implications of the two possible outcomes in practical and symbolic terms. This is a recurring theme for me, as I’ve struggled with the tension between practical and symbolic politics since we started this site.


In practical terms, an Obama loss would secure at least 12 more years of Republican presidential rule, as young progressives and black people would withdraw from national electoral politics in significant numbers.

In symbolic terms, an Obama loss would torpedo the dream of a black man becoming president any time soon. If this brilliant, biracial, supposedly post-racial black politician is too black to become president, then what chance do the rest of us have?

In practical terms, an Obama loss would all but ensure that Sarah Palin and her petty, incurious, faux-populist ilk dominate national Republican politics for the next decade or so.

In symbolic terms, an Obama loss would signal that the previous generation is still calling the shots.


In practical terms, an Obama win would halt the Bush administration’s assault on the Constitution; it would prevent the Supreme Court from veering even further to the right; it would signal the immediate end to America’s bankrupt neocon cowboy foreign policy.

In symbolic terms, an Obama win would represent the acceptance of American multiculturalism on the (inter)national stage.

In practical terms, an Obama win would not have a significant, positive effect on the electorate. The Right will regroup, and due to the general unpopularity of every Congress, the Democrats in power will take the hit and the political pendulum will carry Republicans back into office in the next few election cycles.

In symbolic terms, an Obama win would suggest that Howard Dean was right: Democrats need to look at the guys with the Confederate flags on their trucks as potential allies.

In practical terms, an Obama win wouldn’t put a dent in racism, economic inequality, crime, poor education, and other problems that plague black communities.

In symbolic terms, an Obama win would relieve the psychic collective burden that renders blackness the ultimate hindrance.


Glennis said...

I voted. Crossing my fingers, everyone!!

Anonymous said...

Mr. Gartrelle:

I have been struggling to understand what's happening to our country since 2000. The divide between folks is more intense, bitter and angry than it's been in my 56 years. The hatred for George Bush has been beyond any reason, at least that I can find, and it seems we're at another crossroads.

I'm a Republican, and did not vote for Sen. Obama. I was very impressed with him at the 2004 Convention, and told my Democrat friends at that time that he would be a rapidly rising star in their party. I can tell you that if he were a conservative, I would be out walking door to door for him. My opposition, you see, has absolutely NOTHING to do with race, and I was an early supporter of J C Watts here in Oklahoma. I would LOVE to support Senator Obama, but I am a person who strenuously believes in smaller, less intrusive and less expensive government. I have been disappointed in many Republicans because they do not support those kinds of things, but I believe they should.

I have seen so many changes in our culture in my lifetime. Each generation in my own family has become more tolerant than the one before it, and I truly believe that Sen. Obama's campaign advances us more and more to the day when race is no longer even an issue, when we truly do judge each other by the content of our character.

My most fervent hope is that you consider that there are many of us who oppose Sen. Obama ONLY because of ideas and positions, and that a vote against him can be cast with a clear conscience. If he wins the election, he will be my President, and will be entitled to my respect. I have pledged to my Democrat friends to refrain from ad hominem attacks against President Obama, and have asked that they make the same pledge regatding President McCain. Can we please focus on the positives of this election, on both sides, and avoid the hatred, no matter what the outcome?

I have tried to establish a dialogue with those who, like you, have opposing viiews. My attempts have been met with disregard, disrespect, and very often obscenity. I refuse to stop trying to bridge the divide in this country, and I hope you'll take this comment in the spirit in which it is intended.


Anonymous said...



Hello there!!

The news is just in…..OBAMA takes Ohio….and THAT is the state that determines the election now! The Republicans can not win it without winning Ohio....

Ladies and gents...

44th President of the United States

Yesssss… in our lifetime!

Anonymous said...

In symbolic terms, an Obama win would relieve the psychic collective burden that renders blackness the ultimate hindrance.

Yes sir, a biracial son of a white woman sure has made me see that my blackness need not be a hinderance