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The Obama Virus

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So I believe we can say it's official: the "Yes, We Can!" Will.I.am-produced celebrity Obama love fest is viral, and since the video link landed in my inbox five different times in one day I figure it requires a response.

With so many good vibes and celebrity endorsements in one impressive eyeful should we let the images and words bubble through us like the temporary emotional lift of a pill or cocktail? Makes one wonder if feeling good is all that is left of the Democratic platform.

The video itself is a quintessential artifact of the postmodern political system in which images are the map, and there is little left of the policy territory to explore. Politics have been reduced to toothpaste slogans, and this is certainly a clever one. The "Yes, We Can!" incantation riffs off of the Latin American protest chant, "Si, Se Puede!," and is not unlike Public Enemy's "Fight the Power" jingle– yes it sounds great and meaningful, yet when you scratch the surface there is no there there (I don't mean to harp on my fave act PE, but as a media literacy dude I have to call it like it is). After watching the video, I'm still starved for meaning. Yes, we can… but what? What is it that we can do? Propel another media creature into the White House? Have hope, change… I'm sorry but these are the most hollow and meaningless words to pervade politics since the invention of television. They are no more substantial than a product claiming it is "30% more free."

Obama strikes me as the perfect PoMo politician. As a chameleon he can be many things to many people. In "Yes, We Can!" he is clearly invoking the rhetorical style of MLK. Yet this is populism without the populace, i.e. a "movement." Yes, Obama is a big phenom among certain enthusiastic throngs, but every time I examine his views, it's like poking the Pillsbury Doughboy– your finger just moves the fat around and he giggles in response. Obama is still an organ of corporate lobbyists and fails to challenge in any fundamental way the entrenched militarism of our system. So yes, he is very good at cribbing style, and with Will.i.am at the helm, style is in abundance. Obama has found a perfect partner for the manufacture of slick imagery and corporate pseudo culture (for more on Black Eyed Peas and selling out hip hop to Snickers, read this post).

Believe me, it pains me to write these words. I don't enjoy slamming a popular icon, but when it comes to the Democrats, please don't check your well-cultivated critical faculties at the door. They sold us out after the last election by failing to stop the war (among many things), as was their mandate. With this monstrous political machine, you've got to keep your BS radar on full power.

In Latin American protest there is generally a clear aim, but with this dude I have no idea what it is, beyond getting elected President. I would hope that a true opposition does emerge, and it has clear aims to do something substantial about climate change and to end militarism. Until I hear stronger challenges on these fronts, yet again I will be forced to hold my nose when I pull that voting lever in the Fall.

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About Antonio Lopez

  • Lee Richards

    The #1 goal of any politician is to get elected, so it’s naive to believe their campaign promises and wishful thinking to count on finding substance in all their proposals. Principles, if any, we get later.

    Even if we could believe the sincerity of what they claim they will do, once in office they often find it impossible to deliver.

    Successful campaigns sell an image. So far, Obama’s campaign is doing that fairly well. We may well wonder if there’s really a Wizard behind all the smoke and mirrors; it’s a campaign’s job to make us think there is.

    The more gullible we are, the easier their job is.
    I wouldn’t underestimate the gullibility factor in 2008.

  • Rob


    That’s all I needed to hear! I’m voting for Obama! And anyone who doesn’t is racist!

    When he speaks, my eyes leak! It’s all about the HOPE AND CHANGE!

    C’mon, y’all! There’s always more room aboard the Obamabus! HOPE AND CHANGE, motherfucker! That’s where it’s at!




  • Dan Miller

    Sr. Lopez,

    As a well known Democrat senator was wont to say not too many years ago to remember, “I can’t agree with that too much.”

    Of course Sen. Obama uses smoke and mirrors. Of course he offers change and of course he “wants to buy the world a coke.” It has been thus for at least sixty years (as far back as I can remember — I also remember the Pepsi jingle, “twice as much and a nickel too,” which was accurate). We, the people, have bought into that sort of thing, and therefore deserve it. That is how we decide which toothpaste, which car and which convenience foods to buy. Obviously, campaign videos are much the same. Do you really expect them to be both entertaining and substantively informative? You want to “call it like it is.” Perhaps more effort is needed.

    Of course, Sen. Obama’s campaign policies are rather diaphanous. That’s nothing new. Most are. When a candidate makes concrete policy statements, they tend to evaporate soon after the election. “Read my lips.” It is more rational to rely on a used car salesman.

    There are several areas in which Sen. Obama seems to be better than Sen. Clinton. He has a better chance of diminishing the racial polarization which has hurt the U.S. for many years. That is very important. He seems to have a better chance of producing bipartisan compromises than does Sen. Clinton, also important. And, not least important, he seems to be the Democrat most likely, if elected, to make the people of the United States feel happy with their president; “feel” is the right verb here, and feeling good is not necessarily a bad thing. We have “felt” bad for so long that, for many, to feel good would be a new experience.

    I don’t know for whom (or against whom) I will vote this November. Having never voted for a Democrat, or against a Republican, voting for Sen. Obama would be a difficult move. Voting for Sen. Clinton would seem, at this point, just about impossible. November is a long way off. Vamos a ver.

    Dan Miller

  • REMF

    Maybe someday Obama will say something as slimey as “Mission Accomplished”…

  • Dan Miller


    Maybe, but that’s better than “Reporting for Duty!”


  • REMF

    “Of course Sen. Obama uses smoke and mirrors.”
    – Dan Miller

    Anything like the smoke and mirrors GW Bush used to get away with Desertion? Or the smoke and mirrors Dick Cheney used to dodge the draft?

  • REMF

    “Maybe, but that’s better than “Reporting for Duty!””

    Tell that to the families of the 3,960 killed in Iraq, Miller.

  • This site goes along with this article to the tea…

    Funny too

  • The Obnoxious American

    Totally loved the article. I don’t think we agree politically on much, but I’m glad you can see this guy for the slickness that he is.

    On another note, you’ve made a great point. Since when is Will.I.Am the voice of the hip hop generation. The black eyed peas are probably right up there with Justin Timberlake and vanilla Ice in terms of speaking for hip hop culture. The real question is who is Jay Z voting for, but given his Black Republicans joint with Nas, I have a sneaking suspicion it’s an old white man :>

  • ramesh

    best virus in the computer network.