Žižek on Obama and Words (Updated)

Žižek explains in the In These Times:

Words are never “only words.” They matter because they define the outlines of what we can do. In this regard, Obama has already demonstrated an extraordinary ability to change the limits of what one can publicly say. His greatest achievement to date is that he has, in his refined and non-provocative way, introduced into the public speech topics that were once unsayable: the continuing importance of race in politics, the positive role of atheists in public life, the necessity to talk with “enemies” like Iran.

I think this argument might not work for the American public that, although dealing with politicians who do almost nothing but talk, still believes that “Obama gives a great speech” is actually a negative thing to say – that it is the essential political act, I think, not many would agree with. But what is the essence of the political but a rhetorical act?

Even measured by the low standards of conventional wisdom, the old saying, “Don’t just talk, do something!” is one of the most stupid things one can say.

Lately we have been doing quite a bit — intervening in foreign countries and destroying the environment.

Perhaps, it’s time to step back, think and say the right thing.

I think I agree – despite the fact that, we are told, the age of great ideas and explanations is over (again, says who?), today’s American reality is such that Obama is able to get almost half of the voters so far, according to polls, to get behind his message and GOP’s continuous critique of his “inexperience” doesn’t seem to work as much. Plus, what irony, while accusing Obama of lacking experience and being a celebrity, we are now witnessing a media circus related to Palin’s lack of experience and what is to become an even larger, now tabloid, circus once she’s officially confirmed and begins appearing in public and making speeches…

UPDATE: Obama confronts McCain/Palin outfit with this

On McCain: “He says I’m going to tell those lobbyists that their days of running Washington are over. Who’s he going to tell?” Obama said. “Is he going to tell his campaign chairman (Charlie Black), who’s one of the biggest corporate lobbyists in Washington? Is he going to tell his campaign manager (Rick Davis), who was one of the biggest corporate lobbyists in Washington. Is he going to tell all the folks running his campaign, who are the biggest corporate lobbyists in Washington? “Who is he going to tell that change is coming?” he said. “I mean, come on, they must think you’re stupid.”

On Palin: She’s a skillful politician,” Obama said of Palin, “but when you’ve been taking all these earmarks when it’s convenient, and then suddenly, you’re the champion anti-earmark person, that’s not change. Come on. Words mean something. You can’t just make stuff up.”

This is an interesting confrontation, I think, because it basically positions Obama as a sort of a modern hermeneutical “straight-talker” – Words mean something – not necessarily as in a naive positivist reductionist manner – Words mean something and we can always tell exactly what that “something” is – but in a very sober – Words are attached to specific contexts and cannot be simply used to produce affects that are not at least to some degree correspond to reality – way. In the opposite corner we have McCain/Palin who keep saying things like “We will challenge the lobbying culture” or “We will bring real change” without, according to Obama, having anything to show for it, i.e. they are attempting to use words as kinds of performatives: Just saying so will make it so, if you say it often enough

It would be easy, however, to juxtapose McCain’s demagoguery and Obama’s telling-it-like-it-is-ness, but the reality of contemporary political (and philosophical) discourse is such that a large country could be persuaded that something indeed is the case with almost no evidence (think Iraq war) – what is this power of repetitive insistence that McCain is using to draw in the votes? Is it possible for Obama to completely ignore this angle? What about those who are stupid out there and will buy into this “say it until it is so” strategy? I mean, Palin’s talk about the bridge is just an outright lie – everyone now knows she supported it – or is it a rhetorical strategy based on a very human (decent) reaction to someone’s outright lie: “She can’t seriously think we don’t know she’s lying, unless, of course, we don’t know something here and she is telling the truth” – is this “in your face” insistence on things we know are untrue a strategy?

Religious Lunatics

This is too ridiculous to pass over. It seems that the crazies–led by the Rev. Fred Phelps–from Topeka’s (that’s Kansas) Westboro Baptist Church are at it again. That’s right, the same people who protested Colorado State University’s official response to some fraternity and sorority’s float in a 1998 homecoming parade by parading around with signs that say “God hates Fags” and “When a fag dies, God laughs.” Anyway, the float gained “notoriety” because it displayed some not so subtle references to the brutal murder of Mathew Shepard, who had recently been beaten, tied to a fence and left to die in Laramie, WY. Shepard’s body, when discovered by law enforcement, resembled a scarecrow, an image subsequently picked up by the press. The oh so sensitive CSU fraternity/sorority members decorated their float with a scarecrow and a number of different homophobic epithets. Not too subtle. CSU rightly suspended all students involved and dissolved their Greek organizations immediately. From ABC news:

A fundamentalist church whose members demonstrate at the funerals of soldiers killed in Iraq and believe God hates gays will protest the Academy Awards and the funeral of Heath Ledger, because the actor played a gay cowboy in the 2005 film “Brokeback Mountain.” Continue reading