The myth of Obama’s “change” is essentially providing protective cover for entrenched forces of racism, sexism and class domination. Barack Obama is a political figure who wants to unclench your fist, whose presidency will highlight the indeterminacy of change and the paradoxical tendency to legitimate oppression by creating a false sense of formal neutrality and equality.
Mark Tushnet wrote that, “It is not just that rights-talk does not do much good. In the contemporary United States, it is positively harmful.” He and the other critical legal theorists argued that just having new laws that instated equal rights for people creates fertile “protective cover” for a deeply embedded social hierarchy to thrive underneath.
The obvious example is the 14th Amendment to the Constitution – a paradox which the civil rights movement had to confront many years later. The law is either not enough, or it could never be enough under the existing political conditions. Just so, a president – any president – is either not enough, or could never be enough under the existing political conditions.
Barack Obama is constantly saying that he needs your help to change America, that he cannot do it alone, that change comes from below. He is wrong about this. If he wanted to push America in an undemocratic direction he could get away with it, easily, because he does not operate in a democracy. What he really means is that he cannot democratically change society at all, and that he needs your help entirely. Without a decisive attack on public consciousness through popular action and mutual aid, then liberal legalism – the false hope of protective cover rhetoric – reinforces the myth that social progress still comes from the top.
Don’t believe the hype. Liberal legalism creates a sense of ‘the self’ that is illusory and ultimately destructive, by empowering corrupt institutions as the agents of change rather than participant cooperatives. But how, we should ask, can change come from below in a system that only invests in a hierachy? In the words of Journey, “Don’t stop believin’. Hold on to the feeling, streetlight people!”