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November 15, 2008

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G

>At an event yesterday, The Politics of Hope, Les Back mentioned something I'd not heard before. Apparently 'Yes We Can' (translated into Spanish) was the organising slogan of a hispanic labour union in Texas. I doubt this is well known, or even necessarily provable as the origins of a pretty bland mantra. Some, after all, have attributed it to Bob the Builder.

I think that's the UFW slogan. More here. And it's quite well known within the activist circles, so perhaps it is a 'dog whistle'.

Anamik

Very interesting.

I too originally thought Obama had taken his narrative of Change from the Sam Cooke song, and that eventually the connection to the civil rights movement would be made more explicit. But as the campaign wore on it remained unspoken, to the extent I resigned myself to the fact it was a mere coincidence. Needless to say I was thrilled and reassured when he made that lyrical reference in his acceptance speech; I certainly do not think I was imagining it now.

But of course it's only meaningful if it's backed up by real commitment to social change. And I hope someone reminds Gordon of this if his strategists are acute enough to deploy the same technique. Otherwise it becomes cynical exercise that amounts to little more than lip-service. And as much as we might initially feel smug about being able to decode the message, as soon as dog-whistling is revealed as mere gesture politics, then you run the risk of alienating your core further.

Will Davies

One other thought on this:

At the Politics of Hope event, it was odd that the words 'modernity' and 'Enlightenment' weren't mentioned once. There's a particular issue about the temporality of hope, especially deriving from A&H's Dialectic of Enlightenment, connected to these two concepts. They write somewhere that the point is not to recover the past, but recover the hopes of the past. For those of a Weberian ilk, modernity has become a technological juggernaut, with the promises of the Enlightenment left in its wake - i.e. we need to look back in order to look forward. Something analogous is true of Americans seeking hope - they look to their founders for a brighter vision of the future, as Obama kept doing.

Now connect this to Obama's mantras. Modernity=Change, Enlightenment='yes we can'.

Here's the Weberian, Frankfurt School take on Obama's message. Change itself is not the source of hope. Change simply happens, and there is nothing to convince us that it pursues any greater goal. Only with the added recognition that 'yes we can' does change amount to anything. We need to look back to an era of 'yes we can', to find a version of 'change' that is not simply frenetic, pointless modernity... (I think Tony Blair misunderstood this, incidentally)

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