How the discontent of the citizens is made productive for the progress of state power Ruthless Criticism

The accomplishments of democratic elections – as performed by Barack Obama

How the Discontent of the Citizens is Made Productive for the Progress of State Power

[Translated from GegenStandpunkt 1-09 March 2009]

How Barack Hussein Obama mastered the way to 44th President of the United States has led to an orgy of admiration for this man. And not only from the American electorate and its opinion leaders, but also other world citizens who could not vote for him. In addition, the election campaign and accession to power of the first black leader of the world's most powerful state are considered an exemplary testament to the beauty and effectiveness of democracy. Not quite unjustly. Because from the standpoint of effective state power, this form of government has in fact some advantages to offer.

1. Change as an offer to the people:
Hope for a good leader – for a renewal of voluntary submission to state power

Barack Obama has lined up his candidacy for the highest office in the United States against veteran competitors inside and outside his party. He comes from the Democratic opposition and presents himself from the outset as its most radical representative. He confronts the people with the main slogan “change!,” pleading for a comprehensive change – without any attributes, without specifying the object and the goal. In this way, he relates to the widespread discontent in the country, explains himself as its spokesman and advocate. The complete abstraction from any content and from all the causes of the discontent, which is contained in the empty formula of the need for change, is intentional: It approves any possible complaint. This is the campaign trick of this typical oppositional election program, which is complete with only one word: It offers to every citizen called to vote the possibility of inserting his ideas and his desires, whatever they may be, into the promise of change, which the new presidential candidate Obama promises (to try) to keep. This is what the slogan is good for, and the politician gives the appropriate instructions on how to understand his speeches. He enumerates every possible grievance at which an upstanding citizen can take offense – grievances that must provoke loud demands for change. And they should. Because he wants to confirm and strengthen this, in order to collect them and pick them up and show them a constructive direction: all discontent is best overturned by him! And in the end, the capitalist world power America offers no shortage of occasions for discontent, as one can infer from the candidate's campaign speeches:

- That deserving old people are no longer able to live on their pensions;
- That millions of children do not have health insurance and that for millions of people medical care is unaffordable;
- That more and more decent citizens fall into poverty, whether they have one or more jobs or none at all;
- That the high gas and energy prices contribute to impoverishment and the politicians have not worried about new energy sources, environmental degradation and climate change;
- That many lose their homes and assets, because they can no longer pay the loans with which the “greedy bankers” do their business;
- That Guantanamo disgraces the USA, a just war against the Taliban is not won, while a “stupid war” in Iraq unnecessarily takes soldiers lives and harms America's reputation in the world;

these and other such conditions, which may be deplored by the good American citizen, work in the campaign speeches of Barack Obama as arbitrarily variable and combinable keywords, which call up the discontent of the population and make clear the need for change. Regardless of whether it concerns the material worries of the competing subjects or provides examples of wounded national pride, everything is welcome for treating and illustrating the key message: “America must be changed.” A message from the politician's lips which all too surely no democratically-educated person misunderstands as a prelude to a debate about what he would like to change, but is understood as it is meant: as a conclusion to the political dialogue between the representative of the people and his people.

This conclusion postulates one single consequence, and it is already the perspective for solving all problems: the faith of the citizens, who are called to vote, that a President Obama will change America for the better. This makes the second slogan audacious, the call that quickly follows for change: “we can believe in.” That is because in taking the first person plural, which raises the discontented citizens to virtually coequal subjects of the change, it is clear from the start how the called upon communal work is meant. They, the citizens, should believe in him. And participate by making him, Obama, the President who then guarantees the change from the top level of the state. From here, it fits only too well when the foot soldiers hastened to the campaign show begin chanting as a chorus the handy short version of the slogan whenever the man with the microphone invokes it: “Yes we can.” It is an acclamation for a new leader and a sign of his willingness to accept the role offered to him. “Hope” is demanded, the transition of the collected and accumulating discontent into a just as fundamentally groundless confidence which is based on the changing of the guard of the ruling personnel. This is the politicization which democracy is so proud of. The state works as hard as possible to get the people to buy into a misunderstanding: the misunderstanding regarding the reasons for their misery. All the damages and unredeemable claims that are produced by the state and the use of the people according to all the rules of the system are blamed on the old government personnel; in this case, they are chalked up to “the legacy of Bush.” And all hopes and expectations are best focused on him, the new beacon of hope. Such a campaign can work only if another fundamental mistake has become a custom among the human pawns of the state power: if people do not raise the damage to their interests against the “order” of competition which they continually put up with, but take their fatal dependence on the political power as the opportunity to set on more consideration and more favorable treatment by the state authority, and ardently wait for suitable offers. The successful exploitation of this stupidity is precisely the campaign strategy of the oppositional presidential candidate Obama. On him, the disappointed citizens renew their delusion and promise themselves, of all things, an improvement by transferring the continuation of the state’s business to another political chief, thus relinquishing control over the arsenal of the state’s means and decisions over their own general living conditions. This requires that they sign on to the lie that Obama serves them as an argument for the legitimacy of their hope – “America, we’re better than the last eight years.” Meaning: better than we actually are! They must act as inveterate subjects who trust in “America,” no matter what it costs. Only then is Obama's diagnosis clear to them, that they suffer from the failures of the former anti-terrorist President and not under the vigorous mission of protecting the world power of the American nation, and that faith in the new leader is the only realistic way to “change something” – realistic: because then he disposes over the power which they give him, and this warrants hope: because he has not yet had it and promises change.


Obama does everything that is necessary to make the many discontents among the people productive for an electoral mandate to govern, thus for his success against the other competitors for votes, two “seasoned professionals” from the political elite: first the Democratic rival, H. Clinton, then the Republican Vietnam-warhorse, McCain. And only one thing is needed for it: The majority of citizens of the USA must become “convinced” in the belief, as insane as it is important for winning votes, that he is credible as a beacon of hope, meaning: that he is really serious and means well with the promised change. Because with the authorization of the President, the influence of the democratic sovereign, the people, on the state is finished, the people would like to see credible leaders who use their freedom, not “abuse” it. This wish to serve, in order to functionalize it politically, is the central issue of the democratic campaign. Accordingly, Obama and his political rivals compete to win the trust of the governed for themselves. This requires some manipulative exertions, “a game with the emotions,” which, according to the media, candidate Obama so “perfectly controls”: they show themselves every now and then in private life so that the understanding that results from knowing a person includes the certainty that he or she does not pose a threat to one's interests, and this should ultimately be applied to the relationship to the political power and made productive for it. In order to mobilize this personal confidence for installation as ruler, they must first establish it. It is their own political credibility that they have to successfully stage in public. In this personality competition for the most effective captivator of the people, the “fast rising star Barack Obama” exhibits some specialties, which prove – considered ex post – major plus points.

- He indicates the topic: Bush has governed poorly, so he'll turn it around for the better. The alternative that America needs is him.
- He personifies the change that he propagates. A somewhat different image projection, Obama becomes a special quality which certifies the promise of change. He offers the image of a personality which signals a competent sovereign and commitment to effective crisis management rather than ideological bias. He presents himself as a new type of politician who remains “authentic” and changes political (im-)morals: with him, the intermixing of material selfishness and official duties is over, he leaves behind the political party calculations that harm the public good, he maintains an honest relationship with the ordinary people instead of arrogance and a false chumminess and thus also humanly vouches for the sincerity of his “vision.”
- And he happily submits that he has natural features, accouterments, which he and his style consultants do not at all have to specially design for him, and which are credited to him just for free by the general public as advantages. He is not only young and good looking. Even his different skin color is ultimately a guarantee for the credibility of his promised change – a characteristic which is normally a competitive disadvantage for those who have it. As a black, Obama stands for the underdogs and victims of the system and the desire “to change something.” As a black, who did social work in addition to his elite studies rather than becoming important à la Bush as the scion of a political clan, he is splendidly suited for collecting the prototypical American discontent of the freedom-loving “taxpayers” with the “political establishment” and those in distant “Washington.” And as he has made “it” – that is, a political party career – as a “meteoric star,” one also cannot deny his ability to enact it.

To the extent that the throng of voters and the election polls confirm how much he “matters,” Obama gets the charisma that Bush and McCain do not have. With this compliment, the political subjects of a politician, who stresses power over them, let themselves be personally impressed and inspired, stylizing the individual characteristic of the man in the statesman: the irresistible charisma which one certifies to someone like Obama signs as a convincing argument that one is only too happy to be led by him. The subservient need for a good leader becomes the credential of quality and authorization for the politician who is taken to serve it in so impressively.


In the so-called charisma of a statesman like Barack Obama, the accumulated discontent of the citizens finds a political personality which skillfully exploits it. No wonder that in times of crises and wars the number of charismatic leaders increases. Obamania is an ideal case of democratic rule, a prime example of the achievement that periodic free elections provides for free. They are a process and an opportunity by which the economically jolted and politically bullied majority always again and again disbands their necessarily appearing disagreement. By the offer of a personnel change at the top, their voluntary consent to state force is always newly mobilized, called for and obtained.

2. Change as a demand of the political class of the USA:
Self-criticism of the world power – for a renewal of its political means of success

There is discontent with the results of state politics not only among the general population, to whom Obama offers the constructive perspective that they should nevertheless vote for him. Discontent has also accumulated in large parts of the political elite who are entrusted with the leadership of state business and compete for it. This time, all the candidates who run for election demand corrections in the use of power, above all Barack Obama. The change that is meant here pertains not to the mood of the voting citizens, but to the very material organization of state power. This need for change has its reference point not in the failing private accounts and aspirations of the people for the nation, its criterion is the other way around, the success of American state force is needed for taking the people into its service. And here something – so the showing by the opposition candidates – is in disorder. His general assessment:

“Our nation is at war, our economy in turmoil and the American promise has once more been threatened” (August 2008)

This diagnoses a threatening situation for the world power of the US and stands for an equally comprehensive rehabilitation order, which he promises to devote himself to. Of course, the failures and tribulations of the nation are for him – like for all statesmen – not reasons to scale back the economic and strategic demands of the state, but compelling reasons to put in question the employed means and strategies – by the last president in office – and take into consideration alternative prescriptions that promise more success. From this point of view:

– the crisis which finance capital has got itself into, as well as the escalating irruptions of the “real economy,” become a disaster, unequivocal evidence of the lack of regulation over the speculative business practices in the credit sector, or of much too half-hearted rescue measures
– the de facto bankruptcy of the US automobile industry, which makes “outdated gas guzzlers”; the continual rise in oil (and gas) prices; the untapped alternative energy sources; the refusal of a climate policy … individually and in total are clear indications of the “outdated prescriptions” and “missing redirection” in economic, energy and environment policies – these are understood as an irresponsible passivity by the state which “makes America vulnerable to blackmail and dependent on its enemies”;
– the still not taken care of enemy states and terrorists, as well as the lack of support of the anti-terrorist war by the allies, are clear evidence for an incorrect setting of military priorities and strategies, as well as for a negligent abandonment of the instruments of bilateral and multilateral diplomacy, which is why the enemies of America (Iran, Syria, etc.) have been offered no real test proposals for a voluntary submission, and the friends of America were needlessly alienated. Etc...

No matter follows in practical details from such criticisms, Obama with all his negative findings about the work of George W. Bush makes one thing clear: in order to ensure something that is no longer sure: that America is the obvious beneficiary of the globalized competition and the leading power, that no state in the world can withhold from America the respect it deserves. For this, he will order a readjustment in the ways and means of American politics.

Thus the change campaign of Barack Obama demonstrates a second achievement that is beneficial to state power, one which is included in the democratic mode of rule. The periodic electoral decision about the new government administration offers to the representatives of the political class the institutionalized opportunity to take an interim review on the position of the nation which they find at the end of a term of office. Above all, the hitherto oppositional politicians, those who replace the bias and the extenuating motives of the previous government administration, are almost predestined to make a critical examination of the applied strategies and prescriptions; as the representatives of the people, they call for a more suitable use of the arsenal of the political power, one which they can freely control themselves. So the professional experts of the national power elite regularly carry out an internal political account by confirming or rejecting their measures in the light of the (unredeemed) power ambitions of the national community. And “fresh talent” and beacons of hope like Obama can – once elected – call upon the freedom of a “new beginning,” both domestically and abroad. Thus the democratic competition of ambitious power hungry people proves its functionality for an effective state power.


In a democratic country like the USA, winning this competition – and with it, how much continuity and how much change there is in the next government administration – is made dependent on who the discontented people on election day give how much approval. The subjects of the rule have indeed no say in what and how the political changes are due; for this, the experts in the state leadership are solely responsible. However, the state must subject their willingness to administer political power to the vote of the people, who decide according to their motives and taste which of the alternatives on offer are given the chance or which are not. That is a risk for the candidates; for democracy it is not: every vote counts in the end – as intended – to the desired authorization of a government. This time the majority delegates their will to Obama. His calculation – to make the discontent of the population productive for a correction in the use of power, which is measured only by the success of the state power – works out. He succeeds in generating a radical change of mood in the country and ties the hopes from below to his decampment program from above. So he gets the confidence that he requires, and thus the freedom to implement in policy his discontent with the state of the nation.

3. A program to renew the world power of the US

Immediately after the election victory of the new President, Barack Obama’s authorization to govern initiates a new offensive of the American state power – even before the announced “revisions” in all spheres of activity of the state power and regardless of their practical consequences in detail.

a) A new national exertion is waiting

On the evening of his election victory, Obama steps before the enthusiastic masses and swears the people to realism.

The first thing he announces to the hope-happy citizens is that with his election a good part of the change promise with which he began is already fulfilled. Already, with the fact that he stands now at the head of the state, the slogan “Yes we can,” that we can change America, is proved; and in this respect, the discontent with the policy of the predecessor is officially recognized and redeemed in practice. From the pure fact that he, a black completely from below, has ascended completely to the top, to the presidency, he fabricates into a praise of the greatness and uniqueness of the American nation. “Men, women and children of every race and every belief” can and should marvel in him, as a new boss of the USA, that the American dream is true. Of all things, the fact that after 250 years – one wants to say: despite the notorious racism that has been endemic to American democracy since its birth – for the first time a member of a “discriminated minority” takes over the political management of the classes and the races should satisfy all those who are intended to be and remain masses and a class in the service of the power and the wealth of this nation. The possibility of ascent offered to each individual, which Obama shows to them, should reconcile them to the hopeless reality of the social hierarchy from which they do not escape.

Whereby, incidentally, one thing is immediately made clear: in terms of the hard core of the American dream, the compulsion to be suspended in the capitalist competition, no change is necessary. In this system, everyone has their chance; in any case, they do not get another!

The necessary change, however, will come. The renewal of this promise on the evening of triumph just gets a different emphasis. The Beacon of Hope warns against false hopes and expectations in order to avoid disappointment. The people should not fool itself about the seriousness of the tasks that are waiting in order to overcome the crisis of the nation – and they must acknowledge and take responsibility for it if America wants to win and secure its world power:

“Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real, they are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this America : They will be met …In reaffirming the greatness of our nation, we understand that greatness is never a given. It must be earned… It has not been the path for the faint-hearted, for those who prefer leisure over work, or seek only the pleasures of riches and fame. Rather, it has been the risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things…” (Inaugural Address, January 20, 2009)

The new President emphasizes that the nation is threatened on all fronts. He wants to enforce the imperialist claims of the USA against all barriers and resistance and presents this will to confront the great economic and strategic challenges that America is now facing as a necessity. With the incantation of American virtues, which are legend, the selfless hard work and the heroic fighting spirit of the pioneers, he serves notice that he will take his citizens in their patriotic duty for the renewal of the nation, whether they count themselves happy to do so or not:

“What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility – a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation and the world, duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly … This is the price and the promise of citizenship.” (ibid.)

The hope should remain, but without illusion: The happiness of every citizen already consists in being an inhabitant of this great country and one has to be happy to pay the price! Obama has received the approval of the majority, and from now on he will call upon it. The “contribution of everyone” is demanded. And objections to the sacrifices, which the restoration of capitalism and the “greatness of our nation” require, now no longer speaks against the government in Washington that decrees the necessary measures – Bush is finally gone. It speaks rather against the “faint hearted” who have thoroughly misunderstood what he, Obama, has promised them.