I’ve been out of the country for a few weeks, so I’ve only just come across 22-year-old Obama’s commentary on “The Waste Land.” Most of which we can just pass over in silence, since all its pretension and fluffiness make this almost 22 year old English major cringe in recognition. But let’s look more closely at one part:
Remember how I said there’s a certain kind of conservatism which I respect more than bourgeois liberalism—Eliot is of this type. Of course, the dichotomy he maintains is reactionary, but it’s due to a deep fatalism, not ignorance. (Counter him with Yeats or Pound, who, arising from the same milieu, opted to support Hitler and Mussolini.)
(Ugh, that preening “milieu.”)
Compare early 80s Obama to Terry Eagleton (from 1975’s Marxism and Literary Criticism):
…the agreed major writers of the twentieth century—Yeats, Eliot, Pound, Lawrence—are political conservatives who each had truck with fascism. Marxist criticism, rather than apologizing for that fact, explains it—sees that, in the absence of genuinely revolutionary art, only a radical conservatism, hostile like Marxism to the withered values of liberal bourgeois society, could produce the most significant literature.
Not only are the sentiments the same, but even have them phrased the same way—“liberal bourgeois,” etc. College Obama not only read some Marxist criticism, but sympathized with some of it. Which is not exactly remarkable, given that he was in college (and this was 1983, before the reactionary 80s had really quite set in).
Obviously he’s not a Marxist—he certainly hasn’t governed like one, or even like one of those “bourgeois liberals.” But can you imagine the shitstorm if conservatives were able to make this connection? It would be an unfair shitstorm, of course, but it does play into all the deranged conservative fears about him. We live in a country where a knowledge of Marx disqualifies one from public office—but fortunately, it’s this very ignorance that keeps conservatives from spotting the Marx in this letter (and making it into a talking point). It is, when you think about it, a weird, slightly sad kind of justice.