The Uprising and Precious Oil

I have not read David Sirota’s new book, “Uprising,” but I did see him give a power point presentation that was half an “inform” and half call to action the other evening at a local bookstore. Sirota’s thesis is that America is at a time similar to the late 70s and early 80s when a lack of faith in government, an energy crisis, problematic Middle East entanglements, percolating racism, and economic dislocation were the basis of a populist uprising against establishment politics. The Right was able to channel this uprising into the Reagan Revolution and create the elemental political moment that is still pre-dominant. Sirota argues that the 2008 election will be a chance to create a Progressive “Uprising”, but that it is up to Progressives themselves to use the Dems/Obama as a means rather than an ends by advocating for Progressive policies through a bevy of grassroots organizations and in state legislatures. The price of a failure, such as Jimmy Carter’s in the late 70s, will be a Conservatron populist akin to Reagan or worse rising in 2012 and appropriating the Uprising.

The Conservatrons succeeded in grabbing the last Uprising through some duplicitous insider shenanigans. Though we may never know the truth, there is strong circumstantial evidence, as displayed in Kevin Phillips’ book “American Dynasty,” that Bush the Elder used his CIA backchannels and familial connections to Middle East oil royalty to maintain the Iranian Hostage Crisis through Carter’s term. The fact that it ended precisely as Reagan was inaugurated feels a bit too good to be true, now don’t it? Similarly, the Middle East eventually reopened the oil spigot thereby ending the artificial – as in caused by politics rather than economics or geology – Energy Crisis.

It is unlikely that Team Obama has an underground secret to end the Bush junta’s Iraq debacle, but a path towards disengagement will be feasible if politically and militarily difficult. It is not yet possible to tell if today’s oil crisis is caused by the arrival of peak oil or rising global demand. Richard Heinberg’s must read book of the Bush era, “The Party’s Over: Oil, War and the Fate of Industrial Societies” makes a compelling argument that it is the former; indeed, Bushite foreign policy does not make sense outside of a coming peak oil context. Either way, onerous oil prices are “real” and are not going away. Ten dollar per gallon oil can be mitigated, but not without a fundamental alteration of the life that the vast majority of Americans, of all ideological stripes, are accustomed to living.

If Obama is victorious in 2008 his ability to channel the Uprising into a long-term Progressive direction will hinge on his ability to shape the elemental lifestyle change that Precious Oil will require. Precious Oil will mostly mean a loss of individual mobility, distance, and privacy. Obama must make this forced communality a source of broad commonwealth rather than a struggle for groups to own most of what’s left.

The Conservatrons’ reaction is predictable: they will tribalize and divide; subjugate and hate. They will foster layers of inferiority and keep people just above each layer being afraid and superior to those in layers below, and resentful towards anyone advocating unity for the common good. All the while Charlatan McSame will make occasional hollow strokes of comity to offer relief that the Dystopia is not too viscous.

I have argued before that Obama is a once in a generation Persuasive leader. He has the charisma to create the space for the rest of us to realize a better future with brio… for a while. Sirota is correct: a successful Progressive Uprising is dependent on the local actions of Progressives.