The inside job

At one moment in the 2012 presidential campaign season, President Obama lamented the difficulty of “changing Washington from the inside” in direct reference to the “Hope” and “Change” themes that had brought him into office in 2008. Of course, the desperate Romney immediately seized on this as an acknowledgement of Obama’s failure to fulfill election promises, declaring that  Obama’s remarks signaled the President’s final surrender in arguments over his competence. If we think of recurring “inside/outside” Washington rhetoric in terms of worlding, it’s worth remembering that binary conventions have always been the devil in definitions of world systems.The political expedience of phrases like George Bush’s “You’re either with us or against us” reinforce familiar notions of neatly delineated inclusions and exclusions. And these relics of western epistemology indeed carry a certain utility, especially in the shorthand of public communication. But problems crop up when the going gets tough and the failure of “inside/outside” dichotomies becomes glaring, as in the Obama/Romney flap.  It turns out that the President actually had been making a more nuanced point about the permeability of inside/outside demarcations and the importance of ongoing dialogue between beltway leaders and their constituencies. After all, the very premise of representative democracy depends on the permeability of the inside/outside divide. But besides obfuscating Obama’s intent via truncation, the episode again revealed the Romney’s strategy of displacement in labeling it’s own perceived exclusion as that of the populous at large. Put another way, Obama in reality had accomplished huge changes from the “inside” in successfully enacting health care reform, a military withdrawal from Iraq, the repeal of DADT because of the “outside” choices manifest by majority votes in congressional and presidential elections. Of course, Obama slyly pivoted in later comments of his own by referencing Romney’s history of decision making in the very non-democratic sphere of corporate management, asking, “What kind of inside job are we talking about … really?”

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