Shepard Fairey's Occupy Hope or, The Pseudo-Spectacle of Outsiderdom and OWS's Critical Lack of Imagination


Here's the latest statement from hip counterculturalist Shepard Fairey, whose iconic pro-Obama campaign poster in 2008 was one of the most striking images of that presidential season.

The one-time graffiti artist explains:

This image represents my support for the Occupy movement, a grassroots movement spawned to stand up against corruption, imbalance of power, and failure of our democracy to represent and help average Americans. On the other hand, as flawed as the system is, I see Obama as a potential ally of the Occupy movement if the energy of the movement is perceived as constructive, not destructive. I still see Obama as the closest thing to "a man on the inside" that we have presently. Obviously, just voting is not enough. We need to use all of our tools to help us achieve our goals and ideals. However, I think idealism and realism need to exist hand in hand. Change is not about one election, one rally, one leader, it is about a constant dedication to progress and a constant push in the right direction. Let's be the people doing the right thing as outsiders and simultaneously push the insiders to do the right thing for the people. I'm still trying to work out copyright issues I may face with this image, but feel free to share it and stay tuned…

Fairey's often-entertaining Obey Giant site is here.

In general, I find this sort of appeal to the Establishment depressing, but especially in this case. If the Occupy movement, like Fairey, sees Obama as a "potential ally" then what does it say about the way that the president has in fact governed? Like Sen. John McCain, Candidate Obama cast a vote in favor of bailing out the big banks and financial institutions while running for president. He then upped the ante and has shown absolutely zero ability to conjure up an economic recovery plan that does not rely on fixes that were rusted-out by the time Richard Nixon took that final flight to San Clemente back in the 1970s.

Obama's record on civil liberties and foreign interventions is indistinguishable from George W. Bush's, whose exit calendar from Iraq he is fulfilling. Except that Obama has managed to lower the bar when it comes to killing American citizens and committing American resources without even the fig leaf of congressional approval. Who wants to support the Solyndra-style crony capitalism, or bizarre gun-running operations such as Fast and Furious? What part of record numbers of deportations of poor Mexicans and raids of legal-under-state-law medical marijuana dispensaries in California does Fairey and Occupants not understand?

For centuries, Americans have been governed by Manicheanism, by a dualistic thinking that equates opposition to Party A with support for Party B. At least since Roger Williams' legacy faded, it seems we've been incapable of thinking in anything other than the most good/bad, black/white, yes/no binary terms. Perhaps that's part of the problem here. Repulsed by the Republican Party, which espouses a limited-government philosophy that it flouts with impunity by pushing not just for massive spending but massive deficit spending and the regulation of personal behaviors and lifestlye, the Occupy folks feel some sense of kinship with the Democrats and Obama, whose ties to Wall Street and other sources of Establishment power are as thick as police batons.

But for god's sake, who the hell is Fairey kidding? Obama as Guy Fawkes, a minority Catholic plotting to blow up the government who is only remembered in contemporary America because of a graphic novel and rotten movie that was a stupid anti-Thatcher allegory? Obama isn't the solution, in part or in whole. Every bit as much as George W. Bush, Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi, John Boehner, Mitch McConnell, you name it, he's the problem. And appeals to him only shows the resolute lack of imagined alternatives to a society whose control flows from a series of aristocrats as out of touch with how the world works as King James and his crew, the target of the historical Guy Fawkes' failed Gunpowder Plot.

Hayek dedicated The Road to Serfdom to the "socialists of both parties" and while I don't think Obama and the Democrats are any more socialist than their counterparts in the GOP, I invite Shephard Fairey and the latter-day Establishmentarians who somehow think that Barack Obama and Timothy Geithner and Leon Panetta and Hillary Clinton will somehow effect a decentralization of power, to range around Reason.com for a while (start here, why don't you?). Here you just might find an actual alternative to the dueling philosophies of top-down command-and-control politics that has made such a hash of the first decade of the 21st century and threatens to deaden the remaining 90 years of the only future most of us will ever have.

Folllow Gillespie on Twitter. Buy his book, The Declaration of Independents: How Libertarian Politics Can Fix What's Wrong with America, co-authored with Matt Welch.