“That One” Wants to Socialize Wealth: The Dividing Lines Between Barack Obama and John McCain

When John McCain referred to Barack Obama as “that one”was not a simple gaff, but a deeply rooted racial prejudice and a deeply rooted blockage in his understanding. One could guess that when Barack Obama says “John doesn’t get it”, the meaning of his indictment may be wider than perhaps Obama himself intended. And if we look harder, we may find out that McCain’s gaff and Obama’s indictment are logically connected with another McCain memorable formula: Obama wants to socialize wealth instead of creating wealth.

Most of McCain’s formulaic attacks on Obama are extremely superficial and obviously addressed to a sector of potential Republican voters who are more concerned with the baseball championship underway in the early Fall or the beginning of the basketball and football seasons, than in who would be elected President of the United States and what may be the future consequences. Well, let’s say that the nonsensical and empty formulae accumulated by McCain and his campaign team are, yes, addressed to “Joe the Plumber.”

Besides Joe the Plumber, any Republican of consciousness would realize that the socialization of wealth implies creation of wealth. Would you believe that Obama is planning to stop creating wealth and just distribute whatever there is now? What McCain really means is not “socialization”vs. “creation”but “socialization”vs. “accumulation”, and for sure he knows that accumulation means to “privatize gains and socialize losses”as has been said already many times in general, but in particular about Wall Street’s suicidal wealth creation.

Now, if you look for the connecting lines between the social formula and the personal-racial gaff (“that one”) and if you go back and rewind what happened in the last debate between the two presidential candidates, you may see what I saw. It was obvious in that debate that Obama has been cornering McCain in each of the debates. But I only saw it in the last one. What I saw in the last debate was not only the already known and accepted brilliancy and intelligence of Obama (face to face to a supposedly “nice guy”and supposedly sharp politician), but that Obama’s strength (which also explains his calm and relax performance) is that Obama knows something that McCain doesn’t know. It is in this respect that Obama’s indictment “McCain doesn’t get it”may have a meaning that Obama did not intended. Or, perhaps he did.

The point here is that when referring to Obama as “that one”, McCain made obvious to the rest of the world that he only knows the Reason of the Master. While Obama, calm and relaxed, knows both the Reason of the Master (in front of him) and the Reason of the Enslaved (the legacies of enslaved Africans in the history of the United States).

In academic lingo I would say that Obama dwells, inhabits “double consciousness”as it was existentially described and argued by Afro-American sociologist W.E.B. Du Bois (1868-1963), from 1904 (more or less the same year that Max Weber was defining the “spirit of capitalism”) until the end of his life. “Double Consciousness”is an experience common to a large part of the US population (as well as of the world population). Chicana intellectual and activist, Gloria Anzaldúa (1942-2004), inhabited “new mestiza consciousness”, a parallel existential experience among Chicanas and Chicanos. In the Caribbean, the same kind of existential feeling was conceived through the dialogues between Prospero and Caliban—Prospero only knows the reason of the Master while Caliban knows both, the reason of the Master and the Reason of the Enslaved. Caliban dwells, inhabits a world, a memory, alien to Prospero. That is the reason why Prospero could refer to Caliban as “that one”and, in that same reason, to think that “creation of wealth”is Humanity’s destiny. Prospero understand only his world. He dwells (like Joe the Plumber), inhabits a “Mono-Consciousness”he assumes is Uni-versal.

While McCain invokes Joe the Plumber, promising more and more football, basketball and baseball games, Obama intends to wake up both the double consciousness of people of color as well as the consciousness of millions of white men and women who may have been unaware of people in this country inhabiting a double consciousness and being invisible, but now reaching a social status that was not supposed to be ear-marked for the white population, but only for people of color. In between the two ideal demographic groups, there is the awakening of the younger generation, those born in the 1970s and after who are aware of the radical transformation of subjectivity (that is, consciousness) that “That one”is bringing.

“Creating wealth”is a formula that attempts to maintain the cosmology associated with capitalist economy. But indeed, it is a formula for maintaining the “socialization of capitalist cosmological consciousness”—that is, the enchantment of enslaved consumers at the service of Master creating wealth. “Socializing wealth”doesn’t mean, in this context, bring Marx back. There are many working class whites supporting McCain—Ohio is the hub. It means rather “socializing double consciousness”not only among “those ones”like Obama, but mainly among “those ones”like McCain and the experts of Wall Street and “those ones”in main stream media. “Socializing double consciousness”means that a de-colonial future begins to take hold in the United States, that has been lately encouraged by the financial crisis of Wall Street and the dubious subjectivity that neo-liberal economic policy and media enthusiasm, engendered during and after the glorious Ronald Reagan years.


January 3, 2008

After Barack Obama’s surprising performance in the Iowa Caucus, I made some notes. I added some observations on January 3, 2008. The more Obama gained ground, the more I couldn’t refrain from looking at what was going on in the US from the recent experience of Bolivia and the parallels between Evo Morales Ayma and Barack Obama in spite, of course, of the enormous differences between the two countries. However, the “two countries” belong to the same racial histories of “the Americas”, that is, South, North, Central Americas and the Caribbean.

When the Presidential campaign started, last year, I would have unconsciously inverted the order. I would have said, “My views of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama and Evo Morales.”At that point I thought, as many others, that Obama has a lot of potential but lacks experience while Clinton entered the candidacy with a lot of experience and questionable credibility. However—I told myself—no Presidency from now on could be worst than the one of George W. Bush and his team, those who are politically defunct as well as a couple of those who still remain in place in political agony. I entertained for a while the fantasy that a Clinton-Obama ticket would be a good team since there would be a mutual compensation of experiences and credibility. Furthermore, the ticket would bring together a white woman with a black man, something that has been unheard of at least in the history of the US.

Then I forgot about my fantasy and just followed the campaign, who was getting how much money and who was moving up and down in the polls.

And Iowa came.

When I heard on the car radio that Obama came out in first place I said to myself, “Bah!, que c’est bizarre.” A mixture of Argentine reaction mixed with a French expression I learned during my years of graduate student in France. Then I read an op-ed in La Nación (a good and traditional Argentine newspaper leaning to the right) by Mario Diament in which he interpreted the outcome of the Iowa Caucus as “the racial revolution in the US.” Then I read David Brooks in the New York Times who manifested his surprise describing in Iowa as “two earthquakes”: Obama coming ahead among the Democrat and Mike Huckabee among the Republicans. And I was still far from Bob Herbert’s exhilaration describing the “Barack Obama phenomenon.”

Nevertheless, and whatever the result of New Hampshire’s primary next Tuesday (January 8, 2008) will be, the Iowa’s Caucus has planted a flag in the political and social imaginary of the U.S. On a different scale, it looks very similar to the situation in Bolivia—in 2005– when it became clear that Evo Morales entered the political and social imaginary of the country as an earthquake.

Now—apparently—the time has come to think about racism-genderism and political theory or, better yet, about racism and epistemology (that is the racial foundations of the principle and construction of knowledge in the Western world, from Machiavelli to Hobbes and Leo Strauss). To have Hillary Clinton as President would be another chapter of a general tendency in Europe and the Americas: Angela Merkl in Germany; Michele Bachelet in Chile; Christina Fernández de Kirtchner in Argentina. To have Hillary Clinton as President would mean that, finally, the US citizens realized that they are already behind in trusting a woman with leading their country. In other words, to have Hillary Clinton as President of the US would mean something entirely different than having, just for the sake of the example, Angela Davis. On the other hand, if the final stretch of the race would be between Hillary Clinton and Condoleezza Rice, one can surmise that the color line will not make much of a difference. The difference will remain at the level of the political parties (Republican or Democrat’s agendas) but both imagined Presidents would remain within the realm of Western concept of nation-State in Western political theory.

Enter Barack Obama. Would a black man make a difference over a white or a black woman as president of the U.S.? Condoleezza Rice has given ample proof through her life that her main goal was to show, to herself first and to the world second, that a black woman is as capable as a white man and equal to a white woman. She succeeded and I admire that determination. However, having a capable and brilliant black woman entering in the structure of a the modern State doesn’t change the fact that the modern Western State was conceived from the sixteenth to the eighteenth century, implemented and controlled by white men. This is just a statistic, not essentialism. And it doesn’t mean either that white males perversely imagined the structure and politics of the State at their own image and sameness. Honest liberals assumed that what was good for them was good for Western and Christian Europe and what was good for Europe was good for the world. If you do not believe me, just go re-read with this caveat forewarning in mind both Montesquieu’s The Spirit of the Laws and John Locke’s The Second Treatise of Government.

I believe that the enthusiasm showed by many, and among them the three columnists I mentioned above, has indeed some grounding. However, having a black man as president representing the Democratic Party or (just for the sake of the argument) having a black woman like Condoleezza Rice as could-have-been a candidate for the Republican Party it may change something but not much. What it changes is that we are at the point in which a black woman or a black man can take care of the business of the State designed, implemented and controlled for over four hundred years by white men. Tomasi di Lampedusa’s dictum remains as valid today as a century ago: “Things have to change in order to remain as they are.”

I share Shalbe Steele’s view although I am not sure about his conclusion. He may or may not win, to early to say. Steele thinks that Barack Obama cannot win the presidential elections. Why?

Steele distinguishes, among Blacks politicians, between bargainers and challengers. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton are challengers. They can hardly become president of the U.S. Barack Obama is a bargainer. To his credit, he is the first bargainer in the sphere of the State. Another bargainer is Bill Cosby. But Bill Cosby, as well as Angela Davis, does not operate in the sphere of the State but in the sphere of society. The former is an entertainer in the civil society; the later, is an activist in the political society. Steele thinks that although being a black bargainer is not still enough to win. He is seen, among Blacks, as not Black enough while among Whites, he is still Black.

But let’s suppose Obama will win; that he will be nominated as the candidate of the Democratic Party and be elected as the next president of the U.S. Here is where Steele’s may be right: Obama talks about “changes”but it is not clear what changes he wants to make and toward what ends. He is note different to all other Democratic candidates who are also talking about changes. However, the difference Obama should make is related to his being the only Black candidate among Whites, men and woman. Because of that, one would expect that when Obama talks about “change”he means something different in relation to the other candidates. And here may be the problem. The problem is simply that Obama is still operating within the frame of party identity politics, that is, within the frames and expectations of the Democratic Party. Let me explain.

Evo Morales, in Bolivia, cracked the code of the liberal State and capitalist economy. As expected, he has to confront right wing politicians, wealthy landowners and transnational corporations. He is a challenger who brings to the foreground the Indian conception of social and economic organization. He is not proposing to replace the liberal tradition, which is endorsed by a considerable number of Bolivians, but to insert Indian traditions, into the reorganization of the State and of the economy. Thus the concept of a pluri-cultural State is grounded in this shift in doing politics. However, Evo Morales has to confront also the question of genderism, whom define themselves as “the exiled from neo-liberalism.” While Evo Morales cracked the code of the (neo) liberal State in the domain of racism by legitimizing Indian knowledge and postulating the need to de-colonize the state and the economy, the political society of women contest that decolonization is not possible without de-patriarcalization, as “Mujeres Creando” (a conglomerate of women across sexual and ethnic identities) would have it. In spite of the confrontations between decolonization and de-patriarcalization, something remains clear: both Evo Morales and Mujeres Creando are bringing to the foreground new ways of thinking and doing based on the memories and experiences of Indians and women, both South American white and of color. What Evo Morales has, Barack Obama hasn’t.

Let’s suppose now that Obama will be the next president of the US and that he will act as an honest liberal (as John Rawls has it). In circumstances which are extremely different (such as Bolivia and the US), Obama would confront problems similar to those Morales is confronting, from the right of course, but from Black challengers such as Sharpton and Jackson. He is already being critiqued by both. One would expect that he could be confronted also by women’s organizations in the political society, both white and of color. And here is where Steele has a strong point: Obama doesn’t have a radical proposal as Evo Morales has. If he wins, things will remain as they are. While even if Evo Morales looses his position as president, what he achieved already is a landmark. Evo Morales showed us that economy based on accumulation and states based solely on (neo) liberal principles are indeed deadly. Economies of reciprocity and political philosophies re-inscribing models of social organization that has been cast out since the European Renaissance are indeed of the essence. I am not preaching the return of a pure Indian state or a pure Islamic state. I am just saying that a pure Western liberal state is not longer sustainable.

Transformations cannot be done within the existing system of thoughts and ethics in which political economy and political theory are imbedded. Transformations cannot be achieved within a system of thoughts and ethics that is not concerned with living well (as Evo Morales will have it) with living better than my neighbor; a system of thoughts and ethics in which employment is related to consumption. If Obama wins—as Morales did in Bolivia–it would be certainly an important step. It will show that white males are not the only one capable of conducting the State. But if Obama wins, most likely he will be absorbed by the system while Morales has shown that another way of thinking and of being is necessary.


  1. Hola Profesor Mignolo,
    Estoy en Lima, asistiendo impávido a una creciente violencia que ilustra los desafíos reales que plantean casos como el que relata su artículo. Me refiero al enfrentamiento entre indígenas abogando por un desarrollo que no los desaprezca, y un estado modernizante totalmente demodé. El resultado han sido decenas de muertos en los primeros enfrentamientos en Bagua, norte del Perú. Quizás sea un caso para seguir y discutir desde una perspectiva decolonizadora.

    Saludos de todos nosotros.

  2. Qué tal profesor:

    A mi me brinca la frase que el profesor Taylor menciona: “hay una necesidad urgente para los académicos de conectarse más directa y arriesgadamente con las cuestiones fundamentales de nuestro tiempo”.

    Las “cuestiones fundamentales” para este académico, me imagino que son las ganancias y el sostenimiento de un sistema que ha devastado al planeta, no la supervivencia misma.


  3. Profesor Mignolo,
    creo el hecho mismo de tratarlo de profesor me disminuye pero bueno vamos al grano. Su crítica me parece llena de buenas intenciones aunque ineficiente. Su enunciado está demasiado contaminado de academismos estadounidenses. Piensa ud. que Guamán Poma de Ayala tenía una remota idea de lo que significaba la “Democracia”. Un concepto que fue impuesto en América Latina cuando nadie (salvo dos o tres intelectuales) sabía que significaba. Las democracias nunca funcionaron en América Latina porque son una necesidad europea y si se quiere norteamericana. En América Latina los mejores gobiernos fueron los de los “déspotas iluminados”. Me pregunto ¿Su moralidad democrática no se hace eco del eurocentrismo más radical? En la constitución que le dio EEUU a Irak lo único que faltaba era el matrimonio gay para ser completamente liberal, algo que es una aberración en las constumbres tradicionales de esas regiones. Por otra parte, descolonizar ¿significa revalorizar lo precolombino, lo subalterno, lo desposeído? ¿Por qué? ¿Los criollos hijos de inmigrantes europeos, prosperos comerciantes e industriales no tienen derecho a la historia? Digo más: los corruptos, abusadores del poder, malvivientes de todo tipo, los hipnotizados con las modas globales no forman parte de Latino América?
    Estoy de acuerdo con ud. en que es necesario encontrar una manera más equitativa y natural de gestionar y gobernar América latina. Creo sinceramente que no pasa por el desprendimiento epistémico del eurocentrismo, ese episteme nos ayudó a entendernos de muchas maneras, su mala aplicación es el problema. Marx, Freud, Spinoza, Leibniz, Hume, Nietzsche, Cervantes, Gramsci, Foucault, Derrida, Deleuze, Einstein y muchos otros nos han ayudados a crecer y creo no equivocarme al decir que ninguno de ellos trató de crear un episteme colonialista sino más bien trató de entender al ser humano. Creo que necesitamos un reacomodamiento educativo, hay que encausar la educación como lo explica Helvetius para lograr seres libres y responsables. Su ejemplo de Evo Morales me parece paradigmático en muchos sentidos. Cuando leí la nueva constitución de Bolivia casi lloro, lograr imponer algo que se aparta de la lógica hegemónica me parecía imposible. Es como si hicieramos una huelga de hambre para que un curandero nos atienda en un hospital público. ¡Es genial a nivel epistemológico! Hay que leer la Filosofía sobre el tocador del Marquez de Sade para poner a prueba nuestra moralidad.
    Bueno espero sepa disculpar mi impertinencia con estos comentarios.
    Yo sé por experiencia que a los profesores no les gustan las críticas.
    PD: Un poco tarde pero si me tomo el atrevimiento de escribirle es porque admiro su trabajo intelectual.

  4. Profesor Mignolo,
    Recorriendo libros vuelvo a toparme con un texto suyo sobre el mismo tema: El pensamiento des-colonial. (no puedo evitar algunos comentarios)
    Qué diferencia hay entre un tratado y una denuncia. Por ejemplo, podría decir que el Tratado teológico-político de Spinoza es de alguna forma una denuncia contra las creencias e imposiciones religiosas. Ahora bien, la “Nueva corónica …” de Guamán o el texto de Cugoano ¿son tratados? Yo entiendo su ímpetu en buscar nuevas sendas epistémicas para una causa que, le repito, me parece loable pero me pregunto si no se ha vuelto un poco panfletario. Recordemos que estamos, más usted que yo, inmersos en un ámbito intelectual del que formamos una parte activa. Sería bueno releer los escritos de Antonio Gramsci sobre los intelectuales, creo que ahí está la clave. Seguramente usted ya tuvo la oportunidad de examinar los seis tomos de los cuadernos de la carcel, allí Gramsci nos da las herramientas epistémicas necesarias para lograr su objetivo que, lo confiezo, también es el mío. La idea de Gramsci es encontrar un sistema equitable de gobierno en el que estén representadas todas las fuerzas sociales, no sólo los pobres pero tampoco solo los ricos. TODOS
    Por eso vuelve insistentemente sobre los mismos temas claves: La figura del príncipe como ente moderador de la gobernabilidad (Su lectura de Maquiavelo parece cargada de prejuicios, debería leerlo a través de Gramsci para verlo de otra manera: la que nos sirve), el análisis del imaginario cultural en relación a la producción cultural, el rol de los intelectuales (Ud.), el rol de la educación (medio de concientización), etc. Gramsci no trata de imponer un sistema (como lo propuso inocentemente Marx y muchos otros)sino que propone reacomodar el sustrato existente en el inconciente colectivo o en el imaginario social para lograr un equilibro social estable.
    Por ultimo recuerde que Ud. desde su oficina en Duke forma parte del poder hegemónico y mientras Ud. más avanza más se expande ese poder. Su voz es autoritaria. Ud. puede hablar por los subalternos o incluso representarlos pero nunca SER un subalterno. La idea de Gramsci es que los subalternos dejen de serlo. Otro tema clave de Gramsci es la filosofía de la praxis.
    PD: Cuando digo que admiro su trabajo quiero decir que creo en su honestidad intelectual.

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