Some of you may have been a bit surprised to see Emvergeoning turn into a platform for a political campaign yesterday (I must admit I was a bit surprised myself, despite my own flirtations with political themes). Yes, the contemporary art community in San Antonio seems to be coalescing around Obama’s campaign, but what does this really have to do with the artistic project, especially considering our previous criticisms of politically driven art?
Let me try to explain why this presidential campaign is relevant to Emvergeoning’s overall mission. In a nutshell: we are here to open up the dialog that exists within the San Antonio art community, to help draw new voices in, both from the local community and from distant cities. We want to bring more people into the conversation. This is, I think, exactly the kind of change that Barack Obama is offering America: to break down barriers in the dialog. No, he’s not going to instantly launch the United States into a post-racial, post-partisan social dynamic. No, he’s not going to end corruption and corporate influence in Washington. But Obama does represent our best chance to mollify the cynicism of our political discourse, and move partisan bickering a little closer to sincere and honest dialog.
As an example, look at Obama’s strategy while working to expand health care options in Illinois. As reported by health care expert Jonathan Cohn in the New Republic, Obama worked to build a coalition of health care activists, doctors, and hospitals, while holding direct talks with insurance and business lobbyists. Because he brought all interested parties on board as he crafted a health care task force, “He could not be accused of partisan aggression. But he got his way,” according to John Bouman, director of the Shriver Center on Poverty Law.
Contrast this approach to Hillary Clinton’s when she headed the Task Force on National Health Care Reform created by then-president Bill Clinton. The task force’s members and meetings were kept secret, so that by the time the plan was unveiled, the task force had already been sued for violating regulations related to government transparency. Meanwhile, a number of fellow Democrats crafted their own, competing health care plans, while conservatives and business interests lined up an intense PR campaign to kill the idea.
These episodes exemplify the approaches of the two Democratic candidates, one of whom works closely with both allies and opponents to build consensus through open dialog, and one of whom works within a tight political network to push things through. It could be argued that Hillary Clinton has learned her lesson from her health care debacle, if it weren’t for her campaign’s use of some of these same kinds of tactics in this primary season. Her insistence on seating the delegates from Florida and Michigan after agreeing with the Democratic National Committee’s decision to strip these states of delegates smacks of cynical political manipulation, and threatens to create an enormous rift within the Democratic party.
I don’t have much hope that Obama will be able to live up to all of his soaring rhetoric; but I do know that that rhetoric is supported by a strong record of good judgment and open discourse. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of his opponent. It is for this reason that I see Obama as a candidate who is aligned with the goals of Emvergeoning, goals that I think are also central to the task of contemporary art.