Liberalism and Its Populist Excess: Barack Obama, the Tea Party and the Media Field
Jutel, Olivier Christian
The remarkable ascendancy of Barack Obama to the presidency of the United States of America in 2008, in the shadows of the financial crisis, was in no small part due to the effective discursive response to the ideological crisis of American neo-liberalism. Obama’s redemptive identity politics and civil society discourse of transformation perfectly embodied the new spirit of capitalism (Boltanski & Chiapello 2005) and the claims to transcend capitalism’s worst excesses. Despite what was widely described as the death knell of conservative politics, post-financial crisis America bore witness to a Randian populist rebellion bedeviling the liberal class. The Tea Party represent the return of the political, that is the ontological necessity of antagonism in social signification, while claiming access to the universal as the original “people” of the American revolution. What the Tea Party speak to is the timelessness of the fetishized man of property, which accounts for a left/right indeterminacy in American populism and the overdetermined irrational response to Obama who is seen as threatening the sanctity of their fetish. What is novel in this populist upsurge is its specifically mediatized character with Fox News performing a temporal-spatial bridging of an individuated populist public. The media field has become a critical site for the return of the political as it performs an essential function of biopolitical production by both extending commodification into social life and creating new forms of commonality. In examining the populist threat to the liberal vision of the political, this thesis will analyze a broad spectrum of media texts from 2009-11, covering the Tea Party/Obama political frontier from across the media field and social media, in order to establish whether mediatized politics simply means a populist commercialism or offers a new space of possibilities for a politics of universality.
Advisor: Devadas, Vijay; Craig, Geoffrey
Degree Name: Doctor of Philosophy
Degree Discipline: Media, Film & Communication
Publisher: University of Otago
Research Type: Thesis