Wednesday, November 05, 2008

More Thoughts on the Election

As predicted here (sorry T), Barack Obama will be the next President of the United States.

It’s a wonderful and historic victory, although the whinging part of me (never entirely silent) wishes that the Democratic Party could have come up with an Obama in 2004. As it was, even the feeble John Kerry managed to get within a percentage point of unseating Dubya.

That 2004 election was far more important than 2008, as Dubya and neo-cons were still going strong in 2004 whereas now it’s clear they ran out energy and ideas at least a year ago. But from 2004 to roughly 2007 they managed to kill vast numbers of people, drown a few thousand more in New Orleans, and generally screw up the United States and the world in their own unique and vicious way.

It’s also worth acknowledging the campaign of John McCane; until the financial collapse a few weeks ago he was actually leading Obama, or at least running extremely close to him. This despite the huge disadvantage of being associated with the Republican administration and a President who is a serious contender as one of the worst in American history.

Is Obama lucky?

Thatcher and Regan were both lucky leaders, and the longer I live, the convinced I am that luck plays a huge role in the success or failure of any enterprise where there are large number of unknown and difficult to calculate factors. Famously, Napolean used to demand “is he a lucky general?”

I hope he is, because McCain was definitely on to something when he said we know nothing about Obama. There’s been a huge amount of vague soaring inspirational rhetoric, and sod all substance to his speeches. I’ve no idea whether he’s the next Franklin D Rosevelt or (god forbid) the next Jimmy Carter.

Alexander Cockburn, writing in The Nation gives a harsh warning about over expectations:

In these last days I’ve been scraping around, trying to muster a single positive reason to encourage a vote for Obama. Please note my accent on the positive, since the candidate himself has couched his appeal in this idiom. Why vote for Obama-Biden, as opposed to against the McCain-Palin ticket?

Obama invokes change. Yet never has the dead hand of the past had a “reform” candidate so firmly by the windpipe.

Is it possible to confront America’s problems without talking about the arms budget, now entirely out of control? The Pentagon is spending more than at any point since the end of World War II. In “real dollars” – admittedly an optimistic concept these days -- the $635 billion appropriated in fiscal 2007 is 5 percent above the previous all-time high, reached in 1952. Depending on how you count them, the Empire has somewhere between 700 and 1,000 overseas bases.

Obama wants to enlarge the armed services by 92,000. He pledges to escalate the US war in Afghanistan; to attack Pakistan’s sovereign territory if it obstructs any unilateral US mission to kill Osama bin Laden; and to wage a war against terror in a hundred countries, creating for this purpose a new international intelligence and law enforcement “infrastructure” to take down terrorist networks. A fresh start? Where does this differ from Bush’s commitment to Congress on September 20, 2001, to an ongoing “war on terror” against “every terrorist group of global reach” and “any nation that continues to harbor or support terrorism”?

If elected he will be prisoner of his promise that on his watch Afghanistan will not be lost, nor the white man’s burden shirked.

In the event of Obama’s victory, the most immediate consequence overseas will most likely be brusque imperial reassertion.

In February, seeking a liberal profile in the primaries, Obama stood against warrantless wiretapping. His support for liberty did not survive its second trimester; he aborted it with a vote for warrantless wiretapping. The man who voted to reaffirm the awful Patriot Act declared that ‘the ability to monitor and track individuals who want to attack the United States is a vital counterterrorism tool.’

As a political organizer of his own advancement, Obama is a wonder. But I have yet to identify a single uplifting intention to which he has remained constant if it has presented the slightest risk to his advancement. Summoning all the optimism at my disposal, I suppose we could say he has not yet had occasion to offend two important constituencies and adjust his relatively decent stances on immigration and labor-law reform. Public funding of his campaign? A commitment made becomes a commitment betrayed, just as on warrantless eavesdropping. His campaign treasury is now a vast hogswallow that, if it had been amassed by a Republican, would be the topic of thunderous liberal complaint.

In substantive terms Obama’s run has been the negation of almost every decent progressive principle, a negation achieved with scarcely a bleat of protest from the progressives seeking to hold him to account. The Michael Moores stay silent. Abroad, Obama stands for imperial renaissance. He has groveled before the Israel lobby and pandered to the sourest reflexes of the cold war era. At home he has crooked the knee to bankers and Wall Street, to the oil companies, the coal companies, the nuclear lobby, the big agricultural combines. He is even more popular with Pentagon contractors than McCain, and has been the most popular of the candidates with K Street lobbyists. He has been fearless in offending progressives, constant in appeasing the powerful.

The early months of 2009 will be really interesting to see just what he does, and who he appoints to do it.

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8 Comments:

Blogger Todd said...

I agree that it's an historic victory. As to whether it's a wonderful victory, time will tell. (I suppose it IS wonderful in the sense that all the sanctimonious Europeans who have looked down on America as a racist country, will now have to wrestle with the fact that we've elected a mulatto to our highest office, while most of them haven't.)

His choice of Rahm Emanuel as White House chief of staff, however, isn't very reassuring, as Emanuel's a fierce partisan. If this choice is any indication of how Obama will flesh out the rest of his cabinet, the next four years will be extremely contentious ones.

I don't understand how you can be excited about his election when, as you even admit, you (along with everyone else) know very little about Obama. (I suppose seeing ANYONE in the White House other than Bush is exciting, though.) I simply don't trust Obama. (I know. Since when has trustworthiness been a common characteristic of politicians?) He broke several prominent promises he made during the course of his campaign, and I expect he'll break many more during his first year in office (e.g., his promise to lower taxes on the middle class; he simply CAN'T pursue his political goals without raising taxes, so he will either have to abandon some of his political objectives, or he'll have to raise taxes. Perhaps he'll do BOTH).

Congrats on correctly predicting the outcome. I owe you a meal at the restaurant of your choice - here in MA or NH!

11:44 PM  
Blogger roGER said...

Hummmm "a mulatto" eh?

Not your finest hour...

9:45 PM  
Blogger Todd said...

Sorry, didn't mean to offend, but I merely used the word that most precisely describes his racial makeup. I could have said African-American, I suppose, or person of color, but in general I dislike euphemisms.

I keep forgetting that you live in the country of "Big Brother". Not only was "He" introduced in your literature, but to a large extent "He" has also been realized in your political and legal institutions.

I, fortunately, still live in "the land of the free", though how free it will be under an Obama administration remains to be seen. There are already indications that he'll take steps to curb conservative talk radio under the ridiculously named "Freedom Act".

1:06 PM  
Blogger roGER said...

Hello again you wrote:

"Sorry, didn't mean to offend, but I merely used the word that most precisely describes his racial makeup. I could have said African-American, I suppose, or person of color, but in general I dislike euphemisms."

I don't buy that. I had to look up the term, and according to Wikipedia, it's a term of abuse that was dropped from the US census form well over 60 years ago - well well before "PC" had been invented.

"Biracial" is a clumsy term but probably better - I also remember hearing the term "half-caste" used by someone I knew at college who was half black and half white.

On the other hand, as you know I believe passionately in freedom of speech, which is why I'd never delete a comment left here, no matter what terms were used or ideas espoused.

You also wrote:

"I keep forgetting that you live in the country of "Big Brother". Not only was "He" introduced in your literature, but to a large extent "He" has also been realized in your political and legal institutions."

That's utter rubbish, and you know it. Britain is a parliamentary democracy; no thought police, no ministry of love, no ministry of truth, no ministry of plenty,no two minutes hate, no big brother, no telescreens, no inner party, no outer party, no rationing etc etc etc.

1948, which was Orwell's original idea for a title, was somewhat closer to the novel in that we had rationing back then, and considerable state control of the economy...

"I, fortunately, still live in "the land of the free", though how free it will be under an Obama administration remains to be seen. There are already indications that he'll take steps to curb conservative talk radio under the ridiculously named "Freedom Act"."

One can only hope you're right!

Alas, your track record in political science is patchy to say the least...

Seriously, I have yet to learn about the Freedom Act, but if it means the talk radio presenters have to sprinkle their rants with the occasional fact, rather than conjecture, I can't see a problem.

6:55 PM  
Blogger Todd said...

"I don't buy that. I had to look up the term, and according to Wikipedia, it's a term of abuse that was dropped from the US census form well over 60 years ago - well well before "PC" had been invented."

You don’t buy what? That I’m sorry? That I didn’t mean to offend? That I used the word merely to be precise (or any combination of the preceding or ALL of the preceding)? I DO feel badly when something I’ve said or done (or in this case, written) offends a good friend of mine. If I had wanted to offend you or any of your readers, there are other terms I could have used that are more offensive (e.g., Halfrican American). Precision with language IS something I care about, whether you buy that or not (see next comment for elaboration of this point).

"Biracial" is a clumsy term but probably better - I also remember hearing the term "half-caste" used by someone I knew at college who was half black and half white."

I agree that “biracial” is clumsy, but I don’t agree that it’s any better, as it’s less precise (mulatto specifically means a person with one black parent and one white parent) and not necessarily less offensive. Some might find it AS offensive, and I’m sure that others (particularly Indians) would find “half-caste” MORE offensive.

"On the other hand, as you know I believe passionately in freedom of speech, which is why I'd never delete a comment left here, no matter what terms were used or ideas espoused."

Yes, I’ll give you that you’re a staunch defender of free speech. BTW, what’s your take on the U.K.’s anti-hate speech laws? I assume you must be opposed to them, eh?

"That's utter rubbish, and you know it. Britain is a parliamentary democracy; no thought police, no ministry of love, no ministry of truth, no ministry of plenty,no two minutes hate, no big brother, no telescreens, no inner party, no outer party, no rationing etc etc etc."

No, I don’t know that. Attribute it to what you will (naiveté, ignorance, my patchy political science track record), but I believe, largely due to Britain’s anti-hate speech laws (and also its ubiquitous video cameras; don’t they remind you of the two-way screens that were everywhere in 1984?), that your country is a lot further along the path to realizing Big Brother than America is. Of course, with Obama being our President-elect, we could overtake you rather quickly in this regard. Have a great Thanksgiving! (P.S. I'm curious: are there any American holidays that you miss celebrating - or NOT celebrating?)

3:45 AM  
Blogger roGER said...

Sorry I hadn't noticed the comment here before now...

Lets see. You wrote:

"You don’t buy what? That I’m sorry? That I didn’t mean to offend? That I used the word merely to be precise (or any combination of the preceding or ALL of the preceding)? I DO feel badly when something I’ve said or done (or in this case, written) offends a good friend of mine. If I had wanted to offend you or any of your readers, there are other terms I could have used that are more offensive (e.g., Halfrican American)."

I still don't buy it! You're an expert on racial issues in the United States, and CANNOT in my wildest dreams believe you didn't know there was some kind of negative connotation with the word "Mulatto."

As for "Halfrican" - that's the first time I've ever come across that word. See? You really know this stuff!

"what’s your take on the U.K.’s anti-hate speech laws? I assume you must be opposed to them, eh?"

Yes I'm an absolutist when it comes to freedom of speech. I defend people's right to spew whatever stinking filth they want. Just don't expect me to believe it or agree with it.

"largely due to Britain’s anti-hate speech laws (and also its ubiquitous video cameras; don’t they remind you of the two-way screens that were everywhere in 1984?), that your country is a lot further along the path to realizing Big Brother than America is."

The cameras don't worry me in the least - they can and have provided powerful evidence of things like police brutality which are actually pro-liberty.

Perhaps the key thing about them is that they owned and operated by privytae businesses, individuals and local authorities - in other words they are not under some kind centralised government control (which would worry me).

I agree they are much more common than in other countries, but the unique properties of Britain, (basically a heavily urbanised densely populated island) means they are especially common here.

There's something very annoying or very funny (mood dependent) about the way people of the right are always quoting George Orwell. The man was a passionate democratic socialist who believed and campagined for things that most right wingers would utterly detest!

The only state I'm aware of that remotely resembles "1984" is North Korea.

"Of course, with Obama being our President-elect, we could overtake you rather quickly in this regard."

I've seldom seen a more cautious and bi-partisan (SPIT!) approach to any President's appointments. You folks will be fine with Obama - an intelligent thoughtful man. I just hope he doesn't have the luck of Jimmy Carter.

Have a great Thanksgiving!

Thank you.

(P.S. I'm curious: are there any American holidays that you miss celebrating - or NOT celebrating?)

Always felt a bit strange on Independence Day. Always felt very welcome on Thanksgiving Day. The rest of the holidays I felt neutral about, although any holiday is better than none!

6:14 PM  
Blogger Todd said...

"You're an expert on racial issues in the United States, and CANNOT in my wildest dreams believe you didn't know there was some kind of negative connotation with the word 'Mulatto.'"

Sorry, Rog, but you're mistaken: I'm NOT an expert on racial issues in the U.S. (don't know where you got that crazy idea, as I've never claimed to be one). I'm merely an interested layman.

"There's something very annoying or very funny (mood dependent) about the way people of the right are always quoting George Orwell. The man was a passionate democratic socialist who believed and campagined for things that most right wingers would utterly detest!"

Perhaps you, too, should be a bit more careful with your choice of words, as I'm sure some would be offended by your use of "right wingers".

"I've seldom seen a more cautious and bi-partisan (SPIT!) approach to any President's appointments. You folks will be fine with Obama - an intelligent thoughtful man. I just hope he doesn't have the luck of Jimmy Carter."

Picking Leon Panetta to head the CIA when he has virtually no intelligence experience doesn't strike me as the act of an intelligent, thoughtful man. If Obama makes any more foolish choices when it comes to critical cabinet positions, he'll be LUCKY to fare as "well" as Carter did.

11:53 PM  
Blogger roGER said...

Greetings Todd, thanks for getting back to me.

You wrote:

Sorry, Rog, but you're mistaken: I'm NOT an expert on racial issues in the U.S. (don't know where you got that crazy idea, as I've never claimed to be one). I'm merely an interested layman.

One who was invited or applied to edit or help edit a magazine devoted to racial issues? Or is that a crazy idea too? Lets put it this way, your knowledge of racial issues goes well beyond that of most gentle readers.

"Perhaps you, too, should be a bit more careful with your choice of words, as I'm sure some would be offended by your use of "right wingers"."

Sorry I forgot, you're a Marxist right? Heh heh heh!

"Picking Leon Panetta to head the CIA when he has virtually no intelligence experience doesn't strike me as the act of an intelligent, thoughtful man."

I don't have the knowledge to give an opinion. But someone whom I respect very highly, Glenn Greenwald at Salon.com really likes the appointment:

A bit more good news today was Obama's announcement of his selection for CIA Director:
former Clinton White House Chief of Staff (and Congressman) Leon Panetta.

I don't have any particular thoughts, one way or the other, about Panetta himself, but -- particularly in the wake of the Brennan controversy -- it does seem clear that the Obama team was serious about avoiding anyone who had any connection at all to the Bush torture, surveillance and detention programs. Not only did they want to avoid anyone with any formal connection, but also anyone who (like Brennan) advocated or supported those programs, as The New York Times reported today:

Members of Mr. Obama’s transition also raised concerns about other candidates, even some Democratic lawmakers with intelligence experience. Representative Jane Harman of California, formerly the senior Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, had hoped to get the job, but she was ruled out as a candidate in part because of her early support for some Bush administration programs like the domestic eavesdropping program.

Good. Supporting Bush's illegal NSA program -- as Harman did, repeatedly and explicitly -- should be disqualifying for the position of CIA Director. Panetta may have many flaws -- who doesn't after years and years in Washington? -- but Obama's apparent determination to avoid anyone "tainted" by the CIA's last eight years is commendable.

"If Obama makes any more foolish choices when it comes to critical cabinet positions, he'll be LUCKY to fare as "well" as Carter did."

We'll have to see. But certainly it's hard to imagine any other modern President coming to power in such unpromising circumstances.

Dubya never lost his ability to make a bad situation worse, right up to the day he left the White House.

The only thing left to cringe about will be his choice of last minute Presidential pardons, surely the most crazy feature of the otherwise intricate US system of checks and balances...

6:18 PM  

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