Some pertinent observations (11.6.2008)

Binoy Kampmark asserts that "Obama's victory, if nothing else, allows Americans to claim that their state is more democratic than it is, and more tolerant than it might be."

Frank Menetrez warns his readers about the dangers inherent in an Obama personality cult:

Obama will undoubtedly be better than Bush was and better than McCain would have been, and the differences matter. But a realistic assessment of the scope of those differences is imperative. Without it, people who really care about changing this country's direction will end up counting on one man, Obama, instead of on themselves to bring about the change we need. Those people will inevitably be disappointed.

Tom Engelhardt assesses the nearly completed election spectacle thusly:

Sometimes, reality simply outruns the words meant to describe it. Historically, when a new Chinese dynasty came to power, the emperor performed a ceremony called "the rectification of names" — on the theory that the previous dynasty had fallen, in part, because reality and the names for it had gone so out of whack, because words no longer described the world they were meant for.

After the Bush years, we desperately need such a rectification. And perhaps we need a new word — maybe a whole new vocabulary — as well for the "election season" that never ends, that seems now something like a grim, eternal American Idol contest.

He continues:

I can't help but think, despite the quality of the man who somehow ended up atop our world, that this was indeed an imperial election, far too supersized for any real democracy. Yes, Americans crudely expressed the displeasure of a people who had had enough, and thank heavens for that, but… our will? The People's Will. I doubt greatly that the People's Will is going to make it to Washington with Barack Obama.

It is unfortunate but altogether true that elections in the United States are meant to neutralize the "people's will," divided and inarticulate as it mostly is. They accomplish this by reconciling the decision-making power invested in the electoral mechanism and those who use this mechanism with the demands and powers of those who run America's empire. Elitism is an inherent feature of a modern society. Elections work to legitimate this system and those who sit at its apex.

Timothy Garton Ash wrote:

Mark carefully, however, what the Obama model is. It deploys civic nationalism to transcend ethnic diversity. Many of Tuesday's revellers were waving the stars and stripes, or sporting it on some part of their dress. No right-wing Republican could insist more than Obama does on American uniqueness, exceptionalism, manifest destiny. His proclaimed purpose is "to make this century the next American century". If George W Bush said that, we from the rest of the world might regard it as rank nationalist arrogance. Because it's Obama, we somehow accept it.

I suspect many outsiders (non-American observers of the world) accept Obama's nationalism because they believe — wrongly, perhaps — that the President elect will refuse to transform his sentiment into an aggressive militarism as President Bush had after 9.11. Their hope may issue from a wish that the United States will return to being a just empire — an enlightened despot! — just like the global superpower they believed had existed in the past. Yet, the American empire was never benign. America has often supported dictators when doing so suited its purposes and has cruelly opposed the peasants, working and middle classes whenever members of these categories dared to hold their heads high by meddling in affairs that concerned Uncle Sam. George Bush did not invent America the genocidal killer; he inherited the force needed to commit this kind of crime and the will to carry it out the criminal deed. Obama's greatest challenge will be to reject the intentions embedded in this sorry history. Making this refusal will be Obama's greatest challenge because it is America's greatest challenge.

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