What a night. I am happy to have been alive to see this. Right now a million people packed into a park in Chicago await the arrival of Barack Obama, the next president of the United States. John McCain finished speaking a few minutes ago.
In part because the competing sides that dominated the election were often too close on critical issues of global engagement, and in part to minimize any disappointment from what might have been another bewildering outcome as in 2000 and 2004, I have been very critical, skeptical, and sometimes cynical about this U.S. election. There is no denying that this election has been of tremendous importance to a vast number of Americans, who see this as a momentous shift in the American political landscape. John McCain’s concession speech spent an almost inordinate amount of time focusing on issues of race and civil rights — inordinate because this was not simply an election decided by African American voters alone, nor is its potent meaning restricted to them alone. One must concede at least the obvious, that for the majority of voters this election has wrought a significant change, not another form of continuity.
It was very tempting, on many occasions, to simply shout support for Barack Obama. Everyone he ran against seemed determined to make him look good. I started posting months ago about Hillary Clinton’s smear campaign, and the vile undertones of racism that emerged early on. I am personally very relieved not to have to hear from McCain and Palin again, and especially the latter who distinguished herself for her unforgivable ignorance, malice, and sheer dishonesty. Goodbye, get lost, you lost.
Without a doubt, I will return to criticizing the next government of the U.S. to the extent that President-elect Obama lives up to his word to expand the war in Afghanistan and to station tens of thousands of troops in Iraq even past a “withdrawal” date.
President-elect Obama has just finished offering his victory speech. He spoke of “a new dawn of American leadership” in the world. He will need to understand, hopefully sooner rather than later, that some of us, perhaps most of us, do not want your “leadership.”
One must also bear in mind the fact that Americans, like voters elsewhere in other “Western democracies,” did not get to vote for any of those things that affect them most, that affect most of us worldwide, such as:
- perpetual wars
- the International Monetary Fund and World Bank
- the private sector
- the state
- debt and trade
As a prelude to more sober assessments, I will quote from Jeremy Seabrook’s article in The Guardian on July 27, 2008, titled “Obama and the illusion of leadership” and his caution against worshiping political leaders in contemporary Western polities:
The fascination with leaders is an alibi for democratic impotence….
Preoccupation with individuals, of course, deflects attention from the powerlessness of the people, the voiding of democracy, even in places where the most highly sophisticated “electoral process” prevails. Leaders are keen to display their control over events over which they have waning influence, an influence they have willingly ceded to the stark urgencies of globalism. The great movements of goods and money around the world, and the vanity of efforts to deter humanity from following this licit and highly profitable mobility, clearly indicate the limits of their power….
It may well fall to him to restore the “image” of the United States, especially among the poor, non-white majority of the world – an eloquent comment on the disreputable shabbiness of the Bush years. But it would be folly to imagine he will do anything that runs counter to US interests. The most we can expect is some skilful choreography, a “performance” to reconcile the peoples of the world with American supremacy once more.
Time for a break.