Tuesday, October 28, 2008

America the dangerous

(Reporters are) not as much in love with Obama as they're in love with the idea of Obama, of the "meaning" of his run for the presidency, of the redemption he offers a sinful nation that scratched slavery into its liberty-loving Constitution.

The windows of this mind-set are provided by Slate's Jacob Weisberg, for whom the Obama election is a national referendum on racism; the New York Times' Nicholas D. Kristof, for whom an Obama presidency is an opportunity to "rebrand" our nation and "find a path to restore America's global influence"; E.J. Dionne, who sees an Obama presidency as representing a chance to "rekindle the sense of possibility and transformation" in American life; and a swooning Andrew Sullivan, who almost a year ago speculated that Obama might be "that bridge to the 21st century that Bill Clinton told us about." For Chris Matthews, of course, the Obama candidacy is a "thrill" going up his leg, one that will arc over his torso and detonate his head in the event of a victory.

The leading Obama cheerleader among the commentariat is Newsweek's Jonathan Alter, whose "erection of the heart" for the candidate has no match. Alter sees the presidential election as a world referendum on the United States and "the common sense and decency of the American people." Obama symbolizes hope over fear, and his election would produce an "Obama Dividend" that would "blow the minds of people in the Middle East and other regions, and help restore American prestige." Obama, Alter continues, "knows how to think big, elevate the debate and transport the public to a new place."Jack Slafer - Slate

David Seaton's News Links
This extensive press resume from Slate explains much of the Obama phenomenon and also explains the existential crisis that the United States is undergoing.

For me the two quotes that distill the idea most are Nicholas Kristof's idea that Obama will, "find a path to restore America's global influence" and E. J. Dionne's that an Obama victory will, "rekindle the sense of possibility and transformation" in American life.

Cutting to the chase what this means tis hat with the failure and disappearance of the Russian Revolution and its promise of "possibility and transformation" gone, the only revolution promising "possibility and transformation" left is the American revolution and it is in crisis and needs to be "rekindled".

The problem for the United States is that, contrary to the Russians, without their revolution, without their "dream", much of America's national identity simply disappears.

When the USSR went down, the Russians abruptly stopped being soviets and went back to being Russians. In fact they had never stopped. Theirs is a culture that goes back centuries before Lenin was even a gleam in his father's eye. A national identity that strong needs no "power of transformation" to exist, it simply is, was and, presumably, always will be.

There is no "Russian Dream" as there is no "Chinese Dream"... They are just the Russians and the Chinese and as far as they are concerned others are simply defined as "not Russian" or "not Chinese".

Frankly speaking, such knee jerk, ethnic, "us and them", nationalism is offensive to most thinking Americans, because outside of America's "ideals", exactly who is "us" and who is "them"?

What is there outside of this ongoing revolution, exactly, that is going to ever make "E pluribus unum"? Without some idea of limitless horizons of "possibility and transformation": growing prosperity, social mobility etc, what is to keep America from flying apart like some Bosnia Herzegovina on steroids?

White, Black, Asian and Hispanic, Christian and Jew: have we been assembled from the four corners of the earth only to shop together?

Of course this need to "transform" and "rekindle" its "power" is a danger to itself and everyone else.

Obama fan, Roger Cohen, writing in the NYT of his interview with Spanish Prime Minister Zapatero, was deeply offended when Zapatero, with very simple, Spanish logic and savoir vivre advised Americans to relax and have a life:
Zapatero is also wrong about the United States. He said it is a "diverse, creative, dynamic" country, but "it does not need to have a mission."

But America was born as an idea and cannot be itself unless it carries that idea forward. That's the tragedy of the Bush years: the undermining of American ideals. The United States is inseparable from the hope it has given Emma Lazarus' "huddled masses yearning to be free;" it is bound to the struggle to ensure that, as Lincoln put it, "government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."

Obviously, with the economy melting down, vapors like this are dangerous stuff as America searches for "a path to restore its global influence".

What I'm afraid of is that Obama is not just talking through his hat: simply in love with the sound of his own voice but, unless his fans are totally mishearing and misreading him, he is serious about all this "re-kindling". If so, he is going to talk us and the rest of the world into some very dangerous days. DS

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I think this is really insightful.

With some tweaking, this could describe Israel too. There you get the impression that the dread fear of making peace is a fear that accepting to live like other people - within the limits of fixed borders and acceptable international behavior, as a democratic state of all yr citizens - is an end of the country's raison d'etre.

Perhaps this is part of the reason why the U.S. identifies with Israel as the rest of the world looks on askance.