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Works and Days

Our Chrysalis Stage

July 4th, 2009 - 1:33 pm


Only Room for One Obama?

I got a lot of flak the last year for writing two or three columns suggesting the Europeans and other Leftists abroad might be careful about what they wish for in Obama: he might well leap-frog over them, leaving them all with the world they used to fantasize about, while in reality they profited from the world they demonized. (As I wrote, a keen Frenchman whispered to me at a reception “There is room for only one to play Obama-and we are already Obama.”)

Comrade Hugo

Consider: the U.S. reacted quickly and meddled unambiguously in condemning the Honduran arrest of President Zelaya. It mattered little that for the first time in memory we Americans now were on the side of autocrats like Castro, Chavez, Morales, and Ortega in showing revolutionary solidarity with Zelaya ( and of course the UN as well).

We cared little that both the Honduran Supreme Court and Parliament had acted lawfully in ordering their President’s removal on grounds that he had acted unconstitutionally, in bold, unlawful efforts to obtain a third presidential term through a likely rigged plebiscite.

(It would be analogous to an Obama or Bush demanding a third term, illegally acquiring ballots to force a plebiscite, ignoring a Congressional conviction of impeachment, and a Supreme Court edict of unconstitutionality, only to be arrested by the Joint Chiefs and escorted out of the country).

The Real Project for the New American Century

What is our logic? Given the history of imperialism and colonialism, anytime in Latin America anyone in uniform arrests an elected president in a tie, it is a coup and must be condemned, no matter the legality or the ideology involved.

But let us not miss the forest for the trees. The larger fact is that suddenly the United States has become a sort of revolutionary force itself. At the next G-8 summit there will be no more hectoring of Europeans to stop selling sniper rifles to Iran or sophisticated machines tools used to enhance nuclear centrifuge operations.

Instead, the Europeans–”shocked” over the mayhem in the streets of Tehran, and still hurting over the kidnapping of British sailors, the jailing of Western journalists, and the arrest of Western embassy personnel–will be hectoring the Obama administration to please tighten up the old Bush sanctions. (In the new, no-more-anti-ballistic-missile age, Frankfurt and Paris will soon be in range of the planned Iranian nukes.)

And Americans, I think, will resist increased sanctions or embargoes. As a transracial, transnational Gandhi-like figure, Obama believes that he alone understands and empathizes with the previously demonized Third-World revolutionary leaders.

Yes, on our behalf it is his destiny to talk with them, and tame them in a manner of speaking, perhaps to stop their terrorizing, drug-running, arming, and bullying, or more likely the overt manifestation of all that. In other words, he’s our Che, a universal pop star, part Bono, part Mandela, part Michael Jackson, and part Al Gore that deflects criticism that we are all Texas oil men with twangs who talk about Gawd, Eye-Rack, and Jasus.

This metamorphosis is to be accomplished by Obama’s singular charisma and ‘empathy’: as a person of color, on his paternal side from a  Muslim family, and of African heritage, Obama “knows” that he too has been on the butt-end of Western hegemony (forget the subsidized ride to prep school, Occidental, Columbia, Harvard, the mansion, etc.; we are talking of perceptions, not reality), and thus can assure an Ahmadinejad he ‘feels’ what it is like to be an Iranian leader with all sorts of globalized and Western-inspired pressures.  Just as the elite Sotomayor knows what it is to be a Latina in a repressive America, so Obama knows what it is to be a leader of color in a Western-dominated global order.

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