Our Chrysalis Stage
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.")
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.
Our America--nationalizing the auto industry, socializing the health care system, allowing state, local, and federal income and payroll tax to confiscate 65-70% of the wealthy's income, gravitating to a state-run, Ministry of Information media in which ideology governs access, news dissemination and appraisal, and even the banalities of press conference questioning--is now to be not that different from previously demonized states.
We are no longer "exceptional" (Obama's words, not mine), and merely a postnational state with no particular global interests other than "world peace" and "global fairness". In other words, there is now no real reason why an Iran or Venezuela should have any reason to be angry with the United States. Our President sympathizes with much of their past hurts and sensitivities; he has voiced similar criticism of the past global role of the United States; and America will now find its new role as one with those it used to isolate and bully. (The Europeans used to despise sanctimonious, moralistic and non-interventionist Jimmy Carter; but they can't really get mad at Obama. He's no Georgia peanut farmer, with drawl, Bible, and Billy, but a metrosexual, Europeanized one of them who will drive them absolutely crazy as he sermonizes and pontificates.)
"Democracy" is largely a neoconservative construct, definable through a myriad of narratives, none of which with any exclusive claim on a relative notion like "truth." Who is to say that Iranian or Venezuelan democracy is any less valid than the American strain of democracy? (Again, for those who think I exaggerate or am being facetious, cf. Bill Clinton's Davos praise of Iranian democracy in 2005). Or who is to say that what we call aggression is not merely someone's self-defense? Only an empathetic soul can fathom how the other sees and suffers reality, since there is no real objective reality, just what we with power used to proclaim it as.
In this brave new age, there will be ironies glories, not all of them in the short-term uncomfortable. No more European internationalists will be taking cheap shots at U.S. 'hegemony' as we protect them. No, they will be more worried that (1) America has out-lefted them (much more so than in the 1930s when we did not wish to join "British imperialism" in its efforts to stop Hitler, or during the 1950s when we objected (with Russia) against Anglo-French efforts to "recolonialize" Suez.). (2) We are no longer the "bad cop", but the divine one, who has separated ourselves from the colonial European tradition. Oh yes, Europe wanted Obama, but he is not a creature of the Sorbonne salon, but rather sees himself and his paternal family more a victim of past colonialism (cf. the fate of the Churchill bust).
I think after Afghanistan, NATO will be analogous to the International Criminal Court--a Hague-like institution that will let the Euros deal with the Russians or the Islamists on their own, while issuing all sorts of moral "grave concern" and "extremely troubled" communiqués.
Hey, What Happened to Awful America?
We won't be giving any more lectures on "neo-liberalism" and the glories of free markets. More likely, Americans will rather offend the socialist Europeans with our gargantuan public spending, vast pressure on international banks and lending institutions, repressively high taxes, big government, slow growth, high unemployment, and protectionist, unionized economy--an equality of result culture that in good ol' American fashion trumps their own. I don't think the game any longer is to label George Bush's America heartless and cruel while you ship over billions of dollars in Mercedeses, Volvos, and elegant olive oil to a wide-open, no-holds-barred, free market consumer economy-as Bush the "Decider" leers at Russians, Muslims, Eye-ranians and anyone else that might push around the Euros.
But Wait a Minute
The problem with all this is that Obama's sleek Boeing jet, his neat helicopters, his Chicago mansion, his children's' upscale prep schools, the flying in of chefs or flying in for a night in New York, are all predicated on a bountiful, profit-minded capitalist system of production, in which entrepreneurs take enormous risks in search of sizable personal profits, and are left alone to profit within government's wide parameters of fair play.
A state-of-the-art military protects the global capitalist order, ensuring both free sea lanes and communications, but also plays the theoretically ultimate enforcer of fair play on things as diverse as copyright laws to patent protection. Tamper with all that? I don't know at what point the proverbial goose and golden egg rule applies, but it is somewhere-as we see in the messes elsewhere in most of the world.
Obama has surrounded himself with legions of 'fixers.' Bright men and women who have Ivy League law degrees, business school credentials, PhDs in the social sciences, and academic pedigrees in science, humanities, and engineering. Quite impressive, these Platonic Guardians of the soon to be perfect state. But most of their careers in finance, government, business, and academia have been well-paid jobs critiquing, administering, regulating, nuancing, writing about, and hectoring those who create things--builders, developers, industrialists, farmers, truckers, transportation execs, retailers, lenders and investors.
We are being run now by film critics, not directors, book reviewers not writers, music columnists, not musicians. And it is far easier to fault than to birth, nuance rather than build. The irony is that the muscular classes carry the regulating and talking classes on their backs. They don't mind being whipped occasionally and even bridled, but like any good mule will suddenly stop and no longer move when they feel the rider either does not know where he is going, or is going to kill the mule with his switch, spurs, and yanking on the bit
Yes, we are in the chrysalis stage and we will come out looking altogether different from what we were when we went in the cocoon.