November 5, 2008
The Morning After
by William Johnney
THE FEELING OF REDEMPTION is overwhelming: the cosmic rubberband, snapping back, against everything Bush- Cheney did and tried to do, with consequences (domestic and global, political and cultural) that may leave the fascists a grease spot.
As if the Idea of Justice were Real.
The speech and faces of black americans everywhere, their tears, their smiling laments that their parents didn't live to see this ... And the pride of the rest of us to have contributed votes and resources to bring it about ...
Certainly nothing brighter and more moving in public life in my time.
If I were god, however, I might -- even yet! -- have arranged for eight years of Hillary followed by eight of Obama, to best ensure that the nostalgic reaction of Reaganism dies and the Age of Aquarius dawns.
But gods perhaps don't understand time. And timing.
Certainly Hillary's election would not have resonated globally as this does and will, and would have felt less futuristic.
And there's the ancillary yet overpowering element here of the sin of slavery having been ... not erased, or paid off, but ... How to put it?
The Great Hauntings of my early life were:
-- the horrors of the second world war, the first history I studied passionately,
-- the environmental horrors of industrialism, manifest everywhere, and
-- the horrors of the 60s: The assasinations. Vietnam. And the suddenly visible racist violence of American society.
Shocking for a young country bumpkin -- to begin to understand our man-made world was immoral.
Only with the advent of television, of course, did the struggles of blacks for civil rights succeed in gripping the widespread nation.
The drama played out in episodes across days, weeks and months. People taunted, tormented, beaten, murdered ... and, in between, living repressed, debased lives. Brought to You By neatly dressed others, sometimes in mobs but usually in order, who looked not much different than our neighbors in New Jersey, porkie hats aside.
Simultaneously TV news was being born. JFK's murder was its baptism of fire. Medgar Evers had been murdered months before. Five years later Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy had been murdered,
and in between our war in Vietnam had flourished. Riots in Newark and nearby Plainfield ...
All suddenly happening in the living room. With Star Trek and I Spy and The Wild, Wild West. Apparently (unlike Ausch- witz) just outside the door.
Beginning sometime soon after 1989, when the Wall cracked and the history I'd studied so curiously suddenly came back to life (rather than End), it dawned on me that these hauntings had delivered from adolescence a confirmed Outsider, unwilling and unable to embrace the Scientific Civilization's megamachine, and unwilling to feed it children.
And that the Reagan reaction had come along at the moment of delivery (junior year in college) had only served to root my naive complex.
The joy in yesterday's victory, then, derives perhaps in part from the exorcism of one of the Great Hauntings.
The same kind of feeling accompanied Bill Clinton's apparent banishment of the Reaganites in 1992 --
a feeling that one is now free to live one's life in its proper detail, free of the need to worry about society, yea, verily, civilization at large.
But Clinton's was a limited victory -- 43% of the popular vote -- and he and we paid for it when the Right, still flush and ideologically strong after 12 years in the White House, immediately mounted a faux legal assault to confound and then contest his presidency.
This time around, however ... The only pillar of the Right's ideology to survive the deceits and derelictions of Bush-Cheney blew up in their face seven weeks or so ago. They are much weaker now than in 1993.
Free at last, free at last ...?
What, then, is to be done?
Lincoln's election was immediately momentous for being so portentous of civil war, given the Kansas-Nebraska Act (six years before) and given the horse Abe and his new party rode in on.
It seems possible that yesterday's may one day be considered our second most momentous election, not because the victor was a black man, but because of the confluence of so many big problems and possibilities for positive Change -- economic, political, cultural, international.
Global warming, the globe aflame with ill-conceived wars, the global banking system paralyzed and broken ... Opportunities abound. With great fears come great hopes. Time will tell. Yadda yadda ...
Yet it's not too early to observe that world opinion of Uncle Sam seems to be turning on a dime, after his worst years ever on the international stage, and that the broken racial barrier seems to mean the American Dream has been given a, let's see, one, two ... A fourth life.
The power of the international reaction will have Obama take office, from day one, as a second Gorbachev -- fantastically popular overseas, and much more so than within the power grid of his own political system. That foreign pop power helped Gorbachev dissassemble (willy nilly) a great police state with little violence. Perhaps it will help here similarly.
Then again, the young Russian president, Mr Medvedev, reacted today before parliament with his most anti-American speech to date. A suggestion, perhaps, to Bush-Cheney that they behave in the time left to them? One hopes, in any case, that one of the many initiatives Team Obama unwinds in its first hundred days is the fabulously ill conceived Czech missile system.
"Kosovo is Serbia" (?)
The precedent presidential personage is indeed John F. Kennedy, who
was also an international celebrity. Obama's wonderful rhetoric is a combination of JFK's sharpness and humor and the rolling thunder of Martin Luther King's acute refrains.
The precedent period is clearly 1932.
But the problems Bush-Cheney are leaving on the table outweigh those FDR and JFK inherited.
I hope they don't chew the new president up.
I watched the returns and celebrations on my laptop. Did not notice the massive bullet-proof glass wall that (according to press reports today) stood between the victor and the Grant Park crowd during his speech.
How does one shoulder the Kennedy and King mantles without seeming morbid and a bit presumptuous?
Perhaps one cannot. Obama last night began by quoting yet another world-historic leader lost to the gun -- Lincoln -- and then consciously echoed, with heavy emphasis, King's "I may not get there with you" (from his talk to striking laborers in Memphis the day before his murder):
The road ahead will be long. Our climb will be steep. We may not get there in one year or even in one term, but America, I have never been more hopeful than I am tonight that we will get there. I promise you: We as a people will get there.
Raised my eyebrows. King's final words in Memphis -- his final words in
public -- were:
I don't know what will happen now. We've got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn't matter with me now. Because I've been to the mountaintop. And I don't mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now.
I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land.
Martin's sister, Christine King Farris
Tech Money Politics
Unexpected and thus often world-shaking military victories often come as a result of a new technology employed against an enemy armed with sticks and stones.
Obama's victory fits the bill. Both Hillary and McCain were out spent astronomically, thanks to the internet. People in the business have already told the tube that henceforth a prez campaign costs a cool billion.
Is the notion of campaign finance reform, then, out the window?
I don't recall Obama speaking to the issue. What will McCain-Feingold do next year with the Donkey majorities delivered by yesterday's results?
One might've thought the internet would make cam- paigns less costly, not more. People also once thought that computer networks would reduce the consumption of paper in the office. Marx thought that technology inevitably led to the concentration of wealth and thus political power.
The costs that came with TV advertising allowed wealth to buy elected representatives with unprecedented geographic and topical coverage. The unbalanced power of the presidency since Reagan has much to do with this televised corruption of the Congress. Thus McCain-Feingold.
Along with Reagan in 1980 came MTV. Immediately it was much discusssed that MTV meant the end of the rock music that for two decades had served as a medium of political discourse among young people worldwide. Henceforth singers who looked and shied away from cameras like Janis Joplin couldn't hope to get a contract, while spectacles like Madonna would flourish along with everything else piped in by the tube.
The controlled reaction was swift and precise. Only 43% of voters under 30 went Reagan in 1980. Four years later, 59%. By 1984 the young couldn't decide whether to major in Marketing or Biz Admin and construed "self improvement" as a workout at the gym. The spiritual questing of a potent counterculture had been turned off.
One might have thought the internet, by re-expanding access to a range of opinion -- going over the head of television to the people, as it were -- would de-brainwash and re-democratize the plugged-in electorate. And Obama's victory seems to fit the bill.
It's curious however that the most dangerous regime in our history was reinstalled in 2004, with
high tech and
-- and with barely a peep from the populace. Too busy shopping and gaming and porning online? Getting laid in Second Life? Or was John Kerry too much Joplin, not enough Madonna? Would McPalin have slid into office yesterday if their opponent had not been a telegenic rock star? "Hello Chicago!"
It's not yet clear, then,
if the internet -- where we digg then burrow into our own tailor-made conflict- free second worlds -- will exacerbate or ameliorate the political problems posed by mass telecom, or what kind of regulation might best preserve the best of both worlds. The notion of restricting TV campaigning -- long the norm in Europe -- seems to be growing old before birth as with each year a bigger demoslice of the electorate plugs into the Matrix.
More than likely, of course, no reforms will be forthcoming, and the tele-revolution of the moment will hold sway. Perhaps until transceivers are implanted in our brains. (Might it start by inviting felons back onto the voter rolls?)
Would Obama have won without his extra hundreds of millions, and without the collapse of Wall Street weeks before? Did money talk this time more than ever? How long will democratically-inclined interests hold the internet edge? Four years hence must every candidate be a rock star with a cool billion or bust?
Unity, did you say?
So. Universality, American Style, enjoys a triumph.
And Unity was the theme of the One's victory speech. But what did he mean?
It was clearly a call for much more than a reunification of the Democratic Party's base. But even this modest aim, by my reading of the exit polls, seems to continue to require that neo-feminist theorists call off their war on the White Male Hegemony. I wonder if the Obama surge will flow far and high enough to flood the ivory towers.
Unity, that is, would mean the end of the Identity Politics born post 60s that flourished in reaction to Reagan.
Rep. Barbara Jordan of Texas denounced them during her keynote address to the 1992 Democratic convention,
and thunderously so:
"Separatism is not allowed!"
But henceforth we are unlikely to hear the theories underlying Identity Politics renounced in public speech. Their sexism helped to crush Clinton and their alienating powers to install Bush-Cheney. But
like the assassinations of the 60s and the events of 9/11, they are boo-boos now too big to fess up to or acknowledge. Sounds of Silence will mark their passing from the scene.
The class war that the owner-operators resumed during the Reagantime, having realized that globalization was the ticket, is also clearly on Team Obama's mind.
But these two themes -- Unity and Healing the Class War -- clash.
To truly Unify on the socioeconomic front would require turning off --
and then around -- the globalization stampede.
Globalization has been the essence of owner-operator activity, and of the GOP they use as a populist front, since the then-puzzling assault on the AT&T monopoly which began in the late 70s. Less than puzzling and soon to follow: assaults on wages, unions, pensions, higher education, health care, and jobs. Then came Global Crossing.
Globalization was what Reaganism was all about. Behind the Gipper's bright smile and broad shoulders, the owner-operators severed ties to the working class -- obligations rooted in the compromise of the 30s -- freeing their capital to migrate to relatively lawless lands where pools of labor lie in medieval prostration. Reagan as a young politician professed admiration for FDR. But Reaganism in the 80s was used to kill Fordism.
Are the owner-ops now ready to say sorry and come home from overseas? Even if so inclined, won't breakage costs here be astronomical?
The crashed and crashing dollar (the cosmic rubberband) will help, by making American labor relatively cheaper. But no one in North America will be able to undersell the proles of Asia for the foreseeable future. Protection is the ticket.
The class war in America took off, quite naturally, as a result of the industrialization prompted by the civil war. It may be that the armistice (Fordism) that came between the world wars and lasted until Reagan was merely an American anomaly.
Europe in this is far more advanced -- with a ruling class matured by millennia of strife and tight geography. We are still something of a Disney Frontierland. Our owner-operators, by and large, unreconstructed.
So one tends to discount talk of Unity. Tenured neo-feminists will continue to theorize before their vanity mirrors, and aghast racists to mutter hatefully here and there and scream in their training camps in (I don't know) Idaho. Militarists will continue to plan and fund and daydream of conquest. Wealth will continue to pursue wealth, and tend to see working-class Americans the way the latter tend to see the poor on park benches: "Sad but that's the way things are." Walk on by.
One hopes, then, to see sustained policy-making that targets wealth, globalization and de-regulation, with the aim of reinvigorating the working class economically and politically. Some of the owner-operators may go along in true sympathy. But, broadly speaking: Of course you know this means (continued) war.
John Edwards and Hillary sang this song with full-throated ease during the campaign years. Whether Obama's reticence re same was due to prudence and precise electoral calculation, or to genuine admiration (as he suggested) of what Reagan meant and wrought, is a question. I've always guessed the former. But a year ago I guessed he could not win.
Transition Rumors Uninspiring
A Times piece notes that the transition team has been operating for roughly a month, and has been segregated from the campaign team -- and that the latter is now fraught with consternation bordering on feelings of (is it possible?) betrayal.
And, indeed, the first rumors re appointments are suprisingly retro.
John Kerry for State. Hm. Uninspiring.
But Kerry is the one who gave Obama the 2004 Keynote slot, and of course came out early this past winter, to the Clintons' dismay, in support of the One. Smells like business as usual, not teen spirit.
Caroline Kennedy for UN ambassador? Ugh. I love her, abstractly, and like the idea of bringing the last survivor of the JFK nuclear family back into government. But she's a poor public speaker.
Robert Kennedy, Jr for the EPA sounds better. He's been with the Natural Resources Defense Council for a long time (some people there, surprise, don't like him), and hand's on with New York's water supply problems. Contrast him here to baby Bush's Christine Whitman, who should be in jail for her life-threatening cronied malfeasance in that office in the days after 9/11.
The chief of staff is Rahm Emanuel -- a Clinton hustler (and son of a member of Menachem Begin's terrorist gang Irgun) famous for telling Tony Blair "Don't fuck this up" during a Lewinskytime photo op in the Rose Garden, and for earning (?) $18 million on Wall Street in
less than three years after deserting the Clinton ship in 1998. A bad cop to balance Obama's good is the rationale. And Obama is said to trust him. The second coming of H.R. Haldeman?
Larry Summers, Clinton's second sec'y of Treasury. Zzzzzzz. I like the idea of somebody like Buffet or Bill Gross for Treasury -- practitioners rather than theorists from beyond Wall Street proper.
And the head of the transition team is former Clinton chief of staff John Podesta. I would have expected a Chicagoan.
Is some sort of bridge-mending with Clintons & Co going on? Probably not.
Now for the red meat.
The Wall St Journal, Politico.com and the Guardian are saying that Arnold Schwarzenegger may be the new Secretary of Energy. ?!?
And the rumor from weeks ago has been reiterated: Robert Gates -- career CIAist and DC insider, and right-hand man to treasonous Bush pere -- may be asked stay on as Secretary of Defense.
Mr Gates has certainly been a moderating cooler head during his time in Bush-Cheneyworld. He put an end to Rumsfeldism at the Pentagon. So perhaps we are to discount his good-soldier GOPher c.v.
Perhaps the plan is to use him to purge the ilk of Myers from the Pentagon. Perhaps everyone associated with the Gitmo prison? Gates likely knows who within the wilderness of mirrors, from the Pentagon to Langley, is actually responsible, and is respected well enough in that world to get the dirty job done.
But, too, Gates heads the current war policy. Is Stay the Course the new regime's message?
Obama's basic notion re the wars -- downsizing Iraq while Surging Afghanistan and attacking Pakistan -- has puzzled me ever since he started banging the table with it.
There is no history to suggest anyone can ever win anything in the wastes of Afghanistan. American attacks in the Tribal Areas of Pakistan already threaten to disintegrate that nuclear power, the security apparatus of which is already in unfriendly hands. Osama bin Laden is probably dead, and Al Qaeda was probably never the "organization" Bush-Cheney-Blair publicity made it out to be.
It's not clear to me, then, that the one concrete foreign policy idea that Obama has been loudly enunciating has much foundation.
Perhaps he'll study the briefings and change his mind -- much as JFK, who ran for office pounding the table on the Missile Gap, quickly discovered it did not exist -- was a figment of Pentagon publicity -- and changed course.
Albert Camus observed in 1946, sifting the ashes of a war that still structures our world:
We are being torn apart by a logic of History ... a net that threatens to strangle us. It is not emotion that can cut through the web of a logic that has gone to such irrational lengths, but rather only reason, which can meet logic on its own ground.
But I should not want to leave the impression, in concluding, that any program for the future can get along without our powers of love and indignation.
Neither Victims nor Executioners
We must continue to rely upon, indeed, the clear emotions that fueled last night's decision, and that well up again this morning after. It seems a brand new day. The republic and the globe are imperiled, and the fortunes of each tied, too closely for public comfort, to an ascending president. Much confidence resides in his fine character. Protect and speed him on our changing way.
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