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    In which our protagonist explains why he will not be convinced to support Obama

    My friend Maria asked me a few weeks ago–all right, maybe it’s a few months ago by this point–to explain why I was against electing Obama president. Since she just posted a comment to a post I made the other day and raised several points I think need to be considered, I’ll respond here. Maria wrote the following:

    As an Obama supporter, I don’t take it as a “given” that Obama can change Washington. I like his tagline. I like it because it’s true, and those of us who have had enough of Cheney and Bush with their arrogant blatant disregard for the rule of law–trampling on the U.S. Constitution and the Geneva Conventions–do need to be reminded of the power we have every four years. Four years ago when Bush was “re”-elected, if I would have had the nest egg necessary, I would have been “outta here.” (Canada, Costa Rica…) I had serious doubts about our country lasting another four years. I thought I would get out before the flames of Rome engulfed me… And, now we have the chance to take our back our country, reinstate the Constitution, restore our reputation, etc., etc. I know you don’t share my thoughts, Sean. I’m just sharing a little bit of why it’s good that Obama is calling us to a larger service rather than just saying he is the answer to everything. He is just one man. But, look out, Sean, there’s a whole lot more of us… 😉

    A lot more of whom? This is what I don’t get. I don’t really mean to single out Maria–since what she’s saying is no different from what I’ve been hearing in New York since returning home–but what political principles are we using to justify the idea that Obama would make a good president? If people like his policies, fine. Expecting “change,” though? This is a man who decided to decamp from law school to a city that has possibly the most famously corrupt political machine in America; he’s clearly flourished there. And we believe he’s going to change things in Washington?

    The Obama supporters I encounter are full of enthusiasm for the ends he’ll supposedly accomplish. They’re a bit less clear on how he’ll do it–and no wonder.

    The “restore our reputation” line really tends to set me off, so I’ll tackle it first. Most people dithering about our rep “abroad” are really worried about Western Europe. Yeah, occasionally, the head of state of Brazil or Malaysia will get off a zinger about Bush or “consumerism” and be quoted a lot for a few days; but the countries people consistently express anxiety about by name tend to be the U.K., Germany, France, and sometimes the Netherlands, Belgium, and Sweden. (Everyone else in the “global community” usually gets dumped into some broader category such as “the Arab street” or “Latin America.”)

    The states of Western Europe are our allies and trading partners, and it’s reasonable for them to ask us to consider their interests when we’re hammering out our geopolitical strategies. Fine. But sitting still while European officials sermonize at us about harmony among peoples? Give me a break. The idea that we should be humoring them, much less yielding to them, is preposterous. Europeans have been waging war on one another for centuries; World Wars I and II were egregious in their scope and bloodiness, but they were hardly out of character. During World War II, most of Western Europe that wasn’t run by the Nazis themselves was run by fascist buddies of the Nazis, Vichy collaborators with the Nazis, or enthusiastic fillers of orders for the Nazis. After being liberated by the Allies, then being put under our defense umbrella when the Soviet Union started getting expansionist, Western Europe soothed its stinging humiliation by repackaging itself as a champion, jointly and singly, of non-violent conflict resolution.

    So how’s that working out? Not too badly, in many ways. The European Union makes us Yanks snigger with its bureaucratic antics, but it has, in fact, helped to cement the sorts of economic ties that make aggression less likely. Modern nations such as Germany and even Belgium seem unlikely to splinter, depsite comprising multiple states with individual histories and cultural identities. Fine. But European societies are having much less integrating the Turks, North Africans, and South Asians who’ve poured in over the last few decades. Violence against Jews has increased.

    American internal and external race relations are not perfect, certainly, but that doesn’t mean we have anything helpful to learn from Europe about how to improve them. About engineering, art and architecture, and making good coffee, yes, but not about ethic harmony. And if that weren’t enough of a reason not to suck up to Europe, there’s also the fact that it won’t work. Anti-Americanism did not start with the Bush administration, regardless of what those with selective amnesia may maintain, and the election of Obama would put paid to only its most superficial manifestations.

    The rest gets me exercised less than it makes me shrug. I’m aware that a lot of people think the Bush administration is populated by nasty, nasty, NASTY people–but we’ve had a Democratic majority in both houses of congress since last midterm election, so talk about the need to “take back our country” seems just a bit excessive. The need to “reinstate the Constitution” sounds rousing, but it means different things to, say, anti-war leftists thinking about the Patriot Act and strict-constructionist conservatives thinking about the U.S. Supreme Court. Besides which, all this is assuming that Obama never has to make hard choices after another terrorist attack or other major crisis. Obama is very like Clinton: he’s good at winning people over with his feel-good domestic policy bromides, but many suspect he’s not man enough to be the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, and he knows it. The Clinton administration overcompensated time and again. Would Obama? It’s impossible to predict. But he has no military or foreign policy background, and while he’s adjusting shrewdly as he goes, I’m not sure I want to see what happens when he gives it the old college try during an emergency while simultaneously laboring to prove he can get tough.

    7 Responses to “In which our protagonist explains why he will not be convinced to support Obama”

    1. carolyn says:

      I know this is going to shock and amaze you… but I actually agree with a lot of what you’re saying here. It’s why I took so long to make a decision about who to support in the Democratic primary — I really didn’t want 4 more years of the Clintons, and while Obama gives good speech, his lack of substantive ideas and any sort of detailed plan beyond “let’s take back Washington!!!” isn’t exactly confidence-inspiring. (And don’t even get me started on the distinct lack of progress we’ve seen in two years of a Democratic-controlled Congress. I can feel my blood pressure rising just thinking about it.)

      However, I would sooner eat cold roadkill than vote for “maverick” McCain, who’s been backpedaling into the Bush-Republican camp so fast I’m surprised he hasn’t given himself whiplash. A vote for him is a vote for 4 more years of this ridiculous (and likely expanding) war, 4 more years of soaring oil prices, and 4 more years of stuffing corporate pockets and shafting the middle class.

      Rock, meet hard place. -_-;;

    2. Alice says:

      “let’s take back Washington” basically means “let’s win the election! instead of, like, losing it again!” I can see why Democrats want that, but I can’t see why they would confuse it with an actual policy. Every single presidential candidate who ever stood for election had a policy of getting into office. The problem is that only gets you into office. Once you’re in office, you won already. Then you have to do actual stuff.

      If America wants to know what a good long stretch of liberal government can achieve, they only have to look at the UK- Labour has been running things over there since 1997. It’s not exactly all roses.

    3. Alice says:

      Or, the Clinton years, I suppose…

      Forgive me for not getting over-excited about who wins these things anymore- Obama drama is plenty of fun for people who really think politics is going to make everyone do what they want them to do save the world, but maybe it takes more than turning up to vote every 4 years to achieve the moral and intellectual evolution of humanity.

    4. Sean Kinsell says:

      carolyn, I know you well enough to know you’re not the Moonie type, so I’m not surprised that you’re weighing your options sensibly. (The Maria quoted in the post is, as I mentioned, a friend of mine; I’m sure she is, too, though I’ve obviously taken issue with some of the verbal formulations she’s borrowed from the campaign.) I think you know this from our previous conversations, but just so it’s clear here: I’m not a McCain fan. His animus against business types is pretty rich considering where his own money came from, and while I think he’s the better candidate given where we are in the WOT, I don’t think that his conduct as a POW, worthy of respect though it is, is an indicator of that. I didn’t like him when the press was swooning over him eight years ago, and he’s done little to win me over much since then.

      But as Alice says, it’s unrealistic to get worked into a froth during election seasons when the real grunt work of getting viable candidates into the running has to start years ahead of time. And it’s always helpful to remember that, while the administration sets the tone for a lot of what goes on in Washington, the president doesn’t, for example, run the economy.

    5. Monkeyhumper says:

      Nice essay.

      Harmony my ass. Give me a break too. Western Europe doesn’t even share a common language.. oh, wait, I guess they do. AMERICAN ENGLISH! Stupefying. Harmony begins with communication, and BO seems to think the simple progession towards an American led unification of LANGUAGE is something to be ashamed of.

      Disgusting and traitorous due to the inherent sedition of his speeches.

      Who wants BO for a President? I shower to rid myself of it. I hope our Country does the same.

    6. Rondi says:

      The “restore our reputation abroad” meme is nonsensical. I lived overseas for about nine years prior to 2000, and America-bashing was as prevalent then as it is now. True, the venom spewed against George Bush is exceptional, but by no means was the U.S. “beloved” in any of the places I lived (5 years in France, two in Turkey, two and a bit in Japan). I’ve always said that the U.S. is damned if it does, damned if it doesn’t, so you may as well do as you please!

    7. Sean Kinsell says:

      Monkeyhumper, I grew up on the fringe of Pennsylvania Dutch country, so I think there’s more room for debate over how much unity of language we need than some, perhaps–but I agree heartily that holding up Europe as an example to aspire to is ridiculous. (And I was just getting warmed up–we could talk all day about Asia, too, if we liked.)

      Rondi, no kidding! Elites in other countries tended to like the Clintons because they could identify with them: they were upper-middle class (rather than aristocratic), they were bureaucratic in worldview, and they were trained as lawyers. But America was still viewed as a hotbed of arrogant, unsophisticated consumerist, car-driving, gun-toting sin. People forget that at their peril.

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