Barry O'Bama and
The VulcansSince I have long harboured a sentimental attachment to Irish politicians like Tip O'Neill and Bill O'Dwyer, I was of course a partisan of Barry O'Bama. I was also impressed by the implications of his biracial parentage --- surely a world-historical change for the USA, although we should remember that Morgan Freeman has already been president in half a dozen movies.
Finally, the fact that O'Bama's highly cosmopolitan background did not prevent his election implies a revealing cultural shift as well. This is no doubt one reason why correspondents from all over the world ---tabulated at iftheworldcouldvote.com---overwhelmingly favored O'Bama by 87% to 13%. Every country on earth voted heavily for O'Bama with just two exceptions. The 55 votes from Albania tilted 51% to 49% for McCain, and the 372 votes from Macedonia favored McCain by a decisive 84% to 16%. Perhaps this was simply meant as a poke-in-the-eye for Greece, where 96.6% of the 3963 votes went to O'Bama, comparable to the majorities O'Bama commanded among the voters from Zambia, Swaziland, Denmark, Fiji, Monaco, Bermuda, Nepal, Kyrgyzstan, and the Cape Verde Islands. The reasons for such a common outlook in places like Greece, Zambia, Denmark, Fiji, and Nepal remain mysterious.
I was particularly struck that the 2008 election signalled how very short the "new American century" turned out to be. When the USSR collapsed, the USA became not merely the sole remaining super-power (as everyone realized), but in fact a power whose dominant world position was greater than that any single nation had ever previously wielded. The American Navy, Air Force, and missile forces were arguably more powerful, probably much more, than the Royal Navy had been at the height of British imperial sway, a century earlier. Moreover, the USA dominated the world economically as neither Britain (nor before it Spain) ever had. Imperial Britain was never more than a medium-sized nation, with a home population smaller than that of France or Germany or Russia. But the USA is a very large nation, the 3rd most populous on earth, with a gargantuan economy that by itself generates 25% of the entire planet's GDP.
With a commanding position like that, it is no wonder that a segment of the US ruling elite, the segment which has been nicknamed "the Vulcans," began to drool and their eyes widened like saucers. This group explicitly advocated US military domination of the entire world, first in the 1992 Defense Planning Guidance document commissioned by Dick Cheney and written under the supervision of Paul Wolfowitz, and then in the subsequent lobbying outfit called the "Project for a New American Century." But it is worth recalling that these ideas were dismissed as nutty by much of the establishment. The administration of Bush the elder, which sidelined the 1992 Cheney/Wolfie DPG document, handled the USA's new hyper-power status with grownup circumspection, and so did the succeeding Clinton administration.
The Vulcans only had their chance when an electoral fluke in 2000 (with invaluable help from St. Ralph Nader & Co.) brought in Cheney himself as co-president, covered by a nitwit former baseball team publicist in the front office. Even then, the Vulcans' power was somewhat limited until the Islamists' 9/11/2001 attack on American civil aviation within the US borders gave the US population a serious attack of nerves. The "New American Century" really got going only after that.
And, in historical terms, it lasted for scarcely the blink of an eye. It began to evaporate in the 2006 congressional elections, after a mere five years. And now it has evaporated decisively after seven. I take this as a sign of the average (not uniform, but average) rationality of the American public. Imagine how the superduper-hyperpower temptation would have been treated within the culture of, say, the Russians (whether led by a Peter the Great, a Stalin, or a Putin). Think about where the mere whiff (and not the reality) of such a status led the Germans. For that matter, think about some midget-sized cases of regional saucer-eyed hubris: Kim Il Song, or Saddam Hussein. So the end of imperial hallucinations is hopeful, and I believe it demonstrates that the Americans turned out, perhaps surprisingly, to be less corruptible than some other nationalities which come to mind.
The change manifested on last Tuesday, November 4, also underlines the importance of the institutions of bourgeois liberal democracy. For 90 years, the Left has been altogether dismissive of such institutions in places like "Peoples' Vietnam" or "Peoples' Cuba," let alone the late-lamented progressive and peace-loving Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. The latest developments here ought to remind us of the irreplaceable value of these institutions.
On the domestic front, the most significant improvements may be in the Obama administration's appointments to the judiciary and to semi-independent federal commissions which don't get into the news very often: the National Labor Relations Board (rather consequential for people who work for a living), the Federal Reserve Board, the FTC, the FCC, and so on. Moreover, this was the first election since 1948 in which the Democrats campaigned on an explicit platform of national heatlh care reform. The Democrats' new strong majority in Congress, and Obama's large grass-roots organization, make it likely that it will actually happen. In that case, the US will finally join such advanced societies as Ireland, Taiwan, and Switzerland in getting a national health system. It will probably be a muddled, compromise system with a major component of private insurance, but private insurance has worked well enough for the Swiss health system, so we could do worse, as we have up till now.
Some things, of course, will not change. Shortly after the election I heard a radio interview with Ralph Nader. St. Ralph denounced both major parties, and excoriated the continued, outrageous, glaring defects of the US ... foremost among them the fact that he had not been included in the presidential debates. In a similar vein, our state Voters' Manual, to which all candidates send statements and photographs, presented the Greens' presidential candidate, Cynthia McKinney, with her mouth wide open. I don't know whether this was because there are no photos of the candidate in any other pose, or whether it is because her part of the political spectrum feels, correctly, that this is their truly characteristic stance. As a wise frog once commented: plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.--- Dr. Phage