The Post-Modern Politician

Written on November 16, 2007 by Rolf Strom-Olsen in Arts & Cultures & Societies, International Relations

Rolf Strom-Olsen

Barack_2  There was an interesting opinion piece in the New York Times today (reprinted in Der Spiegel – no registration required), from Roger Cohen on Barack Obama, the highly charismatic rising star of the US Democratic Party and currently the most credible threat to Hillary Clinton’s run for her party’s presidential nomination. Cohen makes a good point that is too often not made by your typical naval-gazing US political commentator: the choices that Americans make next year will have a significant impact beyond the country’s borders and American needs leaders that reflect this reality. As he puts it: "American exceptionalism, as practiced by Bush, has created a longing for new American engagement." To say the world longs for a new American engagement might be rather optimistic (I think the world longs for the US to go to its room for a while so the mess can be cleaned up). But it would certainly be accurate to say that the disastrous tenure of George Bush has provided a compelling demonstration of why the world should at least be hoping for a return to competence. It goes largely unnoticed in the US that, while the level of paranoia there continues to be elevated (often with ridiculous results), the consequence of America’s action has largely been felt elsewhere: in Madrid, in London, in Bali, and in the daily unfettered violence across Iraq.

Enter Mr. Obama. According to Cohen, Obama is the face of the future with the ultimate post-modern political back-story: a Kenyan father, a Kansan mother, a candidate who is black but not African-American, or is that African American and not black? (Debra Dickerson has confused me on this issue – and apparently herself (link to video). Whichever way it is, Barack according to Cohen is the face of a nation that looks outward and builds bridges. (Unlike George Bush, whose face is usually found in states like Oklahama, in front of hideously oversized US flags, speaking to hand-picked partisans, preferably in the military, who have been trained to cheer at the words "liberty" and "freedom".) Obama, Cohen hopes, can renew America’s relationship with the rest of the world.

Maybe its just me, but I suspect that the the departure of George Bush will be greeted with such relief both in and out of the US that it matters little who gets elected, as long as s/he repudiates the string of accidents, blunders and missteps that have masqueraded as policy in the Bush White House. A sort of collective "Thank God that’s over." Since Bush is the most unpopular president in the history of modern polling, this relief will start from the US and spread outward. If history is any judge, the stunning incompetence of the Bush years will produce a backlash. There are urgent fiscal, domestic and international (no link necessary!) matters to be fixed. The degree to which Bush and his party will likely be repudiated could well provide the élan needed to enact far-reaching, palliative measures. Balanced budgets, comprehensive health care reform, and a return to a multilateral engagement with the world – these are all commitments that the Democratic contenders share. The New Deal, after all, was built on the repudiation of Republican policies in the 1920s and early 1930s largely seen (if unfairly perhaps) as responsible for the Great Depression. This might be wishful thinking, but historically there are grounds for believing that a Bush backlash might usher in a similar breadth of policy change. And wouldn’t that be fine irony indeed!? If America was finally able to resolve the outstanding issues on health and education on the environment and fiscal imbalance and tax fairness as a result of a Bush presidency.


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