"I see the turning of the page,
Curtain rising on a new age --
See the groom still waiting at the altar."
-- Bob Dylan
As I write this at nearly 3 a.m. in England, it seems very likely that Barack Obama will be the next U.S. president. I have no great words of considered wisdom to offer on this development at the moment. However, having looked briefly at the right-wing reaction to the vote, I will venture one quick observation:
The outpouring of open, virulent racism that many feared would arise during the campaign -- and in the secrecy of the voting booth -- never really manifested itself. But I think that it will emerge much more strongly now, in the aftermath, as part of a carefully cultivated dolchstosslegende even now being perpetrated by the rightwing media machine. Fox News and Karl Rove are already pushing stories about "Black Panthers" intimidating voters and widespread vote fraud among the worthless darkies whose votes have propelled Obama to victory. (These would be the same worthless darkies whom the rightwingers also blame for the global economic catastrophe.) There will be much, much more of this in the days and weeks to come.
It will not hurt Obama, of course; he will have the power he has sought, and the upsurge of ugly, unrepentant racism on the Right will only make his "progressive" allies far less willing to criticize his actions -- especially those mysterious "highly unpopular policies" that Joe Biden has promised Obama will adopt in the face of a guaranteed foreign policy crisis sometime next year. (Not to mention the promised escalation of the quagmire in Afghanistan.] But ordinary African-Americans will bear the painful brunt of this pouring of old hatreds into new wineskins. As always, black people will be blamed for all the nation's ills by the overclass that actually controls the machinery of power, and has been grinding its bootheel on the neck of black Americans for centuries.
Just a thought. And so to bed, leaving you with an excerpt from a piece I wrote some months ago after Obama won the Democratic nomination. It still seems apt to me, in the wake of what is, in truth, an historic occasion.
From "Degrees of Significance":
The symbolic significance of Obama Barack's nomination victory is not insubstantial. In a land where, not so long ago, having the slightest drop of "Negro blood" in your genetic inheritance was enough to bar you -- legally and formally -- from many jobs, educational opportunities, places of residence, medical care, full participation in society, etc. (and where these obstacles still persist, in practice if not in law, for many people), it is striking to see a man whose father was not only black but also a "full-blooded African" (cue the psychosexual "Mandingo" anxieties of generations of trembly white folk) on the doorstep of the White House. At the very least -- until the novelty wears off (and novelty wears off very, very quickly in America)-- if Obama wins the presidency, there will be some aesthetic relief in seeing a different kind of face on the tee-vee mouthing various pieties, refusing to take any options off the table, etc., in place of the long procession of pasty white males of Northern European descent.
As for the substantial significance of Obama's nomination win, there is none. The only thing that really matters is what the human being named Barack Obama will do with power (if he gets it), and not his skin color. Or to put it another way: What difference did Colin Powell's status as a non-white person in the highest cabinet office make when the question of aggressive war was on the line? None. He was later replaced not only by another non-white person, but by a non-white female, Condi Rice. What difference did Rice's ethnicity and gender make to her collusion with the Bush faction's brutal policies of aggressive war, torture, rendition, state terror, etc.? None.
The salient point of this truly degrading campaign has always been: what will the winner do in office? Will he (there is no need to add the "or she" now) immediately begin the process of withdrawing from Iraq and making reparations for the mass slaughter and mass destruction of our war crime there? And speaking of war crimes, will the winner instigate investigation and prosecution of Bush Administration officials for a host of high crimes, foreign and domestic? Will he begin the process of winding down America's worldwide military empire of more than 700 bases? Will he halt the militarization of space? Will he end the multi-generational boondoggle of "missile defense"? Will he call for the immediate repeal of the draconian Bankruptcy Bill, that bipartisan weapon of mass destruction in the elite's unrelenting class war against working people, artisans, small business owners and the poor?
These are just a very few of the many essential and highly urgent issues that a new president committed to genuine change in the corrupted currents of our moribund Republic would have to take on....
By every indication we have seen so far, it is increasingly obvious that Barack Obama won't do these things. How can we know this? Because, as a member of the United States Senate, he could have already been actively addressing these burning issues -- had he wanted to. He could have introduced bills of impeachment against Bush and Cheney for their high crimes. He could have already introduced bills calling for the repeal of the Military Commissions Act and the Bankruptcy Bill. He could have introduced bills outlawing rendition, closing the concentration camp on Guantanamo Bay, shutting down the worldwide gulag of "secret prisons." He could have introduced a bill calling for the full and complete withdrawal of American forces from Iraq, and reparations for the Iraqis. He could have introduced bills rolling back the empire of bases, cutting off funds for missile defense, condemning the U.S. government's pivotal role in suffering and brutality in Somalia. He could not have stopped the war, closed Gitmo, restored the Constitution, prosecuted the Administration criminals for war crimes, torture, treason, corruption and malfeasance all by himself. But he could have at least tried to set the ball rolling, using all the institutional instruments -- and popular acclaim -- at his command to try to force action on these and other issues. But he did not do so; he is not doing so now; and there is no reason to believe that he will do so in the future, despite the eloquent lip service he occasionally pays to one or two of these points.
And already, a rather sinister theme is being woven into the heroic narrative of his campaign triumph. I'm in the "Homeland" at the moment, with a rare full exposure to the blisteringly stupid television news. And within minutes of the first word of Hillary Clinton's suspension of her campaign, I saw talking heads reaching out and giving America a big ole hug of self-congratulation for Obama's victory. "I think this speaks very well of us as a people," said one earnest commentator, a no-doubt "progressive" academic eagerly supplying a soundbite through his neatly-trimmed beard. "I think it makes us look great!" enthused no less an expert than Jim "Ace Ventura" Carey, who was collared at some sort of green consciousness event and asked his opinion of the historic development. The conventional wisdom "takeaway" was already solidifying: America is uniquely great and divinely special, because we've allowed a black man to win a presidential nomination -- and he's still alive! That's the kind of people we are. USA! USA!
....Will Obama -- in the White House or on the campaign trail -- denounce the "War on Terror" for what it really is: a war of state terror, waged almost entirely against civilian populations? He has not done so; indeed, on his website he calls for fighting the War on Terror in a "smarter way". (There will be no inefficient, cluttery terrorism when Obama is on the job!) He wants an even bigger, more powerful, more "stealthy" military...
So here is the significance of Obama's nomination: More Terror War. More murder -- directly, by proxy, by remote control. More manufactured enemies. A continued military presence in Iraq (all "combat troops" withdrawn, eventually, maybe, but other troops left there to "target al Qaeda in Iraq"). No reparations. A bigger, faster, more far-reaching military wrapping the globe. No options taken off the table -- ever.
Hey, you know what? The novelty is wearing off already.