Friday, October 31, 2008

The Audacity Of Hope...And Activism

Given the choice of John McCain or Barack Obama, I wouldn't waste any time in plumping for the senator from Illinois. Of course, I'm not alone; witness the 200,000 Berliners who turned out to see Obama earlier this year during his European tour. There's also no shortage of columnists & commentators, particularly on the Guardian's Comment is Free site ( ) posting firmly pro-Obama articles.
However, there has been a dearth of articles which offer critical support to the Democratic candidate. That's why it was refreshing to read Seumas Milne's piece on the CiF site yesterday ( ).
Milne readily accepts that the significance of an Obama win would be seismic, not just totemic; the achievement of electing an African-American into the White House, just four decades after the Civil Rights movement challenged open segregation in states like Mississippi & Alabama, is truly historic. Milne also sketches the likely scenario if the polls disguise the race element & the Republicans win:
"If...John McCain were to confound weeks of opinion polls and win the day, the backlash would surely be harsh. Against a background of intense Republican unpopularity, economic crisis and apparently impregnable polling leads, such a victory would be widely seen as the product of shameless racism -- and the election as rigged and stolen. In the US, anger could be expected to turn to rioting. Across the rest of the world, America's popularity and moral standing --already at an historic low-- would sink to unprecedented depths. No wonder such a large part of the American establishment is rooting for an Obama win."
However, Milne cautions:
"No politician, least of all one tied up by the constraints of the corporate-funded US presidential system, can hope to meet the kind of expectations that have been aroused among the Illinois senator's armies of enthusiasts, even if bolstered by a clean Democratic sweep in Congress."
Milne refers to the $700bn bailout for the banks (socialism for the ruling class, in other words) while social programmes suffer through cuts as the recession continues apace. His refreshingly candid take on an anticipated Obama presidency (in contrast to the orgasmic cries of many a Guardian & Independent scribbler) ends with an insightful analysis & conclusion:
"What seems certain is that an Obama election will be a catalyst that creates political opportunities both at home and abroad. The Obama campaign grew out of popular opposition to the Iraq war and its success has been based on the mobilisation of supporters who will certainly want to go further and faster than their candidate. Economic conditions are also likely to demand a more decisive response. And even if conditions are very different from those which led to the New Deal of the 1930s --not least the lack of a powerful labour movement-- Obama could yet, like Roosevelt, be propelled by events to adopt more radical positions. In any case, if Obama is to begin to fulfill the confidence invested in him, hope will not be enough -- those who want real change will have to fight for it."
Milne's lucid observations are more thoughtful & measured than the primal scram of rage that characterised George Monbiot's CiF piece two days earlier, even though I was sympathetic to his main contention that religions have a key role in the US education system, leading to "stupid" attitudes & prejudices taking hold in the minds of millions of Americans (creationism, etc.). That said, Monbiot's splenetic critique is still required reading ( ).

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