February 10, 2008

Sure, I Voted for Obama

It is my considered opinion that this nation has moved past the point where carrying on with business as usual will succeed. I tend to agree with an erstwhile professor of mine, Chalmers Johnson, that the nemesis awaiting America is the combination of consequences stemming from imperial overstretch, environmental degradation and international competition. If we continue doing things as we have done them for the last 35 years, our standard of living, which has been on a downward trajectory since 1973, will fall to Third World standards, we'll continue as greenhouse-gas outlaws, and our financial system will unravel completely due to federal deficits, national debt and trade imbalance.

We call ourselves a "service economy," which is the current euphemism now that "information age" has lost its cachet. We didn't arrive at an economy based on consumerism through deliberate choice; it's what was left to us after our industrial base was hollowed out by foreign competition and and offshoring of American jobs. Asian countries in particular have succeeded to those mainstay jobs of our former middle class, replaced by the "crap jobs" of the service economy. However, it seems to me that the world, which is currently in a state of 40% overshoot in resource utilization (which is breaking down the Earth's capacity to sustain human life), cannot long continue with the nonrenewable energy paradigm. Things have to shift fundamentally. The United States, under the right leadership, could again lead the way.

Since that's where I think we are, I look at the available list of viable candidates and conclude that only Obama makes any sense. "Experience" is not the key factor; indeed, it may be a huge liability to the extent that it indicates a candidate, such as John McCain, will tend to think in antiquated ways about meeting modern challenges. The same can be said about Hillary Clinton; I have no doubt she understands all the issues (when she discusses global warming, for example, she's a model of clarity and comprehension), but I think ultimately she won't change anything because her style is to make whatever compromise is necessary for the sake of political expedience. Obama may turn out to be the same, but at least he's demonstrated some independence of mind, most notably about the Iraq war. Clinton and Obama are both very smart, but Obama's younger, and that's a plus in my book. His generation will have to live longer in the America he begins to create, and he's less tied into the old (as in fossilized) approach to doing things.

In general, I think there's a huge problem with senescence in American politics, an artifact of the near-impossibility of voting out incumbents. The Senate, for example, is by and large a club of ancient white men. Their frame of reference for the United States is about forty years out of date. The Republican Party is infested with "social issues" parasites like Tom DeLay and Newt Gingrich, and amoral apparatchiks like Karl Rove, whose only interest is in maintaining power for one party as a sort of political game. These aren't people who can lead the United States effectively anymore. If the United States attempts to continue its Eisenhower-era economy, we're not going to have the dubious luxury of worrying about gay marriage and abortion-on-demand, because the middle class will be destroyed, the entitlements programs will go bankrupt, and we'll lose our competitive place in the world.

I think Bill Clinton was a good president, whose personal style (not the sex, but his political cowardice and his disorganization) kept him from being great. I don't see how that has anything to do with Hillary Clinton. She does not strike me as anyone unique or charismatic, which is really all Bill had going on, but, like Bill, her administration would mostly stir the pot because of a kind of obsession with compromise. Small, incremental changes, slight decreases in defense spending, tinkering with the tax code, some "middle ground" on Iraq and Afghanistan, such as phased withdrawals over a four-year period, and a nod of acquiescence toward alternative energy and transportation, such as increased tax credits. Healthcare will wobble along toward complete breakdown. All of this follows from the perception that the stodgy members of Congress will recognize that Hillary is someone "they can do business with," meaning, continue to do the business of lobbyists.

As I say, Obama may find the political culture of Washington, D.C. an immovable object, and will slump down into feckless compromise. If I were a betting man, that's the way I think it will turn out; but it's guaranteed if Hillary is elected. So what the hell? My hunch is that Obama holds more promise than he can put on display within the dreadful limitations of Big Media politics. A candidate has to reserve the big ideas until after election; remember that in 1999, George W. Bush scoffed at the notion of nation-building. By the time of his second inaugural, he had decided on the messianic goal of rebuilding the entire world. Maybe Obama can use the amped-up power of the unitary executive forged by Cheney & Co. to do something really useful and transformative, as opposed to merely insane and delusional. You never know until you give a guy a chance to try.

No comments:

Post a Comment