Let's be clear about what this victory means, and why it means so much. It is not simply the victory of a black man as President. A Colin Powell becoming the new Republican Eisenhower of 2008 would not arouse a hundredth of this enthusiasm. Nor is it a victory of the left. A Dennis Kucinich, by some bizarre cosmic accident, becoming President would not arouse this level of passion.
What makes it powerful is that it is a victory of the global left in the incarnation of a black American, that it is a double blow to power and skin-privilege. Will President Obama be a programmatically radical leader? Of course not. But will he be a shivering neurotic Jesus-freak sycophant like Tony Blair? No, equally.
His achievement before anything has occurred is this: that every vector of power -- money, race, media -- has been defeated in the US, the declining but still regnant capitol of the world. That what won was the idea of wisdom, judgement, intelligence, prudence and audacity, conservatism and radicalism, a measuring up to the demands of the world. That, as opposed to past Democratic campaigns, this was not a party machine insider -- a Tennessee grandee or a billionairess's husband -- presenting themselves as the least-worst option.
It was someone who, by his own account, had come through the world of the radical left, of radical black action, to the realisation that any change in America had to come not against its traditions, but within them, and who therefore drew on the strengths of every residual radical and progressive notion of this one-time revolutionary society. It was an achievement, but it was also a channelling in to a deeper moment of historical shift.
In the USA this has been greeted, even by conservatives, as a historic transcendent moment. Why? I am reminded of the Jorge Luis Borges essay about Buenos Aires during 1940, when it looked like the Nazis -- who had a lot of support in Argentina out of hatred of British imperialism – would win. Borges, a resolute anti-Nazi, was visited by an Axis supporter.
"France has fallen," he said, "nothing can stop them now!" And then Borges notes:"I realised he was as terrified as I was".
In other words -- and am I not breaking Godwin's law -- there are moments in politics when, on one side, no-one really wants to win. That was the curse of the McCain campaign. Deep down they knew that McCain's moment was 2000, and that it had passes. But they kept going, against a historical moment which, deep deep down, most of them -- and that may well include John McCain himself -- wanted to happen, and, deep deep down, did not want to stand in the way of.
For those of us who committed ourselves to the left, whatever that means, these are great days not because of what Obama will do, but because of what he will not do -- because he will normalise progressive, moderate, multilateral, modernised politics in the US and in the western world, and that is the context in which we will work.
If you want to see some graciousness in that moment, read (sections of) the US conservative press. If you want to read bitterness and incomprehension about it, read Albrechtsen and Sheridan in The Oz today.
For the rest of us it is tears and laughter, laughter and tears. For all the people I've marched with, argued with, whatever, this is a moment. I have no compunction at all about feeling part of this in however distant a manner. For the right, globally, you will have to reinvent yourselves. You are the Whigs in the 1850s. You are about to cease to exist.
Tears and laughter and laughter and tears.
Thursday, November 6, 2008
Rundle - a victory of the global left
Below is an extract from Guy Rundle's post to Crikey today. I think Rundle puts his finger on both a sense of shift to the Left and a wary optimism in Obama's election.