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Monday, November 03, 2008

Hoping for Change

A wise old woman once told me, “if it looks, smells and feels too good, it probably is!”
Her words come back to me every time I hear the name Barack Obama!
As much as I’d like to see change in America, in its approach to the rest of the world, and in the way it treats its own citizens, and as much as I’d like to believe the rise of Barack Obama signals such change, I’m skeptical.
To be sure, its a great campaign the man has run. His response to the onslaught of false accusation and bigoted commentary has given me hope. I find his cool calm, and great charm, heartening. However, I have also noticed a few things that lead me to believe he’s not quite what he appears to be.
At the Democratic National Convention in Denver there were some rather nasty confrontations between protesters and police. These events were not widely broadcast by the media. In fact, they were buried in the avalanche of “good news” coming out of the convention.
In one particular incident a “Code Pink” protester, a young woman, was smashed across the face with a billy-club wielded by a Denver policeman. The cop called the woman a “bitch” as he knocked her bleeding to the ground. This event was emblematic of what was going on outside the confines of the convention centre.
After viewing the clip, I wrote to the Obama campaign and asked if they were aware what was going on out in the street. Pointedly, I asked if the Obama campaign supported such actions by police, and if the candidate supported the right to peaceful assembly and civil disobedience.
Mr. Obama’s campaign wrote back, but made no mention of the incident I reported to them. Instead, they asked me for a campaign donation!
When they failed to address my concern, I wrote back again. Again, they responded, asking for a donation, making no reference to my concerns. For weeks after, my mailbox was full of mail from Mr. Obama, Mrs. Obama, vice-presidential candidate Joe Biden, and even the campaign manager David Plouffe. Nowhere in any of these mailings was there a mention of the anti-American activities of the Denver Police, but every single e-mail asked for a financial contribution.
Now, I am quite aware the Obama campaign at the time, and through out the course of the election, must be receiving a lot of mail. It must take them weeks sometimes to get around to reading it all. But months have gone by and I’ve still not received any mail from them that in anyway addresses the content of my original letter. One would think, with all the money the Obama campaign has received, some of it would be used to address the mail, and to respond to any questions being asked. Had they, at any point, by any means, responded directly to my expressed concern, then I would have been encouraged to believe that Mr. Obama’s message of “hope” and “change” was, on some level, genuine.
My second concern arose when Mr. Obama gave his acceptance speech in a Denver football stadium. Much ado was made of the set design and Roman style columns used as a back drop. Clearly, a lot money and construction went into the set design for that event. ‘Is this an example of what Mr. Obama will do with any extra money he should come into?’ I asked myself. Later on, my concern that Mr. Obama would use financial contributions frivolously was reinforced when he spent several millions buying a half hour block of TV time, just ahead of a World Series baseball game. To me, the man just looked like another politician, using his surplus cash to make himself look good, if not extravagant.
The third issue that leads me to feel a tad ‘queasy’ about the potential of a President Obama comes through the ‘reverse-negative’ campaigning style employed by some of his surrogates. On web pages such as John Amato’s “crooksandliars.com” great hay has been made of Mr. Obama’s opponents age, wealth, personal life, and physical frailties. While it is true Mr. McCain has run a filthy campaign, full of lies, innuendo, race baiting, red baiting, smears, and outright misrepresentation of fact, I do not believe such activity should necessarily excuse any similar activity by the Democratic faithful. It is like Martin Luther King Jr. argued, we do not change behaviour by engaging in the same ruthless actions as our enemies. Moreover, when we stoop to level of our enemies, we make ourselves no better than them.
I wrote to Mr. Obama’s campaign about that too, and received the same response I’d received before. They did not address my concerns, but made sure to ask for a donation!
All this said, I find myself inclined to believe Mr. Obama is simply another politician who has found a way to win people over. He’s no Martin Luther King! Then again, he has not claimed to be! Barack Obama is a centrist, not quite Liberal, member of the US Democratic Party. While his tax policies do tend to favour the middle class more than the wealthy, they also do not infringe too much on the top five percent of Americans who are wealthy in the extreme. He’s not going to hit the elite too hard, just skim a few more dollars from the cream atop their jugs. Its not like he’s going to strip them down and give their expensive loafers to some poor kid in the Bronx. The hue and cry that Mr. Obama is somehow a “Socialist” is a total misnomer. He’s talking about redistributing some of the wealth, not all of it! In fact, most of America’s top five percent are barely going to notice the difference, and when it all comes out in the wash, neither are the lower 30 percent. Most of them will still not be able to afford rent, let alone college educations for the kids.
About the only real difference an Obama presidency would make is in the selection of more moderate persons to sit on the US Supreme Court, but that can be said about any Democratic administration. To be fair, that’s no small difference. However, the choice of more moderate justices, over ideologues, is the norm, not the exception, when there is a Democrat in the White House.
Another aspect of change under an Obama led government will be its course in foreign wars. That said, anyone who thinks the election of Mr. Obama means there will be a pacifist peace-nick in the White House is delusional! Mr. Obama, while making it clear he wants out of Iraq, has also called for ramping up the war in Afghanistan, and for hunting down Osama bin Laden, no matter where he is! Most experts believe, if Osama bin Laden is alive, he is in Pakistan. While he’s not said so much directly, Mr. Obama’s rhetoric would indicate he is prepared to send US troops and/or operatives, into that country!
We must all remember the US economy is based on oil, and an oil based economy does real well when there’s a war going on. While Mr. Obama speaks of alternative energy, and energy independence, the US market is years away from bearing fruit from such development. While working on alternative energy sources, they will need to keep their economy buoyant, and the easiest way to do that will be to keep US industry busy producing and replacing the hardware required for war. Mr. Obama is not about to make himself a one term president by declaring peace and tanking the US economy at the same time. He’s way too clever for that.
All in all, while an Obama Presidency will mark a change from the ideologically driven Bush administration, in most areas his ascension to the executive wing will mean business as usual. While the rhetoric will be less warlike, and the willingness to compromise more apparent, America will still view itself as the most beautiful, biggest and best. It will still use its economic mite to get its own way, and its military power as an intimidation tool. The rich will still ride around in limousines, and the poor will continue to fall through the cracks. Much of the middle east will still be on fire, and the environment will remain endangered. Protesters will continue to be beaten with billy clubs, and the children of low income working people will continue to fill the ranks of its armed forces.
But there will be one difference, and it will be stark and noticeable, and it will give hope to people everywhere. The man standing behind the Seal of President of the United States will not have pink skin!
Over the past few months, while this contest has continued, we’ve all witnessed some of the worst bigotry, racism, stupidity and ignorance since the dark days of the 1960s civil rights movement. We’ve watched as national presidential and vice-presidential campaigns have stirred up some of the ugliest notions, opinions and divisiveness ever to see the light of day. For many of us who remember the dark days of the ‘50s and ‘60s, its been like a 24-7 horror show, a flashback to a bad trip we’d long ago tried to forget. The word “nigger” has been rebirthed and regurgitated onto our TV screens as if it were fair comment. We have been reminded, day in and day out, that the horror of degradation and nullification are not behind us, but bubbling just below the surface, ready to rise to the top and be unleashed.
We’ve all watched as an apparently legitimate political party, and its leaders, have not only enabled, but encouraged, the ranting and ravings of a lunatic fringe to be visited on our children and ourselves. In many ways these past months have been a nightmare relived, to the point where a lot of us are expecting a repeat of the dark events of the 1960s when people like Martin Luther King were shot dead for their courage. Even I, a political junkie of the first order, find myself afraid to turn on the TV, the radio, or my computer, for fear of the bulletin announcing we have gone nowhere these past 40 years, that we’re on a tread mill, not a path to the mountain top, that nothing, absolutely nothing has changed.
I hope it is not so. And for that reason alone, if I were an American citizen, despite my skepticism, I would be voting for Barack Obama.
Its not because I believe Mr. Obama will change the world, or even the United States. Its not because I believe Mr. Obama is any less or more a politician than his opponents. Most certainly, it would not be because of his party, or his policies. I would vote for Barack Obama because his election, quite simply, would mean that something in America has changed, that America has finally taken the first baby step we’ve all been waiting so many years for it to take. I would vote Barack Obama for hope. Hope that there will finally be change, even if I don’t really believe such change will come.
Barack Obama, if elected, will be a middle of the road president. He will appoint a few moderate chief justices, reform some tax law, and, if the force is with him, withdraw from Iraq. He will not bring peace to the world, save the environment, end racism, hunger, or poverty. The rich will grow richer and the poor poorer. America will continue to be mistrusted and loathed in many parts of the world. In many ways, it will be business as usual, but there will be one difference, and it will be a difference that keeps hope alive.
It will appear to the world that America has changed.

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