5th November 2008
President Barack Obama. George Bush and his cronies in the Project for a New American Century will, come January 20th, go to the recycling bin, and a brother will soon be sitting at the controls of the American project.
A collective sigh of relief sweeps around the world, with joy-filled cries of celebration. The collective planetary volume of emotion-generated lachrymation is probably enough to fill numerous Olympic sized swimming pools.
Thank you, America, for giving peace a chance. Thank you for choosing someone with whom the vast majority of the human population of this planet can identify. We’ve seen what a stupid white man can do as President, now let us see what an intelligent brown brother can do. He has already done a great thing by being the first brother to become President of the United States. Abe Lincoln must be skipping around the Other World just now on his long legs, snapping his fingers and chortling.
And now, for an encore, change the way America goes about tackling global warming, economic recession, peak oil, poverty, crime, illness and the rest of it.
Watching the celebrations, I was reminded of the day in May 1997 when Tony Blair was elected. We had great hopes then, smiles, cheers, same feeling of relief that a long period of government by the rabid right was over, but we were to be savagely disappointed by the direction that New Labour took while in office. Blair had the same appeal as Obama: young, good speaker, apparently a man of the people, and look what he became: a sticky-fingered warmonger, a cheerleader for Bush’s war on behalf of Halliburton.
I think and feel and hope that Barack Obama has more depth of character than Tony Blair, so I am not saying that Barack is destined to be the kind of disappointment that Blair was. No situation is the same as any other situation, but neither is any situation completely different.
We know that Barack is a great speechmaker, a great poet. Shelley went so far as to say that poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world. Speaking as a poet who knows a fair number of poets, I would apply a few caveats to Shelley’s proposition, given the difficulty that most poets experience in organising a piss-up in a brewery (if the Poetry Society in the 60s was anything to go by, anyway). On the other hand, Acoustic Nights at Halo in Gloucester Road (alternate Mondays), runs like a well-tended road bike on a smooth road with a following wind. Let’s hope that Barack is more Halo than Poetry Society. Whatever. The central truth is that the poet can see things in a new light, see things as they are, and also how they might be.
If Barack Obama has this gift of insight, then the world is in with a chance. If, more importantly, he can retain this gift during four to eight years as the chief engineer in charge of the machinery of Washington, then it will be a bleeding miracle.
Preseident Obama is about to take control of one of the most comprehensively fecked-up superpowers since Yeltsin stood tanked-up on a tank and faced down the communist die-hards in 1989. The Earth’s atmosphere is seriously out of kilter, the global economy is shot, the American army is embroiled in two unwinnable wars, the military-industrial-oil axis is still in de facto control of the world, and the newly-defeated Right still lives and breathes anger.
Barack’s job is as if Luke Skywalker had got into one of those 4 legged Walker war machines run by the Galactic Empire. He has to learn how to control it, stop it falling over, and stop it from crushing the people, his friends and well-wishers on the ground below. It is not going to be easy, especially as there is an “Autopilot” button on the console, that allows things to carry on as normal with no effort or thought needed.
Added to this – for the next 4-8 years, Barack will have to live inside both a physical and a metaphorical screen of bullet-proof glass. This is not good for anyone’s sense of reality.
On the upside, Barack does know what needs to be done. Bring the financial markets back to a position where they are serving the economy, not destroying it. Buy the opium in Afghanistan and turn it into medicine, so that our troops can come home. Hand Iraq over to the Iraqis with UN help and support. Find a loophole in the law that has given Iraqi oil profits to Halliburton, so that the Iraqi economy can recover. Cancel Star Wars. Bring about a WMD Abolition Treaty. End the dominance of the military-industrial complex. Be a peacemaker in Israel-Palestine. Create a Carbon Army of green collar workers to put an end to energy waste. Invest in a HVDC grid across the USA. Set up solar energy technology in the deserts to produce a reliable, plentiful supply of benign electricity. Plant forests at the coast, working inwards. Implement Polluter Pays. Enforce Producer Responsibility. Apply the Precautionary Principle. Institute Citizen’s Income, or at least a Green Wage Subsidy. Give power to local communities. Etcetera. You know what needs to be done.
The blueprint is ready and waiting. There is a huge mountain to climb, but it can be done. But Barack Obama cannot do it for us. We have to do it with him, giving him support, advice, and criticism as appropriate. Remember: politics is for life, not just for election nights.