Wednesday, 5 November 2008
"That will do for now. And mood changing isn't to be sniffed at.
And stop with the cynicism already."
So who's sniffing?
It is - yes, it is - wonderful that the USA should have elected its first black president. Some Brits tend to sneer at Americans for being racist rednecks and it is true that segregation is still a living memory for some. Legally it ended in 1954 but in practice and piecemeal it continued for another twenty years or so. I remember the Martin Luther King speech and have clear memories of Black Power, of Eldridge Cleaver and Michael X, the Panthers, the Black Power olympic salute of Tommie Smith and John Carlos. I also remember the rise of the black middle class, the TV shows with Bill Cosby and, later, Will Smith etc. Brits tend to sneer but I can't see any major black political leader on the horizon in the UK. Brits talk the talk and limp a little.
Mood is spirit, spirit is symbol, symbol is message, plus all the vast air miles of perception. That Obama, who is such an excellent speaker, should have won, and won so handsomely, pleases me as a writer. An end to inarticulacy is a good thing. Some cheers for that too. Several hundred cheers for the black president. That is absolutely marvellous.
Coming late and very tired last night, I suggested not much will change. In the vital respect above much has changed. I do not anticipate cartoons of Obama of the same sort as cartoons of Dubya. That is now impossible. In image terms Obama is pretty well untouchable.
What might not change very much? Foreign policy may shift in emphasis but much is constrained, I think. Obama might want out of Iraq sooner, and he might want to be tougher on Iran or send more troops into Afghanistan. He might. He has talked about this, but I think he has made policy statements rather on the hoof. I don't blame him for that. He had to win an election, but apart from the slogan of Change! he has spelled out rather little.
He has spent some time repudiating old connections. All rulers have had to do that. Recall Prince Hal. He wouldn't have got anywhere while still tied to the Rev. Jeremiah Wright and some of the others. The Right will point to contacts that he used to maintain, that he might still maintain. But he seems to have acted pragmatically. He has dropped that which would not work on the road to office or in office. That is not acting on principle: that is practical politics. Being, in this case, is a revolution: doing is not.
Incidentally, I don't really know what his principles are but I love it when his opponents throw the word 'Socialist' at him. As if that were original sin! But he can't let the word weigh him down so he shifts and pushes it away. I hope he has genuine socialist instincts and does some genuinely socialist things. Let him call it what he will.
Such instincts might best be seen in terms of domestic policy, particularly health care. We should expect some improvements there. How much room there is for manoeuvre, I don't know. I expect change to be incremental rather than dramatic, but I'm just guessing. Some change probably.
In terms of financial policy the Bush era is well and truly over and would have been whoever succeeded Bush. I have yet to hear (I might have missed it) how Obama intends to regulate finance, how he will approach those rescued private institutions, but we will find out. Maybe he himself doesn't know yet. OK, you say, you shouldn't be thinking of any of this, you cynic.
My image of the USA is of a vast slowly moving creature, slow because considerable forces tug at it in opposite directions. That is under general circumstances. In an emergency, if most of the weight shifts one way, it will move quickly, heavily, crushing some things in its way. The elephant begins to move like a donkey but with all the weight of an elephant.
How much does it matter who sits on top of the elephant-donkey is a matter of circumstance. In war it can matter a lot. In peace there is the sheer intractable contradictory mass. There is an entirely new rider there now. It is great he should be there. He looks terrific. Being there at all is a vast symbol. I don't know which way he wants to steer the creature, which way it can be steered. I don't know which way because he hasn't really made any clear noises about that.
Either he has a clear notion and is not saying, or he is what he seems to be, a pragmatist. His enemies say the former. I think the latter. Pragmatists don't tend to opt for dramatic change.
Consider me symbolically delighted, over the proverbial moon. It is, as the moon-lander said, a pretty terrific leap for man. Therefore I rejoice. Party time. Work later.
Forgive me. I have never trusted elation, not in the long run. Wind blows one way: I tend to lean the other. Can't help it. Just instinct.
Go on, help yourself to another drink. And should I be delighted that Palin is not going to get into office? Palin was never going to get in anywhere. False antithesis. Consider me pleased at that. The delight is not at Palin not getting into office, but at Obama getting in.