Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Obama becomes President

On the successful culmination of Barack Obama's exhilarating campaign to become the forty-fourth President of the United States of America – a campaign that has reinvigorated the public sphere, restored to citizens a sense of their potential as political agents, and resuscitated the idea of politics itself as a force for and a vision of the good and of political office as one of the highest callings of secular life, ideas without which humanity has no future – here is an old post from May 2007 on Obama's The Audacity of Hope, a work that tells us a great deal about the character of the new President.

Here is Obama's long essay from last year: "Renewing American Leadership".

And three other posts on figures from the past century who practiced a visionary and morally ambitious politics: Mohandas Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, and Vaclav Havel.


Uncertain said...

Wow .. so many tall claims in one essay! You must really admire Obama to pretend as if the campaign has any bearing on the performance-in-office which (may I remind you) is yet to be seen.

And politics as a calling? It's funny that on the one hand you invoke what Weber calls the protestant ethic of callings and on the other, completely disregard his ~100 year old yet very relevant argument that the practice of democracy most often does not imply the rule or the power of the demos over the state/society.

And please do not be so arrogant as to know without a semblance of a doubt which idea holds the future of humanity in its hands.

Chandrahas said...

Uncertain - This is hardly an essay; merely a little note to commemorate a moment of great historical significance in American politics, and in democratic politics in general. I am hardly in a party of one in my appreciation of Barack Obama's many unusual gifts. And although we are yet to see Obama in office - I could scarcely be unaware of this - I think he has done enough things in the last year (consider his remarkable speech on race in March) that could be said to be within the realm of exceptional political achievement. Governance is not all there is to politics.

It seems to me that moments like this don't come every day, so suspend your disbelief for however long it takes to come rushing back, and nurture, if you will, the audacity of hope for a little while. We can always return to what we were.

I don't say that my perception of what is important to the future of humanity is comprehensive; there are many other things that we must think about too. But there is a charm to your ticking-off that reminds me of an irascible maths professor I used to have in third standard, and who once established without a semblance of a doubt that he lived closer to the deer park than any one of us students.

Uncertain said...

Always nice to be compared to irascible teachers :)

I'm sure you're aware that Obama had by far the richer campaign. Don't you wonder where all the money came from? A few weeks back the pharma consortium changed their bets from McCain to Obama - why? Because he is a 'good person'? Because he would redistribute their wealth? Because he would bring peace - in which case where would the defense contractors go?

Anyway, I don't want to quibble any further. I'll bring this up again in 4-5 years and we can compare notes. Here are some questions I'm going to be evaluating Obama on

a) Is the American army in substantially fewer number of countries compared to 2008

b) Is Afghanistan alive and sovereign?

c) Is Iran alive, sovereign and in control of its oil/gas?

d) Are there any curbs on the terrorist activities of Israel?

e) Is Iraq in control of its oil?

e) Are there any limits to CEO compensation?

f) Is the practice of golden parachutes abolished?

g) Is the pharma-health insurance nexus done away with?

h) Is the high level corruption perpetuated by the Exxon Mobils brought under control?

I'm certain the answer to most of these questions will be 'NO' .. but I'll be happy to be proven wrong.

Chandrahas said...

Uncertain - As your own demands of Obama show, you have not been immune to the air of great expectations that his election to the presidency has created.

In any case, I am fairly sure that in time the answers to your first three demands will prove to be yes and not no. But I don't see how you can hold Obama responsible for setting the limits to such things as CEO compensation, any more than I can lay at his door the responsibility to alleviate my poverty as the writer of the Middle Stage.

To demand such short cuts of him is to ignore what he is saying to us, which is that we must pull our weight in creating a better society. What CEOs earn should be the concern of shareholders, or in a a larger perspective that of citizens, but it cannot be a matter that requires the intervention of the president. In matters such as this "No, you can't" is a more practical and prudent answer than "Yes, you can".

sumana001 said...

I loved your response to the second comment.
(Aside: I like the way Obama has infused a sense of politics into the word "can", letting it carry more weight than just the audacity of hope. "Yes, we can"; "We shall overcome"; "I have a dream", just to take three random expressions of the same lineage - the reverse sequentiality here is enough to make us aware of how long the journey has been, from the uncertainty of a "dream", the tentativeness of "shall" to the sense of possibility of "can".)


Uncertain said...

Umm.. I haven't made any demands of Obama .. in fact I have put together a list of things that I don't expect will change between regimes .. so am not sure I follow the first few lines of your argument.

Executive compensation is a sole concern of shareholders??? Perhaps before the bailout but now with taxpayer money funding corporate parties (AIG) and golden parachutes of CEOs who were in office for 17 days (I think it was WaMu), I am not sure you can argue that the matter of executive compensation is NOT a concern of the president and his staff.

Nevertheless, thanks! Your points do in fact bolster my faith that Obama might make some changes here and there .. but will not even raise the real questions .. like why are some people paid more than others in society? or why should the most vulnerable sections of society be the first to materially suffer the consequences of the meltdown but be the last to materially receive any benefits of the euphemism 'stimulus package'? and so on.

I am relieved though that you think the answer to the first few questions would be Yes. I am sure our middle eastern friends would be relieved too!

There was a study some time back (I think in the American Psychologist) which studied several regimes of US presidents and found very low correlation between pre-election promises and post-election performances. If I come across it again, I will be sure to forward it to you.

In any case the good thing is we'll find out in a few years. As before, I will be only too happy to be mistaken.

Anonymous said...

It's been interesting times for the governments.

I live in Australia, and last year Labour won quite decisively after 2 terms of Libral govt. and it is said that Australians finally weren't ashamed of their govt.

Just next doors Kiwis voted out the Labor govt. which had again been in power for 9 years.

And of course the US. It has to part of some global cycle.

However, I do think Obama did an amazing job winning elections against such odds; but now that the election has been won, and the goals are not as black and white, it will be interesting to see how well is all the energy translated to effective work.

Uncertain said...

A few headlines from The Wall Street Journal

"Intelligence Policy to Stay Largely Intact" (intelligence policy is ofcourse a euphemism for troubling suspension of some civil liberties)

"Obama Is Expected to Put Education Overhaul on Back Burner"

"Obama Builds Ties to 'Chicago School'" (for some of us Chicago School is also a euphemism)

A sign of the times to come??

I do recognize though the WSJ is disposed to see everything as a vindication of its conservative world view.

Anonymous said...

Are you all so deaf and blind as to what Obama barely says and doesn't say? Well, then, let Valerie Jarrett, the co-chair of the Obama transition team make it crystal clear for all you apologists: "...Obama is prepared to really take power and begin to rule from day one." Rule? In America? The last man to rule Americans was King George III. That arrogance, the threats of abuse of power via the "Fairness Doctrine" and threats of cancelling broadcase licenses and redistributing them to "progressive" local interests thereby silencing any and all sorts of oppositional ideas, the zeal to get rid of America's 2nd Amendment in the U.S. Constitution, will then start making America into another Iran thereby destroying America from within (just what Iran was hoping for)...and now where will all you women go who have run away from religious theocracies to be free? Better keep a suitcase packed...oops...well, there's no place to run, bubbelehs.