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<nettime> First thoughts on the American election
Dan S. Wang on Wed, 5 Nov 2008 21:31:24 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> First thoughts on the American election

Anyone else?  --dsw

Already there?s been quite a bit of writing, remarking, and blogging on the
Obama victory as a sort of national catharsis. But like the fluid identity
of Obama himself, the emotional healing enters the picture from any number
of angles. Here?s mine.
Forty years after the Chicago Police, under orders from Mayor Richard J.
Daley?remembered by more than a few from that time as an out and out
racist?beat down the anti-war demonstrators in Grant Park during the DNC and
in the process established definitively a split between the New Left and the
Democratic Party, the younger Mayor Daley welcomed supporters of Barack
Obama downtown for the election night celebration party, whether they had
tickets or not. He did this knowing full well he was putting his fate into
the hands of a young leader who, if he?d had the curse to stand before the
throngs in defeat, or worse, perceived criminal theft of an election, would
have had the responsibility to quell an unfolding riot, if not a new civil
This act of faith on the part of Richard Daley the Son, seemed to offer
another dimension to the feeling of this election?s seeming resolution of
long-standing divides:  after ?68, Nixon, the ineffective Carter, the
victorious Reagan, the centrist Clinton, and the nightmare that is Bush the
Younger, is the Left back in the fold of the Democratic Party? It is a fair
question, because the activist Left put in some serious work for the Obama
campaign, in the meantime shelving work on many other struggles. Also, there
is the plain reality of the incessent right wing chatter/incantation of the
names Bill Ayers, ACORN, and Jeremiah Wright?names, groups, and lineages
(SDS, Weather Underground, Alinsky-style organizing around poverty issues,
black liberation theology) to which, really, only the activist Left are
positively attached. When such associations were used to attack Obama many
leftists felt a righteous responsibility to contribute to the campaign, no
matter the falseness or prespostureousness of the charges. In other words,
just as it assisted Obama in uniting the rest of the fractured social body
to form a single voting majority, the Right did an excellent job of driving
the activist Left directly into the waiting arms (and stacks of phone bank
lists) of the Obama campaign.
The activist Left will be disappointed with Obama. We all know that. But the
present day Left?s aversion to party politics?and to the Democratic Party in
particular?may not soon return to its pre-Obama state. For one thing, the
paranoid Right won?t silence its chatter anytime real soon, and may even
amplify it in the coming months. Every time Bill Ayers is trotted out as a
bogeyman, the Left has a responsibility to respond, if only to defend our
own history. But each response probably will, conveniently for Obama and the
revitalized Dems, contain at least a trace defense of Obama, and therefore
remain somewhat positionable within that camp. The regional, ideological,
cultural, and, most importantly, political marginalization of the Right is
one consequence of this united Center-Left. And for that I will not
Watching the Republican television commentators tonight was alternately
baffling, wince-inducing, and just plain infuriating. Baffling, because they
just didn?t seem to get it. Not a single one of them whom I saw?Karl Rove,
John Bolton, Bill Bennett, Pat Buchanan, Tom Delay, and others--acknowledged
their failures and looked in the mirror. I can?t help thinking, don?t they
want to know what went wrong and why they lost? For example, Rove smugly
reminded viewers that Democratic Congressional leadership has earned
negatives right down there with his old boss, W. But he never stopped to
consider the possibility that Pelosi?s disapproval numbers might have
something to do with the fact that in one of her first (non) acts as House
Speaker, she took impeachment ?of the table.? Their pathetic attempts to
cast early doubt on an Obama administration by continuing the very lines of
attack that earned them the evening?s national electoral doghouse caused me
to wince out of a combination of embarrassment and irritation. The
infuriation came when after the election had been called and the discussions
turned to how Obama?s achievement stands in the context of the struggle for
racial justice in America. John Bolton?s first remark on this topic to BBC
telejournalists was a belligerent demand that Europeans never again accuse
America of having a racial problem?as if all racial problems were done with,
and, furthermore, that he and his extremist wingnut gang had something to do
with solving this problem! Others spoke of having lifted the ?excuse? of
racism?as if they could take credit for this positive turn in American
social evolution! Unbelieveable.
The world is getting to know Chicago. The faces we saw at the Grant Park
celebration? That is Chicago, and that, Sarah Palin, is the real America. It
is the America I love seeing. And what about the bullet-proof glass behind
which Obama delivered his victory speech? That, too, is
Chicago?specifically, the South Side, where in some parts a majority of
one?s consumer purchases may be conducted through bullet-proof glass. I know
it was a Secret Service thing, and it wasn?t to protect against a stick-up,
and they had them polished to near-liquid invisibility, but having made my
home on the South Side for more than a decade, I must say, it was the
slightest bit ghetto. You could even say, as far as bullet-proof protection
goes, it was ghetto fab. Which is also very Chicago. These were to the world
of bullet-proof glass what glittering, spinning rims are to the world of
hydraulic rides.
In the discussions of an expanded Democratic electorate, it is worth noting
that the election to the US Senate of the Udall cousins in Colorado and New
Mexico marks a return as much as it does a departure. Sure, Obama broke
ground as an urban-based, minority candidate who found success in the West,
but the Udalls bring the federal political profile of the mountain west back
to its progressive roots. Being the sons of Mo Udall and Stewart Udall,
putting conservation on the federal agenda runs in their blood. Hopefully,
the younger Udalls will bring to the Senate a full backlash against the
evisceration of America?s wilderness heritage and the deliberate
despoilation of western government land under the Bushites. This is an
incredibly important moment for such issues, as last minute orders on use of
federal lands?sometimes impossible to undo?have become standard fare for
lame duck presidents in recent administrations.
On the morning of Election Day I had my semi-regular meeting with my
language tutor/coach, a native of Beijing. The day?s discussion of course
went straight to the elections. Never having voted, and not having grown up
in a society with elections, he had many questions for me. When are the
votes counted? Is a winner announced the same day? If this is a federal
election, then why do all the states have their own voting rules, hours, and
machines? In my halting Mandarin and spotty knowledge about the ins and outs
of election operations, I tried to explain the American way. He described
the Chinese way, by contrast, as really simple. You never vote. There are
elections for representatives to the National Congress, but they are never
announced, never publicized, there are no campaigns, and most people hear
about them only after the fact, if at all. And there is no information about
what the representative then does or says. Worse yet, in the various
congresses, all votes are taken by a show of hands, which serves to
encourage super majorities and frequently unanimity, especially on sensitive
measures. So it is true?China is not a democracy. On the other hand, how
would it even begin, should the CCP decide to start an electoral process?
Does India?s system work any better? By and large, the Chinese do not think


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