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Re: <nettime> Obama and the dawn of the Fourth Republic
t byfield on Thu, 13 Nov 2008 07:28:02 +0100 (CET)

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Re: <nettime> Obama and the dawn of the Fourth Republic

richard {AT} imaginaryfutures.net (Tue 11/11/08 at 10:46 PM +0000):

> Here's an optimistic & McLuhanist take on the election of Barack Obama...

Interesting, and a bit silly, but McLuhanist? If McLuhan is a generic
technological determinist, maybe; but it seems more like your basic
grand historical narrative starring the State. 

In that regard, this essay is very apropos of the tension we've seen on 
this list: for example, Ben's deep suspicion of the not very implicit 
Statist cheerleading surrounding Obama's election.

One problem (there are many) with this kind of periodization is that the
emphasis on a temporal scheme reduces the question of space to, at most,
an series of items in a sort of Chinese Encyclopedia entry. In a country 
whose history has been so deeply shaped by expansions and migrations, 
this is a huge mistake. For example:

     In addition to crushing the South and freeing the slaves,
     the Republicans nationalized the banking system, promoted
     U.S. industry through high tariffs, carpeted the continent
     with federally subsidized railroads and used the sale of
     federal lands to pay for state colleges. 

True, Lind goes on to pay lip service to various regional interests, but
he casts their efforts as synchronous: "they achieved some reforms, [but
they] failed to modify the essential features" of the Second Republic.
No doubt that's true; but last I saw the South, far from being "crushed," 
still existed -- and the *asynchrony* between (simplistically) Northern 
and Southern tendencies has played an immense role in shaping subsequent 
American history. The same is true in different ways for other regional
dynamics: the Great Plains, the Rust Belt, the Sun Belt, etc. Each one 
of these creatures marks some new tension in the disparate degrees and
forms of regional development, in the same sense that people talk about 
"third-word development." 

Again, Lind lays that out, but in a very monolithic way:
     If this analysis is right, what causes these cycles of reform
     and backlash in American politics? I believe they are linked
     indirectly to stages of technological and economic
     development. Lincoln's Second American Republic marked a
     transition from an agrarian economy to one based on the
     technologies of the first industrial revolution -- coal-fired
     steam engines and railroads. Roosevelt's Third American
     Republic was built with the tools of the second industrial
     revolution -- electricity and internal combustion engines. 

No mention of regional (mal)distribution. The introductions of these 
technologies benefited some regions or demographics at the expense of
others, and one could generally argue that those who lost out tended to
remain fixated *to varying degrees* on nostalgic images of ther pre-
technologized pasts. Put simply, different areas and populations of
the US inhabit different periods to different degrees and in different
ways: technically, econonomically, culturally, socially, etc. And this
phenomenon isn't only or entirely "imaginary." In some cases it is,
for example, poor whites in the Appalachian and Ozark regions who see
elections through the lens of Reconstruction, or underemployed Rust
Belt workers who are clinging to a long-lost post-WW2 "prosperity." 
Those are the easy examples, and especially relevant in this election
because of race issues; but in other cases -- say, Sun Belt retiree
enclaves, waning independent farmers, second- and third-generation
"immigrant" populations, and so on -- it's much messier. These dynamics 
are unbelievably complicated, which is why polling tied to political 
analysis has become such a crucial part of US electoral politics.


> Obama and the dawn of the Fourth Republic
> His victory really may mark the beginning of a new era in American
> history.
> By Michael Lind
> Nov. 07, 2008 |
> The election of Barack Obama to the presidency may signal more than
> the end of an era of Republican presidential dominance and
> conservative ideology. It may mark the beginning of a Fourth Republic
> of the United States.

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