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A Radical Confession of Hope Regarding Obama

By       Message R. A. Louis     Permalink
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I couldn't bring myself to vote for Obama (or anyone else), and I still wouldn't on anarchistic principle, but I must admit... President-Elect Obama is an inspiring figure who has the potential to change the world for the better. Those who are familiar with my political philosophy might equate this confessional belief with Kropotkin supporting the first World War, but I don't want anyone to confuse guarded optimism with wholesale support for everything that Obama will engage in during his first term.

The fact of the matter is, as with most anyone else, I have major disagreements with what Obama claims to want and how he would intend to reach his goals. But, at the same time... Obama is in the ultimate position to do a world of good. If he truly does harbor ideals of freedom and environmental sustainability there is the outside chance that he has simply been playing the game to get where he is now. If humanity can hope, let's hope that Obama is a freedom-loving idealist who has been lying low through dirty politics, biding his time, only to now rise for the occasion and institute fundamental changes to the system. If a small group of committed individuals can change the world, why not one man?

Barack Obama is obviously very intelligent. And, fortunately, he doesn't have the palpable presence of an evil super-genius (like George H.W. Bush had). On the contrary, when I see him speak of general peace in the world (and the future for his daughters) I believe he actually might be sincere (if not slightly misguided by the bureaucratic politics which he has been steeped in). What if the political lies he's told have only been to get elected and he really is a humanitarian in his heart of hearts? It's easy to be cynical, and I could certainly be reading him wrong, but what if? What if?

Now don't get me wrong, I expect to be as critical of his presidency as anyone -- and I have serious condemnations for many things he's already said and done. But it's all about the soft landing and the possibility that someone on top of the political hog pile might actually have the desire, and now the ability, to sort things out and get the world on a better track. I'm guardedly optimistic, and here's a list of reasons why (along with some balancing criticism)...

Obama has overtly stated his desire to rid the world of nuclear weapons. Is anyone opposed to that (besides the military contractors)? Is anyone in a better position now to make that happen? Isn't it better to have the person in charge of the largest and most dangerous military being against nuclear weapons and proliferation? I mean, let's be real... all the grassroots organizations in the world couldn't stop a launch if they never actually had control of the weapons themselves. I have guarded faith that President Obama will not launch a nuclear strike and is sincere in his stated opposition to nuclear weapons. This is no minor point and high-level opposition needed to happen if we want to make life on earth more secure. Would you prefer the contrary? Think about it... the Commander in Chief (although I'd never bow) is explicitly opposed to nuclear weapons!

The President-elect is aware of the potential devastation from global warming -- and has even proposed a carbon tax on emissions! Again, this is no minor point. While it would be nice if people would simply stop seeing themselves as (and behaving as) consumers, such a tax could actually curb emissions. The highest legislator in the land is intent on curbing greenhouse gas emissions! As with nuclear weapons proliferation, the tireless work of activists on this issue is not to be overlooked or trivialized, but now someone is in a position of power to quickly and dramatically make pro-environment policy. Sure it would be nice if everyone stopped driving and using coal-powered lightbulbs, but that is not a practical request or a realistic hope... a carbon tax is.

Obama came out early in opposition to the Iraq war. He has since backed down on his strongest points of opposition but it is not unreasonable to think that he has the desire, and now the ability, to end that unjust conflict. He has also spoken eloquently about ending the conflict in Israel/Palestine. These are big issues, and his intentions remain unproven, but why not harbor some guarded optimism in regard to issues that must eventually be dealt with peacefully? His supporters need to keep him honest (which they don't tend to do), but hopefully he has it within himself to remain, or become, true to his word.

While he has not spoken as eloquently as Ralph Nader, and while he has wavered for political convenience, Obama has spoken out against NAFTA and the WTO. These are trade agreements which the U.S. can withdraw from and which currently cause a race to the bottom in terms of environmental standards and worker's rights. What if Obama truly is opposed to these types of organizations? What if? We shall see.
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Obama has seriously wavered on energy policy and (like so many other progressives) he does not seem to appreciate the connection between energy creation and general consumption (with it's extremely negative environmental consequences). That said, his promotion of a green "New Deal" does not seem to be the worst project ever promoted. If he recognizes the dangers posed by nuclear power (which he apparently might) and if he recognizes the futility of bio-fuels (which he apparently hasn't yet), we might get on a better track environmentally. If nothing else, such a New Deal might inspire people generally to recognize and respond to the problems of energy production and consumption.

According to the Sierra Club, Obama has a "strong record of support for clean air, wetlands protection, and clean energy." According to The League of Conservation Voters, Obama's lifetime environmental voting percentage (given by the in 2007) is 86%. His rumored pick of RFK Jr. to head the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) would be outstanding and indicative of real awareness about environmental concerns. Short of someone like Derrick Jensen, I couldn't imagine anyone better suited for the position than Kennedy.

On race relations... enough can't be said about the effect of Obama's election. Even if indirectly, and not necessarily a main focus on his part, Obama has allowed Americans (a notoriously racist people) to prove that they are not all, and not primarily, driven by racial mistrust. His election is a watershed moment. Much still needs to be done to counter the lasting effects of racist policies in all American institutions (notably the prison-industrial complex and the medical system), but how can't one have faith that Obama will work to balance and correct these inequities? Obama would have to overtly work against people of color to undo the positive effects of his election on race relations. I could easily be mistaken, but I really think Obama might have a decent heart and a honorable soul.

So the aforementioned points are areas in which I think that Obama might actually make a positive change in the world. If you have any knowledge of my notorious cynicism you might be stunned by this hope. Allow me then to bring my readers, and myself, back from the castles in the sky (in order to present the very real potential negatives and problems arising from Obama's election).

First of all... Obama is a politician. Don't forget that or make light of it. He has wavered on key issues and has been on the side of injustice many times. The fact that our system is organized in such a way that it needs salvation from one incredibly powerful individual is indicative of just how bad things have become and a reminder that the next guy could dramatically undo any superficial changes President Obama puts into place. We need serious change and a fundamental reorganization to prevent concentrated power from remaining too dangerous to life on earth. Don't forget that we are in a world of ecological and humanitarian crisis. A friendly face and eloquent speeches won't be enough. Temporary and superfical changes in the world order won't be enough. A politician with a wavering record won't be enough.
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Support of the Patriot Act will not be tolerated by freedom-loving people. Obama's support of FISA reminds us that we are dealing with a compromising bureaucrat. His overt promotion of offshore drilling during the debates is anethema to environmentalists. His wavering timetable on withdrawal from Iraq smacks of the most cynical political convenience. His saber-rattling against Afghanistan and Iran is frightening in it's potential and troubling in it's typicality.

Even if the fears of the previous paragraph are overblown (which I tend to doubt), problems can actually arise because he ends up being an ideal progressive President with truly humanitarian intentions. This is because the masses could be fickle, ignorant, and reactionary. As an illustration of my point... let's say Obama was an ideal leader with great ideas. If certain problems are out of control (like the consumer economy or peak oil) there may be nothing he can do about them. But the people may not have the wherewithal to make note of the fact that he was not the cause of the problems but may instead blame him and his ideas because he was the ideological figurehead in charge when things truly got bad. Thus a backlash can occur against good policy because the masses may not realize that those policies were the only chance they had. The overarching problem of peak oil could thus be blamed, incorrectly, on things like a carbon tax or the protection of ANWR. If the economy finally crumbles people may not have the intellectual ability or political understanding to realize how we got there but merely may notice that progressive taxation and strict environmental policies were in place when it all went to hell. This isn't necessarily to say that good policies shouldn't ever be instituted but, rather, that there may be a hard road ahead (despite good policies) when the backlash occurs (against those good policies). A cynic might even suggest that this is why the Republicans punted during this election cycle with their laughable ticket of McCain/Palin -- they know the system is poised for a big fall and they don't want to be the face of authority when it does.

On the subject of race... while I think Obama's election is a great thing in terms of race relations, many people may not realize the frightening level of racism that still exists in our society. While people of all races are now learning that they really can trust and support each other, there is likely to be a subtle (if not overtly organized) backlash from the racists. As sad and as sick as it may be, Obama's election will probably cause the ranks of racist organizations (like the KKK) to grow -- and his election is likely to inspire those who support such organizations to become more militant than they've been in years. The idea that a black man is the leader of the USA will simply not be tolerated by many backwards Americans. This could cause a serious tear in the social fabric as white nationalists have a twisted issue to rally around. While the government authorities have become focused in the past decade on militant environmentalists (who destroy property -- logging equipment & SUV's), the militant racists (who destroy people -- men, women, and children) have been ignored to an equal extent. Maybe now, at the very least, some Earth First! agents will be reassigned to monitor the American Neo-Nazi movements and the KKK. Of course that won't solve the problems posed by militant racists and, unfortunately, I'm not sure what will. Worse still... this will probably be used as a justification for the general expansion of the intrusive surveillance apparatus in the USA.

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Ray Louis is an aging, burnt-out, radical activist. He is of the opinion that most people have no idea how harsh and brutal the government is because they have never really done anything to resist or oppose it. While he doesn't at all engage in the (more...)

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