Finally, Barack Obama has thrown his hat into the ring seeking the office of President in 2008. Since reading his book, The Audacity of Hope, I've been hoping that he would.
On CBS's "The Early Show" yesterday, Bob Schieffer said that if Obama has any chance of winning, he'll have to take positions on such important issues as Bush's plan to build-up the troop strength in Iraq, a point Obama equivocated on the day before on "Face the Nation."
But I disagree. Obama is really a Vice Presidential contender in a system where you can't publicly campaign for VP, who may one day be President (hope, hope). But I think it's altogether appropriate for Obama to sit on the fence while the bigger dogs lay out their positions so as not to be caught in any crossfire.
Obama brings a fresh perspective, grounded in serious philosophical and legal inquiry, into the national debate on such issues as separation of church and state. As the son of a white woman and African man not descended from slaves, Obama embraces the Founding Fathers and their struggle to legitimize the philosophies of Locke and Montesquieu into a government as if they were his own.
Even though Obama may be too inexperienced politically to be president, he shows the wisdom, ability and empathy to make a fine protege at this point. While leading the Senate as Vice President, he could develop the experience to become a political icon: future president, future secretary of state, etc.
Obama likewise vacillates on issues in his bookm, such as immigration, but politically, I think it's safe.
Although the book reads like a new beacon of hope to a nation divided by partisanship and the culture of war brought with the conservative movement, there was one part that I found disconcerting and that's Obama's apparent neo-liberal view on globalization. Showing warts and all, Obama re-tells the story of his childhood, how his mother re-married an Indonesian servicemen who was quickly recalled to duty in Indonesia when Gen. Suharto pulled a military, backed by the CIA, over the freely elected Sukarno. The revolt ended up after the death of between 500,000 and one million Indonesians and another 750,000 imprisoned.
Obama's idyllic memory of his childhood home, shielded from the violence of the military, seems to trump the reality of totalitarianism: the murders, kidnappings and rapes, and the lack of a free press. After thirty years of dictatorial rule, Obama seems to find it ultimately beneficial, the average yearly income having been raised from $50 in 1967 to $4600 in 1997, despite the depletion of Indonesia's resources. The reason for the increase in average income: U.S. corporations taking advantage of low wage labor and the formerly resource rich land all facilitated by the Suharto regime.
Since 1998, and the fall out of power of Gen. Suharto, Indonesia has had free elections and, despite the past, is a leading Asian democracy. The means maybe ugly but the end is justified, Obama seems to say.
Responding to critics of American imperialism, Obama writes, "Ultimately, though, I believe critics are wrong to think that the world's poor will benefit by rejecting the ideals of free markets and liberal democracy. When human rights activists from various countries come to my office and talk about being jailed or tortured for their beliefs, they are not acting as agents of American power." Unless, of course, they were from Indonesia prior to 1998.
"No person, in any culture, likes to be bullied. No person likes living in fear because his or her ideas are different. Nobody likes being poor or hungry, and nobody likes to live under an economic system in which the fruits of his or her labor go perpetually un-rewarded. The system of free markets and liberal democracy that now characterizes most of the developed world may be flawed; it may all too often reflect the interests of the powerful over the powerless. But that system is constantly subject to change and improvement -- and it is precisely in this openness to change that market-based liberal democracies offer people around the world their best chance at a better life."
Wonderful. Brilliant. Empathic. This guy has a heart of gold.
Unfortunately, this "openness to change" Obama refers to is severely hampered by the collusion of American economic interests and the dictators they curry favor with.
The propensity of a rabid, greedy coalition of multi-national corporations to ravage the land and exploit the labor of developing countries tends to undue whatever good might be acheived with liberal globalization. Hence the rise of militant Islamists in Indonesia, which Obama frankly points out.
Antonia Juhasz recently published a book, The Bu$h Agenda, Invading the World One Economy at a Time, and had this to say in an interview with BuzzFlash: "The Democrats tend to put forward the idea of a more benevolent empire, whereas the Republicans put forward an aggressive and imperial empire, meaning an empire that seeks to spread its sway across the globe. . . I do think, in terms of the choice between two evils, it is far better for us, and for most people in the world, if the United States is thought to be a benevolent empire as opposed to an aggressive empire. The results of the Bush Administration and its policies have been to make the world, not just the United States, a far less safe place."
It is this swing of the pendulum between evil empire and good empire that facilitates the exploitation and economic bullying that Obama realizes is the root of modern terrorism.
So what is the answer to the alternating tides of imperialism and liberal globalization?
The journalist Bill Moyer, who's probably too decent to ever be taken seriously as a genuine presidential contender, recently told a gathering in New York that our country needs a new story, a shared narrative that contrasts with the Republican narrative. "Reagan's story of freedom superficially alludes to the Founding Fathers, but its substance comes from the Gilded Age, devised by apologists for the robber barons. It is posed abstractly as the freedom of the individual from government control . . . But what it mean(s) in politics . . . today, is the freedom to accumulate wealth without social or democratic responsibilities and the license to buy the political system right out from under everyone else, so that democracy no longer has the ability to hold capitalism accountable for the good of the whole."
Later, Moyers says, "Here in the first decade of the twenty-first century the story that becomes America's dominant narrative will shape our collective imagination and hence our politics. In the searching of our souls demanded by this challenge, those of us in this room and kindred spirits across the nation must confront the most fundamental progressive failure of the current era: the failure to embrace a moral vision of America based on the transcendent faith that human beings are more than the sum of their material appetites, our country is more than an economic machine, and freedom is not licence but responsibility -- the gift we have received and the legacy we must bequeath."
I believe Obama is ready to embark towards this new story, that he's going to sit on the fence until his behind hurts and then some until he becomes the Vice Presidential nominee. Until then, it will be a shared mission for all progressives, for Democratic politicians and journalists alike, to frame the story of the next year in this light: that we are in an ideological struggle between good and evil empire, that we cannot continue our policies of globalization until we have rooted out the "bottom line" mentality of corporate masters and exposed their hubris and pitiless practices.
Until we have re-told our national story, re-defined our culture from the excesses and elitist isolationism of the conservative movement, reining in corporations and our out-of-control intelligence agencies who work with the corporations to change regimes in order to open new markets, the old style of global liberalization merely facilitates the same megalomaniacal tendencies of corporate America which has resulted in terrorist bombings in Indonesia as well as attacks against our own country.
Moyers says, "Democrats talk about a 'new direction' without convincing us they know the difference between a weather vane and a compass."
Despite his neo-liberal rhetoric, I think Obama is young enough to find and follow that 'new direction' but under the wing of a Presidential nominee who understands the pitfalls of free market globalization.
Maybe Rocky Anderson will throw his hat in the ring, too.