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parrot_knight [userpic]

Further election thoughts

November 5th, 2008 (02:10 pm)

Off-focus first of all - I wonder whether the BBC's much-vaunted investment in their election coverage really paid off where it came to the results programme itself. David Dimbleby's chauvinism was misplaced, particularly on a night when it appears that a majority of American voters have rejected the inward-looking, ideologically confining politics of the Bush years. John Bolton has been a regular guest on BBC programmes in the Bush era, but he is normally safely on a screen and can be switched off. While his criticism of Rajesh Mirchandani's interpretation of Colorado politics had some ground to it, and could also be used to illustrate contrasts between American and British television reporting styles, his grinding on the subject came over as petty and self-righteous: there was only one worthwhile point of view, and it was his. His dismissal of Katty Kay's questions about independent voters being alienated by Sarah Palin suggested that he fell into the ideologue's fallacy that independence was a synonym for his party's view, reminding me of criticisms of Margaret Thatcher's use of Britain, England, the Conservative party and impartiality as interchangeable in her memoirs.

America's politics of identity are hard-edged and also sharp; the revolutionary era saw the leaders of American opinion asking who they were as a people, whether they were English-British or whether the emigration of their ancestors from Britain had ended that connection, and what of those descended from Germans, Dutch, Swedes or other European peoples? If all these people had common rights as a political community, whether originating from did those rights extend to the native inhabitants? What of the enslaved Africans? The United States of America has struggled to find answers to these questions domestically over the last two hundred and thirty-two years; and foreign policy has been affected too, with the country appearing, at various points, to have been uncomfortable with other countries seeking their own interpretations of the same natural rights which the United States invoked to justify their independence. George W. Bush, just now, referred to the United States as the greatest country on Earth. In his mouth the words seem complacent and self-congratulatory. In Barack Obama's they might seem like a challenge, an appeal for Americans to find the best in themselves, not only economically but intellectually and spiritually. I might be touched by prevailing mass optimism and peer pressure, but the Obama presidency begins as the most inspiring of my lifetime.

ETA: Not everyone is joining in the enthusiasm for an Obama presidency. The Union-Leader, in Manchester, New Hampshire, has a particularly scaremongering editorial.

Comments

Posted by: lsellersfic (lsellersfic)
Posted at: November 5th, 2008 03:54 pm (UTC)

We didn't stay up but I find myself today strangely moved. It may partly be that Sarah Palin scared the living daylights out of me on several levels.

But also that Obama seems to have accrued a great deal of symbolic resonance to his victory from the obvious reading about race relations, though a sense of energising those who felt disenfranchised, to some pretty basic new vs. old - all of which seem quite divorced from his actual politics.

Posted by: louisedennis (louisedennis)
Posted at: November 5th, 2008 03:55 pm (UTC)

*sound of Louise banging her head on her keyboard in frustration*

I think I'm going to have to run two browsers.

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: November 5th, 2008 04:22 pm (UTC)

Part of Obama's skill as a politician has been to emphasise 'change' and make it seem meaningful without adding too many details. I was sceptical when young Democrats at the primary meeting I attended in Oxford in February explained that he would use themes to be a team-builder, winning a wide range of expertise to his standard, but reading about Obama's plans to build his administration and the wide pool of talent from which he can draw, I am almost convinced.

Posted by: brewsternorth (brewsternorth)
Posted at: November 5th, 2008 04:28 pm (UTC)

Part of Obama's skill as a politician has been to emphasise 'change' and make it seem meaningful without adding too many details.

That was Blair's genius in rebranding "New Labour", in a sense, wasn't it?

It is early days, but I think Obama is smart enough to work something out.

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: November 5th, 2008 04:29 pm (UTC)
UK_politics

I, too, think that Obama will learn from Blair's mistakes - he seems far more prepared for multiple eventualities, unlike Blair who did not expect a decisive win.

Edited at 2008-11-05 04:30 pm (UTC)

Posted by: daniel_saunders (daniel_saunders)
Posted at: November 5th, 2008 05:00 pm (UTC)
Marxist

Not everyone is joining in the enthusiasm for an Obama presidency.

Reading the comments on that editorial I find myself wondering, not for the first time in this election campaign, just how many Americans know what the word 'socialist' actually means.

Posted by: Andy (alitalf)
Posted at: November 5th, 2008 05:42 pm (UTC)

It means different things in different places and contexts, not only the USA. In the UK, at present the socialists seem to be more the scary control freaks, while in the USA, it looks to me as is the conservatives who at present fill that role.

Then there is the theory of what socialism is, which differs again. The Swedes seemed to have a people-friendly approach to socialism, while the Soviet Union had onne that was unfriendly.

Socialism or conservatism, as such, seems to matter less than what those in charge choose to do with it. It does seem that, generally, the farther that any politcal group is from a wishy-washy centre ground, the more likely it is that they will turn out to be the more authoritarian.

Edited at 2008-11-05 05:43 pm (UTC)

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: November 5th, 2008 07:46 pm (UTC)

Are you identifying 'socialist' with the Labour Party, or elements within the governing part of the Labour Party?

Posted by: Andy (alitalf)
Posted at: November 5th, 2008 10:37 pm (UTC)

Hmm - well I don't know enough detail of the structure of the labour party to identify specific sub groups. I am only taking the black box view of it: The labour party has always claimed to be and been described as a socialist party, and it does certain things. Different members of the party undoubtedly have different views in detail, but the overall effect is much easier to observe.

I am aware that at least some theoretical socialism is friendly to the people governed, and theory and practice are the same in theory. In practice, I think it can turn out analagous to christianity as carried out by those televangelists who are in it only for the money. Socialism, as practiced in the UK, does often seem to have elements of that in it.

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: November 6th, 2008 10:34 am (UTC)
UK_politics

I don't think it's true that the Labour party has always claimed to be a socialist party - I think it was always careful not to describe itself as one, so as not to alienate working people, specifically trade unionists, who would not describe themselves as such. Even Clause 4 was presented as pragmatism rather than ideology.

That being said, most of the leading figures in the Labour Party in the twentieth century would probably have described themselves as socialists or social democrats.

Posted by: The Two Trees (arda_unmarred)
Posted at: November 6th, 2008 12:07 pm (UTC)
Telperion

but you are talking about Old Labour, not New Labour there? Surely New Labour, with their incentive-based philosophy, are about as Socialist as Maggie Thatcher?

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: November 6th, 2008 12:14 pm (UTC)

Yes - I'm talking of the broad sweep of twentieth-century Labour, hence my mention of Clause Four. The present lot seem largely to be self-interested managerialists, and they infest all UK parties.

Posted by: Amanda (neohippie)
Posted at: November 5th, 2008 05:55 pm (UTC)
tolerate this century

People say it means so many different things that they've got me all confused and I don't even know what it means, though at least I know that I don't know what it means!

Yesterday I overheard a couple of my students talking about the election:

First Guy: [After saying something I didn't quite hear clearly about how he was considering voting for McCain, but didn't like how McCain turned so nasty.] ... so, I wrote in John Edwards for president, because I'm a good Southerner.

Second Guy: Why? You just thew your vote away! Why not just vote for Obama?

First Guy: Ugh! I can't stand Obama! That freakin' socialist!

Second Guy: He's not a SOCIALIST! You obviously don't even know what that means!

First Guy: Yeah he is! He said he wants to raise our taxes so he can 'Spread the wealth around.'


So... yeah.

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: November 5th, 2008 08:04 pm (UTC)
US_politics

Looks as though part of the McCain campaign's misrepresentation of Obama's policies hit home - though I expect that a McCain administration would have been as likely to raise taxes as the Obama one might. Obama will have to be careful as tax cuts for middle-earners seemed to be a substantial part of his platform, and it wrongfooted the Republicans.

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: November 5th, 2008 06:57 pm (UTC)

The word has for a long time had too great a heritage there as a near-synonym for treason for it to be divorced from the idea it is inevitably a prop for tyranny.

(Deleted comment)
Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: November 6th, 2008 10:59 am (UTC)
US_politics

I know... Bush got away with all sorts of things by assuring his base that what he was doing was all right but would have the opposite values if the hypothetical other guy was in charge.

Posted by: Naraht (emily_shore)
Posted at: November 5th, 2008 05:40 pm (UTC)

Yeah, but the Union-Leader is... the Union-Leader. No one to the left of center in NH pays the remotest bit of attention to them.

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: November 5th, 2008 08:06 pm (UTC)
US_politics

Even so, it's worrying that there is a mainstream audience for this kind of alarmism.

Posted by: louisedennis (louisedennis)
Posted at: November 5th, 2008 08:22 pm (UTC)

It's true, on a noticeboard I'm on a person who I've always considered sane and rational, if a little immature, is confidently predicting America's descent into pogroms and government funded assassination because fidel casro = socialism = obama.

I don't even know where to begin arguing with him.

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: November 5th, 2008 08:43 pm (UTC)

I wouldn't know how to either, without a long period of observation and the time, patience and self-control necessary to unpick why someone is prone to clinging to this kind of misinformation and, I expect, misunderstanding about how human beings behave.

Posted by: Amanda (neohippie)
Posted at: November 5th, 2008 05:59 pm (UTC)
tolerate this century

George W. Bush, just now, referred to the United States as the greatest country on Earth. In his mouth the words seem complacent and self-congratulatory. In Barack Obama's they might seem like a challenge, an appeal for Americans to find the best in themselves, not only economically but intellectually and spiritually.

Exactly!

Some people look at what our country is doing and just stick to the idea of how we're America, we're the Good Guys, and therefore everything we do must be good.

Other people, like me, see what this country is doing and think, "Wait a minute. We're Americans. We should know better than this!"

I guess both positions think America is special in some way (that is, moreso than any other country), but it's manifested quite differently.

Edited at 2008-11-05 05:59 pm (UTC)

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: November 5th, 2008 08:15 pm (UTC)
George_III_at_Kew

It's often forgotten or just not understood in the UK that the USA is a revolutionary nation, bound by loyalty to ideas rather than to common ancestral heritage (at least, not post-Civil Rights) or to a hereditary tribal leader.

Posted by: The Two Trees (arda_unmarred)
Posted at: November 6th, 2008 12:03 pm (UTC)
Telperion

I thought the criticism of Mirchandani was very harsh - the guy was trying to ask some tough questions and the guy who he interviewed, instead of answering them, attempted to just patronise the interviewer.

I think Bolton was just trying to feed the 'everyone is against the Republicans' myth, and Dimbleby should have been more forceful in opposing that interpretation.

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: November 6th, 2008 12:12 pm (UTC)

The BBC's post-Hutton nervousness perhaps explains Dimbleby, though he was regarded as a Conservative sympathiser in the 1980s, and would be least likely to be robust with someone like Hutton.

I agree that the Colorado Republican was condescending, though Mirchandani didn't cope as well as he might have done.