Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Euro-Hypocrisies and American Exceptionalism

I. BobfromBrockley linked to an article by Andrei Markovits and Jeff Weintraub at The Huffington Post in which they scrutinize European adulation for presidential hopeful Obama. I wrote about their earlier article which view coincided with mine, here. They seemed to agree with my own observations about "Obamatics" (the special and intriguing phenomenon of Obama) then, and they speak to my own views in this article as well:

....the basic message runs along the following lines. Now, finally, there may be a chance (a chance, not a certainty) that those American barbarians might be about to return to their senses -- which, in essence, means European senses and sensibilities. In contrast to the cowboy Bush and his dangerous supporters, Obama is practically an honorary European, who can appreciate the wisdom, virtue, and enlightenment typically monopolized by Europeans (which usually means western Europeans). This is often followed by the ultimate seal of approval -- they would be delighted to vote for Obama themselves, if given the chance.

[However] Obama, or someone with Obama's social background and political style, would have a hard time getting elected dog-catcher in any of these European countries, let alone President or Prime Minister (or, in Germany, Chancellor).

...Despite the swooning praises of Obama... the reality is that someone in their own countries with Obama's political style would actually turn them off. A European candidate with Obama's message of hope and idealism would make a lot of European journalists, intellectuals, and politicians roll their eyes. And in western European countries with established party systems, it would be almost impossible for a political outsider like Obama to vault over a party hierarchy so dramatically.

But the most fundamental reasons run deeper. A number of European countries have elected women to high political office, even the highest.... But as Jerry Karabel and I pointed out, none of them has ever elected a non-white person of any extraction to its highest political office.... OK, neither has the US so far. But the more telling point is that in none of these countries have significant numbers of non-whites risen high enough in the political system that they could even be considered plausible candidates for the highest offices.

... In short, the fact that an African-American like Obama is now the presumptive Presidential nominee of a major US party constitutes a new and historic breakthrough for American society. But it is also brings home some important ways in which American society itself is profoundly exceptional.

II. A supplement to the European hypocrisy diagnosed in the Weintraub-Markovitz study and commentary of "outside America" watching Obama and yearning for his election as the new American president can be found in this interview with the Slovenian philosopher, Slavoj Zizek, on "Democracy Now":

Slavoj Zizek: ...since United States at least thinks they are a global empire, so let every adult in the world be allowed to vote; my advice would be the opposite one: let’s everybody in the world, except US citizens, be allowed to vote and elect the American government. I think it would have been much better for you, even, because we all outside the United States would project our desires into how you should be. I think it would have been better, so that only non-Americans vote for—I know this is a nightmare from Pat Buchanan or somebody like that, but—

AMY GOODMAN: And who do you think would win?

SLAVOJ ZIZEK: I think there would have been like left of Barack... I see a tragedy here, because like let’s say he wins. What will he do? The tragedy of today’s left is what? It’s always the same story. Lula in Brazil, Mandela even. The good guy wins, we are enthusiastic, then you have around two years usually of period of grace, and then you have really to decide—do you play with global capitalism, or do you want to mess with it?

This is an extraordinarily honest admission by Zizek that he regards Obama as essentially a Marxist Leftist, like himself. Why else would he speak of the tragedy of Obama's presidency if he does not expect this fellow-Marxist to betray all that he, Zizek and his comrades, are hoping for?
First, there is the radical violence in Zizek's fantasy of disenfranchising all Americans so that all the world can have a say in who will run their country.

Then there is a de-facto admission, or expectation, that "Barack" (note the affectionate, first-name familiarity) is a Leftist who shares anti-globalization Marxism (or whatever they call it).

Then the doom and gloom prophecy that Obama, despite his supposedly self-evident (far) Leftist ideology, will not be allowed to effect the changes that Zizek thinks would make this world a better place. (Those damned "checks and balances"!).

III. The difference in the essence of the wishes and trepidations Zizek projects unto Obama and the way Libyan Leader Qaddafi, or George Galloway fantasize about him is not to be found in the quality of the change they anticipate, but in the intensity of the change they long for. Zizek speaks of small decisions, like dismantling Guantanamo Bay and normalizing relationship with Cuba, while the other two are dreaming of a one-state solution and complete disengagement from Iraq.

Once again, a place where the far left, Arab Nationalist extremism and Islamic fundamentalism meet in agreement.

They want to see America humbled, disabled, subdued, and they pin their hopes on a seemingly black man whose cabalistic allegiance to either of these causes is taken for granted. Obama is not what and who he says he is, but what they think he should be, due to his father's name, religion and country of birth, due to his skin colour.

And the irony is, that these ambitions mirror the European yearning for Obama described in the Weintraub-Markovitz article in this post. They will all remain exactly where they are today, not making any movement to rise up, or move forwards, to meet an American standard, which they themselves set, extol and expect.

What does it mean in practical terms? Too scary to contemplate.


Addendum by Oliver Kamm:

Jimmy Carter was cheered when he visited Newcastle with Jim Callaghan. Bill Clinton was lauded in Northern Ireland. But it is more usual, at least with more consequential holders of the office, for American presidents to be told by European demonstrators to go home.

The postwar history of our continent would be different and less benign if the United States had heeded that message.

....The most fundamental decision in western security policy in the past seven years... has been the recognition that the most voluble adversaries of western society are not merely a criminal subculture, and still less an incipient liberation movement. Rather, they are a reactionary, millenarian and atavistic force with whom accommodation is impossible as well as intensely undesirable.


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