Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The Obama bandwagon

Even from across the ocean, I must say that I am rather astounded by how head-over-heels my fellow Americans have become about Barack Obama. Bopping around facebook, it was shocking to see a number of my friends out of college working full-time for the Obama campaign. Admitted, I am sure it is a wonderful experience working on this historic campaign (we are indeed at an extremely pivotal moment in history), but do the people who work for, and will give their vote to, this man truly believe he will be the agent of change he professes to be?

You need to ask yourself a very important question before tuning into CNN or "What change does the United States of America need?" When I consider this question, many ideas come to mind.

1. We need to get out of Iraq or the gov't needs to get honest with its people about America's hegemony-first policies.
2. We need socialized health care. HMO's place profits over people.
3. We need election reform. When a candidate can lose the popular vote and still become president, then we need to create a new system. There are many creative and intelligent people in the USA who can come up with a better system. Why do we use this system (this question brings me to the next point)?
4. Alternative parties must be given a voice. The Greens, the Independents, the Libertarians; all of these parties are marginalized by the D's and R's, who have absolutely monopolized American politics. Of course, a two party domination of America does bring political stability with it, but it also trumps any true possibility for change. If Obama really believes in reforming America's political landscape, then he might be so bold as to suggest including other major candidates (Paul, Nader, etc.) in nationally televised debates. Realistically he wouldn't dare challenge the status quo because he is more steeped in it than any "change fan" would like to admit. Including Nader, for example, in a nationally televised debate would broaden the substance and vantage points of major American political discourse. D's and R's are afraid of including "outsiders" in the discourse because, I believe, it will only reveal how similar the D's and R's truly are.
5. Enough "rock star politics". What do I mean? American politicians are less and less evaluated by the merits of their proposals and more so on the images they conjure (e.g. why is Obama obsessed with emulating JFK?). Of course, in our media-saturated world, image is everything, so not surprisingly, politics are as well.
6. Responsible Hegemony. America is the world's hegemon. But how is it conducting itself? If you don't know, then I would suggest you read John Perkin's "Confessions of an Economic Hitman". We have replaced invading countries with military might (for the most part) with invasion by debt. Engineering firms like Halliburton, Bechtel, etc. whose CEO's are major political forces (ex. Dick Cheney), deploy minions into the developing world to persuade leaders in developing countries to invest in development contracts (infrastructure, telecommunications, etc.) which they cannot afford. Of course, the contracts are carried out by American firms, and the mountainous debts accumulated become a source of diplomatic and strategic leverage for the US. Sadly, those who don't go along with our schemes usually "go missing"  (the guy who opposed the Panama Canal, for example). To me, responsible hegemony means using your power for good. Instead of investing billions on a superficial "war on terror", how about we invest a portion of that on really providing the help developing countries need in an economically sustainable manner?

So what does change mean to you? Is change something concrete to you, or is it an image? If it's an image, then you might find yourself torn by McCain's clever nomination of Sarah Palin, the perfect counterpunch of Obama's "changey image". I would really suggest you consider seriously what change America needs, what kind of country you want to live in, and what kind of country you want your children to live in. I definitely want my kids to never have to worry about affording health care or a really good education. In America, this just would not be possible. Maybe in California.

As for my friends working on the Obama campaign, I applaud your optimistim, hard work, and idealism, but I challege you to consider whether you are really fighting for something you believe in, or if you are simply perpetuating this new, overwhelming myth of change in America. Does your definition of change for America coincide with what Obama is proposing? Indeed, do you have your own definition of change for America, or is it generated from his idealism?

I admit, part of me wants to jump on the bandwagon. It is comforting, inviting, and very popular to wear the Obama hat, to trust the man. It would be wonderful to work on this campaign in this extraordinarily important moment in history. I just feel that when it is all said and done, "change" is but another slogan, like a donut, sweet and sumptuous in its exterior - empty and absent at its core.

For me, the true candidate of change is Ralph Nader. Among his initiatives that I wholeheartedly support and are very distinct from Obama include: "impeach Bush/Cheney", "Cut the huge, bloated, wasteful military budget", "adopt a carbon pollution tax", "aggressive crackdown on corporate crime and corporate welfare", and "No to nuclear power, solar energy first." for more information. I would highly advise you to compare the views of the candidate's by comparing the "issues" sections of their websites.

Love to the world.


Christopher said...

Unfortunately, a dynamic a change that you're asking for won't happen until there's a viable third party candidate, which Ralph Nader is not. What I'm hearing, which I've been hearing quite a bit from conservatives and independents is that Obama isn't the messiah, and won't bring comprehensive change to Washington, which, frankly, is condescending to Obama supporters, as if they're blinded by the broad message. The supporters I've talked to aren't as naive as they're thought to be. Change to me is change from the past 26 out of 28 years with the GOP having control over the majority of the government. By making Washington (slightly) less bipartisan, we can finally open doors to effective legislation, which is really the only way comprehensive change can happen. 2000-2006 was a dark time, but there was significant domestic legislation passed. A democratically controlled government is the only potential way to pass comprehensive health care reform in the right direction. Obama's plan may not cover everyone, but McCain's plan may cover even less people than right now by taxing employer based insurance and giving paltry amounts for credits. Am I happy that none of the democratic candidates seemed to favor an immediate withdrawal? No. Does it please me to hear Obama center himself with hawkish rhetoric about the war in Afghanistan or wiretaps or responding to Iran? Not really. But to achieve realistic change, I gotta go with him. He's simply the best chance we have at any change at all.

Also, McCain-Palin is not only a continuation, but an evolution of governance through personal morals and vendettas. Passionate, gut-reaction politics that Americans seem to love so much, when what we need is a reflective leader who's eloquent and respected on the world stage.

kn said...

nice op-ed column there, raf! i totally agree with you--obama's rockstardom makes me very uncomfortable too. you should submit this to the NYT =) oh, and thanks for teaching me a new word : hegemoney. now if only i can pronounce it... =P

Anonymous said...

For me Obama = No Bush and his criminal friends and failed policies. That's it, that's all I want! That's change for me! I won't even consider 3rd party candidates because they don't stand a chance, and I just want the Republicans out! In my opinion, Nader was the nuisance to why we got Bush, and why Gore lost Florida, but that's another topic altogether. I'm not gonna get into that. This administration and the past 8 years have cause me and my family great personal pains, and that is why I am working for Obama, and why I will do anything that I can to get the Republicans out and Obama in! As an Armenian, I also know that the Obama-Biden ticket is the best choice we've ever had, and we will finally have a Vice President who has a long record of being a friend to the Armenian people.