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Australian philosopher, literary critic, and professional writer. Author of FREEDOM OF RELIGION AND THE SECULAR STATE and HUMANITY ENHANCED.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Obama euphoria

Over the past week, I've been slightly bemused by the euphoria from many of my friends in the US over the predictable and expected victory of Barack Obama in the American presidential election. Perhaps I've been impatient because a lot of them seem to have had nothing else on their minds lately. Yet, life goes on, and yes there are other things we need to talk about.

Or perhaps I've become too old and cynical.

It also hasn't escaped me that, at the same time as Obama was elected president, the electorates of a number of US states voted to reject gay marriage. The reasons appear to involve a mixture of stupidity, ignorance, and outright hatred of gays. Don't think that the US is doing a U-turn yet into acting like a genuinely liberal, secular society. These outcomes are ominous, and they could put a big damper on any celebrations.

Meanwhile, I well remember the amount of euphoria (a much lesser amount, but still ...) that surrounded the election of Kevin Rudd as prime minister, here in Australia last year. I was going around at the time warning that Rudd is a deeply conservative man and that he may not be all that much better than Howard was. Many people I encountered in work corridors, at parties, or whatever, poo-poo'ed this.

In the event, I've proved to be correct - we've seen Rudd joining in the attack on artistic freedom in his comments about Bill Henson, and we have the spectre of a Labor government going much further than the conservatives parties ever suggested in trying to build a Great Wall of Australia around us to keep out nasties from the internet. Rudd is, of course, a devout religionist, just like Howard before him. His support for gay rights is, at best, half-hearted. His voting record on such topics as therapeutic cloning is dismal. For Poseidon's sake, he was never someone to trust in such a position of power as prime minister of Australia. At this stage, my estimate is that Rudd is almost as much a threat to our liberties as Howard was; indeed, perhaps more so. It's not even obvious that we can expect much more compassionate policy from the Rudd government on such issues as refugees. Welcome to Howard-lite.

That's not to claim that Rudd has been a complete failure. He's taken at least one action that applaud, in signing the Kyoto Protocol. But the euphoria that surrounded his election was never justified. The most that could be justified was relief that a truly backward government had finally been swept from power ... and there was the faint hope of something a bit better. I guess that hope still lingers, but the more I see of Rudd the more I distrust him.

But maybe I'm unfair in seeing the US situation in similar terms. Reactionary and hard-hearted as the Howard government was, it was never a puppet of the religious right to an extent even remotely like the Bush administration in the US. What's more, it at least had the virtue (like the Hawke and Keating governments before it) of basic economic competence. That can't be said of the spendthrift Bush administration with its misguided, open-ended, and hideously expensive "wars" on drugs and terrorism. All in all, the Howard government may have been pretty bad in numerous ways, but the Bush government was a dystopian nightmare.

America has now elected a moderate, intelligent, seemingly reasonable and good-hearted man as its next president. He will have strong support from Congress, and will be free to act. There's every prospect that Barack Obama will finally lead the US in a positive direction, after it's been dragged down by the lead-weight Bush administration for the past eight years. With any luck, the US will soon no longer seem to the rest of the world like a rogue superpower.

Perhaps that really is something to be euphoric about. Celebrate for all you're worth, my American friends. Don't let me rain on your parade.

5 comments:

Brian said...

For Poseidon's sake, he was never someone to trust in such a position of power as prime minister of Australia

And then you go on the point out that Rudd is better than Howard, if only marginally. Seems like we had to elect someone, and no one wanted Howard. We had a choice between to awful candidates. Not much of a choice really. I never thought too much of Rudd, and the fan-boy stuff didn't make much sense.

Same with Obama. Even if he turns out to be a liberal knight in shining armor (which he doesn't appear to be), he can't do much in, at best, 2 terms. Maybe start a program of liberalization and care for citizens. I think democracies, by design, move too slow to allow a leader to change the system quickly. Probably to stop the next Caesar.

Oh well.

normdoering said...

"...same time as Obama was elected president, the electorates of a number of US states voted to reject gay marriage. The reasons appear to involve a mixture of stupidity, ignorance, and outright hatred of gays. Don't think that the US is doing a U-turn yet into acting like a genuinely liberal, secular society. These outcomes are ominous, and they could put a big damper on any celebrations."

It depends on what you're celebrating. I can take a certain amount of pleasure from the moaning of the FReepers, and the passage of prop 8 just means their are future pleasures ahead.

Blake Stacey said...

By comparison to the elation in some quarters, my own cautious optimism — "My country may have taken an encouraging turn for the so-so" — makes me rather the ghost at the banquet. I think a dose of cautious optimism is warranted, though, based on the plans afoot to close Guantanamo, for example.

On the question of California's Proposition H8, I'll defer to Zeno and FiveThirtyEight.

stuart peace said...

I love Obama! I love the fact everyone seemingly understimates his ruthlessness and slyness, but he his rise to a senator to see why.

Anyway, the euphoria is probably as much anti-bush as it is pro-obama. What's G20 again?

Brian said...

Anyway, the euphoria is probably as much anti-bush as it is pro-obama. Kevin '07 again.