BARACK OBAMA: A MASTER’S DESTINY

Such were my reflections as I walked through Valongo after looking at the house and making arrangements to rent it. My thoughts were interrupted by the sight of a crowed, gathered arounda Negro who was whipping another Negro. The victim did not try to flee; he merely groaned, “No, have mercy, master; master, have mercy!” But the other responded to each supplication with a new lash of the whip.

“Take that, devil!” he was saying. “Here’s some more mercy for you, drunkard.”

“Master!” groaned the victim.

“Shut your mouth, beast!”

I stopped, I looked… Good heavens! The whipper was none other than my slave boy Prudêncio, whom my father had freed some years earlier. I approached him; he stopped immediately and kissed my hand. I asked him whether the other Negro was his slave.

“Yes, Nhonhô, he is.”

-Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis, Epitaph of a Small Winner.

In an article dated May 1, 2008, Antonio Caño, El País‘s Washington correspondent observes that in the electoral political arena Barack Obama positions himself as a black man with no direct link to the historical struggles of Martin Luther King or the Black Panthers in the sixties and seventies: “Voters can now indeed vote for a black man who is not the same as the ones they knew up until this exact moment, a black man who does not accuse the whites of having invented AIDS to decimate the black population and who intends to lead the country, instead of calling the U.S. government a terrorist organization directly responsible for the September 11 attacks because of its foreign policy, like Reverend Jeremiah Wright [does].” And this he does with charisma and serenity, I would add. Caño concludes that Obama’s biggest problem is that many blacks silently think what Wright articulates, and that what Wright articulates represents, at the same time, what many whites silently fear. I digress: in One + one (1968), a film based on the recording of “Sympathy for the Devil,” by and with the Rolling Stones, Jean-Luc Godard showed the Black Panthers in a junk yard in L.A. abusing their revolutionary at times blabbering “rhetoric” and trafficking drugs. Godard also ridiculed the events of May 1968. In fact, in that film, he ridiculed all pseudo-revolutionary actions–rendered juvenile, let’s say—like a visionary.

 

Wyman, Godard and Jagger

 

El País on January 5, 2008, quotes Shlomo Ben-Ami, Israel’s ex Minister of Foreign Affairs as saying that George W. Bush’s adventure in Iraq created in the invaded country the first Arab state entirely dominated by Shiites, which, considering ethnic and religious affinities, automatically allied it with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the president of Iran. Ahmadinejad, to this day, continues to ignore Bush’s threats to penalize Iran’s nuclear endeavors because preemptive wars have failed, including Iraq’s, and there’s no longer support for them by American society, which has now plunged into a brutal recession, to quote the American writer Russell Banks. Another consequence of the Iraq War, according to the Israeli ex Minister of Foreign Relations, is that Bush supporters, absorbed by it, delivered Palestinian heads to Israel, exacerbating the Middle East conflict. According to the Mexican writer Carlos Fuentes, Saddam Hussein was Osama Bin Laden’s enemy, and the invasion, followed by a long occupation, turned Iraq into a terrorist breeding ground for Al Qaeda, Hamas and Hezbollah. Obama needs to neutralize Iran and, conscious of this task, he stated ” if our opponents seek destruction, it is difficult to sit down with them. We can still encourage them to think in practical terms, and not ideological ones.” About Hamas and Hezbollah, he does not hesitate in offering a diagnosis: “they got themselves into a dead end of violence, which weakens their ambitions.” The historian Eric Hobsbawm notes that empires survive through peace and not through wars, which undermine them. Obama seems to know that. He is inspired by the philosophy of the Founding Fathers and by the Kennedy dynasty. Let us listen once more to the leftist Russell Banks, “I have not seen an American politician awaken such excitement among young people since Robert Kennedy in 1968, before his assassination, in the midst of his campaign. Nobody, since Bobby, managed to motivate both rich and poor, blacks, whites, and Hispanics to join such an unprecedented coalition since Franklin Roosevelt” (quoted in Folha de São Paulo March 16, 2008). The anomie of American society is acute, let us say, and perhaps it can explain such a non-partisan coalition. There are individuals with a Republican lineage supporting Obama, such as Susan Eisenhower, granddaughter of President Eisenhower (1952-60), whose punning campaign slogan “I like Ike” was given as a example of the poetic function of language by the brilliant Russian linguist Roman Jakobson. The current (Lula-PT) ex left associated with the University of São Paulo never forgave him for that, although that doesn’t matter at all, even if at the time, the former leftists were right.

Why do Republicans support Obama? They say that, they are Americans before being Republicans, and that Obama rejected internally divisive politics and the attitude of winning at all costs. This is true. Obama does not accept campaign gifts from companies and uses the Internet to raise money along with other citizens—an innovative trend in a country where politicians are as corrupt as they are in Latin America. His economic plan, as the poet Charles Bernstein reminds us, aligns itself with the economists’ moderate wing, which “is good for business.” It remains to be seen “how he will redistribute income using progressive taxes and eliminating the tax gaps that benefit derivative or arbitrage funds and the very rich.” In an article on Republican support for Obama, published June 20, 2008 in El País, the journalist Carlos Galindo writes, betraying his own racism (or that of the Republicans): “It is all manner and kind of disenchanted people who are now rallying behind a Democrat and black candidate” (emphasis added). The left-wing feminist Camille Paglia supports him for the same reasons: “He thoroughly impressed me because he is determined to overcome the profound divide between Democrats and Republicans. This divide, which I criticize, has paralyzed Washington for years” (quoted in O Estado de São Paulo, January 6, 2008). Paglia considers Obama a “man of the left.” The title of Charles Bernstein’s most recent book of poems, Girly Man (2006), is an ironic twist on the expression used during the Iraq invasion by the Governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger, who quipped, “Whoever does not support the war is a girly man.” Schwarzenegger is married to Maria Shriver, daughter of the politician Sargent Shriver and of Eunice Kennedy, the sister of John, Bobby, and Ted Kennedy. Before her marriage to Schwarzenegger, Maria was a prominent journalist and the author of several books. She’s a great supporter of Obama. Is it the general buzz or a truly new moment in which political parties are going to reconfigure everything in a more solid way?

 

Wounded Iraqi

 

What is the philosophy of the American Independence? What is the philosophy of the Founding Fathers? It is what makes Americans view their “Republic” as an exemplary experiment among other republics, something to be preserved at all costs. There’s a religious streak in it: the United States are the nation chosen by God to regenerate the world through the dissemination of its ideology and institutions. Or could it be that, as author Marcelo Santos argues in O poder norte-americano e a América Latina no pós-Guerra Fria (American Power and Latin America in the Post-Cold War, Annablume, 2007):

Such conceptions, when combined, end up generating permanent characteristics for American foreign policy […]. Firstly, the U.S. presents itself as a society model to be imitated […]. From there arise its difficulties in the sense of major agreements that would limit its actions in the international arena. Secondly, the policies of the U.S. are presented as a mission, a right, or a duty in the sense of preserving or disseminating its exceptional democratic and libertarian ideals, even if its interests are actually expansionist, imperialist, and interventionist.

The radical American nature of George Bush is undeniable. Bush, on the other hand, has a single merit: the utter failure of his government made possible the rise of Obama, probably the next President of the United States, “a Democrat and a black.” There was, for instance, no black leader in Cuba! Or, for that matter, a black President of Brazil.

David Brooks, a New York Times columnist affirms, that for him there are two Obamas: Dr. Barack and Fast Eddie Obama: “It’s been decades since we encountered a political creature as effective as him. Not even Bill Clinton was smart enough to succeed in politics while pretending to renounce politics.” Dr. Barack is a liberal, an idealist, the “yes, change is possible” guy, while Fast Eddie Obama is the pragmatist that distances himself from Wright in seconds, from public campaign financing in minutes, etc. He’s in politics pretending he is not. Clearly, only an idiot would not realize that Barack Obama is, above all, a great politician who in a little less than a year did away with Clintonism. The Mexican Carlos Fuentes—Ted Kennedy’s friend—thinks that Obama is a “leftist.” In Bernstein’s opinion, “he seems to be left-of-center, but he is not, because, just like Clinton, he has right-of-center impulses that perhaps could be reined in by the American people, but it is still too early to know; even when, compared to Bush…”

 

Barack and Michelle Obama

 

Despite all his serious errors in internal politics, Fidel Castro was the only Latin American politician who confronted the American ethnocentrism that deems Latin Americans “inferior beings: Castro led the only revolution in the Americas, after the American revolution. Until today, the American right will not forgive John F. Kennedy for not having invaded Cuba during the Bay of Pigs incident, slaying Castro and Che Guevara. Will we hear Fast Eddie Obama shouting, “Shut your mouth, beast!”? In reality, the inept and bellicose white elite of the U.S. throws supremely difficult challenges at the freed slave. In the United States there are 37 million people living below the poverty line—the equivalent of one Argentina and three Chiles. Democrats and Republicans signed George W. Bush’s illegal wiretapping program into law in June 2008. The new law allows wiretapping without a court order (that is, without the order of a judge of law, a qualified authority belonging to an independent power) whenever national security is “threatened.” The law guarantees the financial immunity of phone companies, banning lawsuits against them. The wiretapping period has been extended from three days to a week. McCain led the Republicans in crafting the approval of the law. Will Barack Obama revoke it or will Fast Eddie uphold it, maintaining, in that way, the suppression of democracy promoted by Bush? Obama affirms that he will negotiate with the Cuban regime without placing preconditions in order to advance the cause of democracy in Cuba, and he concludes, “I will never negotiate the cause of freedom.” Let us pause here: that is the key statement that surprisingly aligns him with the 1823 Monre Doctrine, that is, when an American invokes the expression “the cause of freedom” he intends a struggle for U.S. supremacy, who opted not to have formal but rather informal colonies, managed from a distance, both economically and culturally speaking. Indeed, with their victory in the Spanish-American war of 1898, the U.S. guaranteed their supremacy in Cuba and, in 1903, they were authorized to maintain a military base at Guantánamo Bay. The Monroe Doctrine had countless  “names” throughout two centuries: Pan-Americanism, Continental Solidarity, Big Stick Policy, Dollar Diplomacy, Moral Imperialism, Defense of the Free World, Alliance for Progress, War on Terror. Still, Barack Obama’s positions are far more progressive than John McCain’s, who intends to follow Republican traditional party lines towards Cuba: the economic embargo, etc.  Obama got tangled in his own words when he said that if Raúl Castro freed political prisoners, diplomatic relations could be reestablished in a quiet way, when the number of political prisoners in the U.S. exceeds Cuba’s, considering Guantánamo and Abu Graib as well as the countless secret prisons stretching urbi et orbe and which hold foreigners and American citizens from the opposition alike.

 

John and Jacqueline in the campaign for President

 

One pragmatic question may be asked: Is Lula da Silva—a man of the market—more honest or more to the left than Barack Obama? We should note that in 2003, Lula condemned the Iraq invasion and, in the same week, he supported the executions ordered by Fidel in Cuba. With the exception of Michelle Bachelet from Chile and perhaps Fernando Lugo from Paraguay, the current presidents of Latin America cannot be taken seriously in their ideological positions or other issues such as probity, for instance. When he knew he had been elected in 2001, Lula threw himself into Bush’s arms through the banker Henrique Meirelles, and Fernando Herique Cardoso is friends with Bill Clinton, a corrupt politician who ruled with the Washington Consensus: a financial fraud that impoverished the Latin Americans who vacationed in Orlando, while their industry withered, as “local” currencies reached parity with the U.S. dollar. What can we say about the Kirchners, who isolated Argentina from the world and are accused daily of corruption? What can we say of the drug trafficker Álvaro Uribe (unfortunately already supported by Fast Eddie)? There is nothing to be said about Hugo Chávez. Or is there? Another pragmatic question: Is Nicolas Sarkozy better than Obama? Is Gordon Brown superior to Obama? Is Angela Merkel better than Obama? Is the puppet Putin better than Obama? Is Hu Jintao better than Obama? Is José Luis Zapatero—the most decorous European leader today—superior to Obama? Despite embodying—to a certain extent—the totalitarian dream of the Founding Fathers, Barack Obama is, clearly, a much better choice than McCain, who shares George W. Bush’s opinions regarding the Iraq war, border security (keeping immigrants out), the economy (increasing tax cuts), and public healthcare issues (privatizing all healthcare). McCain supports greater “supervision” when it comes to war prisoner interrogation “techniques,” yet he agrees with Bush on the restriction of the legal rights of prisoners held at Guantánamo. Like Bush, McCain opposes the right to abortion. They only diverge when it comes to the environment and climate change, where McCain favors international treaties such as Kyoto, and regarding multilateralism, when Obama declares, breaking with the Monroe Doctrine, “We cannot build a lasting peace based only on our concept of freedom.”

 

Michelle Bachelet with a native Chilean

 

A recent study by the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, founded in 1998, reveals an unprecedented fact—that if it depended on world voters, Obama would be elected, winning in 21 out of the 23 countries where people were polled, among them, France (or ex France?), Germany, and Spain. It is expected, on a global level, that Dr. Barack Obama will defeat Fast Eddie Obama, that he will defeat Prudêncio, that he will overcome the totalitarianism of the Founding Fathers, though a multilateral scheme, breaking with the Monroe Doctrie, that he will abandon racist ethnocentrism because Bush’s candidate is already a new Uncle Sam, or is there someone who prefers Jintao’s Chinese model? An ex ethnocentric, ex technological barbaric, substantively democratic, civilized Uncle Sam electing a BLACK man, albeit a centrist, to be in command.

 

Sympathy for the Devil
Mick Jagger/Keith Richards, 1968
(soundtrack of the film One + one)

Please allow me to introduce myself
I’m a man of wealth and taste
I’ve been around for a long, long year
Stole many a man’s, soul and faith
And I was ‘round when Jesus Christ
Had his moment of doubt and pain
Made damn sure that Pilate
Washed his hands and sealed his fate
Pleased to meet you
Hope you guess my name
But what’s puzzling you
Is the nature of my game
I stuck around St. Petersburg
When I saw it was a time for a change
Killed the Czar and his ministers
Anastasia screamed in vain
I rode a tank
Held a general’s rank
When the blitzkrieg raged
And the bodies stank
Pleased to meet you
Hope you guess my name
Ah, what’s puzzling you
Is the nature of my game
I watched with glee
While your kings and queens
Fought for ten decades
For the gods they made
I shouted out,
“Who killed the Kennedys?”
When after all
It was you and me
Let me please introduce myself
I’m a man of wealth and taste
And I laid traps for troubadours
Who get killed before they reached Bombay
Pleased to meet you
Hope you guessed my name
But what’s puzzling you
Is the nature of my game
Pleased to meet you
Hope you guessed my name
But what’s confusing you
Is just the nature of my game
Just as every cop is a criminal
And all the sinners saints
As heads is tails
Just call me Lucifer
‘Cause I’m in need of some restraint
So if you meet me
Have some courtesy
Have some sympathy, and some taste
Use all your well-learned politesse
Or I’ll lay your soul to waste
Pleased to meet you
Hope you guessed my name
But what’s puzzling you
Is the nature of my game

Ooo, who
Ooo, who
Ooo, who
Ooo, who
Oh, yeah

 

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