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L’adoration collective atteint l’ancien monde - Obama: collective adoration hits the Old World

WRITTEN BY MARY RIZZO - Palestine Think Tank

Thursday 13 November 2008


So Obama is the man, and the wave of collective adoration has embarked the shores like the Normandy Invasion. As I wrote in a recent article, to people who live in other parts of the world (and that means almost the absolute majority of humanity), the self-proclaimed position of the USA not as a world leader, but the world leader is too much of a tight fit, akin to a chokehold. In fact, most of the problems that other nations face are the consequences of the decisions America has made to ensure that its own interests are the ultimate priorities of the world. The effects of this primacy are the wars we’ve been dragged into (even against our own interests) as allies or “enemies”, the economic disasters in the stock markets of the countries that weren’t directly involved in the subprime loan con, the results of which have devastated the economies of business, industry and the consumer, the trade policies that governments are forced to have as being subject to American hegemony. And these are just a few of the literally hundreds of examples of how what happens in America has a domino effect with the potency of an atomic bomb. It would be great if there were some positive effects trickling down, but it’s really difficult to list some, and I leave that task for someone better suited to it.

I don’t need to make a list of the various grievances, and I am not talking about ones such as “they (the terrorists) hate our freedoms”, but rather the trickledown effects of American policy that insists upon being world policy. It is clear that the corporate-military complex (some say industrial, but the tertiary level is where the middle class works, and industry is being outsourced to third-world nations) that we can call America has spent decades shaping the planet to suit its appetite, at the expense of billions of individuals, including its own citizens. No American could have been oblivious to the fact that “we’re the best” is not only used for sports teams, but is a genuine patriotic sentiment, the rest of the world has had it up to here with that arrogance. How other populations view America has never been that important to Americans, convinced as they are that everyone sees them as the model to aspire to, but aware that there isn’t the love or admiration one would have towards a model. Americans, at least up until 4 November, were still careful to act as if they were Canadians when abroad.

So, along comes a candidate that is handsome, young, and - at least on a superficial and probably symbolic level - represents what Americans think they are, (cool, smart, honest, an average guy with charisma) and the infatuation became hope which turned into a cult of personality. So, he is black, and that means that this is an epic and historic result. To understand what the pundits say, it is his skin colour that makes him special. And, in fact, those who have been commenting on the victory state this obvious fact once every 90 seconds, just so that with the force of repetition we believe that it really is a watershed moment that means that America has changed, that it is the land of opportunity, hope and glory, the land of milk and honey, a place where blacks and whites have equal opportunities and anything is possible.

So, Obama got elected, and that means we have to believe that this is proof that “anything is possible”? Obama had a lot of popular support and money, but he had a LOT more corporate support and money. That is not within the reach of any average guy, but one who is a player in all the right arenas, who will have to deliver when payment time comes up. Seems as if with the bailout, even before elected, Obama was ready to hand out that blank check to his benefactors, and that means the banks, ladies and gentlemen.

But, what Obama really is or really means isn’t what I’m interested in at this moment. I am concerned at how the Obamamania crossed the shores and was converted into a real victory for everyone and the sweet revenge that the Americans will have for the fact that there is an intolerable level of anti-Americanism around. It is the acquisition of virginity, the real issue at stake. The image has been salvaged, and what is below the surface becomes irrelevant. What I witnessed the night of the election and especially the night after when the commentaries were slightly more refined, was a coup de théâtre that meant that there was nothing behind all of us (even though we were following American policy lock, stock and barrel) but the end of something and now, all (good) things were possible. “We are all Americans”, was one of the comments made while politicians from the left and right were claiming a special relationship with what Obama stood for. The leader of the Italian left who brought his own party to dismal failure in the spring elections with the slogan “Yes We Can”, said that Obama was the transatlantic counterpart to his party. In what way is anyone’s guess, given that “No They Couldn’t”.

A really jovial “Americanophile” Renzo Arbore, musician, showman and staple of Italian television for decades, guest at the American Embassy for the election results said, “Tonight I am even prouder to be American (sic). Obama is the heir of Kennedy. I was a fan of Kennedy from the first moment. He is an heir of Lincoln. I was a fan of Lincoln from the first moment.” That alone was a bit comical since he’s been on TV forever, but can’t be as old as Lincoln, but then he continued to inform the Italians who were certainly not as versed in Americanophilia as he was that Lincoln was the famous president against slavery and “author who declared that all men are equal.” No one corrected him that while it was indeed cited in the Gettysburg address, the author of a phrase very similar was Thomas Jefferson, brilliant thinker, but alas, a slave owner. To compare words and deeds would have been a very interesting discussion but this would have required more accuracy and we were in “pass me another glass of Champagne” mode. Someone did however correct him that Lincoln belonged to the Republican party, I imagine in the days when it was somewhat different than it is today.

Not to be outdone, his sidekick, a television has-been who tried to make a comeback with advertising dietary snacks, Maurisa Laurito said, “He’s good-looking, a bit black (un po’ nero)” Wow, was that a weird thing to say! I immediately thought that someone would have to comment on that particular statement, but no one did. She’s not really known for her intellectual finesse. Becoming a bit tired of the low level interventions, I changed channels, and lo and behold, they were talking about gaffes regarding labelling people according to their skin colour.

A debate was raging about an insult from the Northern League racist fanatic Roberto Caldaroli (whose sporting a t-shirt with one of the Danish Cartoons that enraged millions of Muslims was the incitement for a riot at the Italian embassy in Libya, resulting in the death of ten people). He had months prior called a Palestinian journalist, Rula Jebreal “the tanned woman”, and then commenced debates on skin colour and how historic it was that people had overcome race (as if there are only white people) and voted for a black man. All of this, mind, a day before Berlusconi called Obama “tanned”. As much as I don’t like Berlusconi, and believe he is 90% problematic, I don’t think he is racist. He in fact was trying on an Americanism with his macaroni-esque translation of “tall, dark and handsome”, by using the Italian word for “tanned”, which generally substitutes “dark”, as dark has negative connotations in this language. Big mess with the Italian Democratic Yes We Canners spending many hours calling foul, rather than looking honestly at the variations of the theme that had been played out for over two years. Would it EVER be possible for them to say, Candidate Obama? No, it was always, Black Candidate Obama and so on.

“America gave the world a great lesson in democracy,” it was repeated over and over again. What was this lesson? That the most costly campaign ever, endless and tiring even for those who were exposed to it only superficially, brought about two corporate candidates in a two party system that did not allow any exposure of alternative views? No, of course not, that’s not even as democratic a system as what most of the world has in Parliamentary elections where the winning party assigns a candidate and there are a variety of contenders. It is sad that they still believe there is a difference between the Republicans and the Democrats over here. What the lesson was had shades of the absurd: “The Americans came out to vote in European numbers.” Yes, the lesson to teach the (at least) Europeans about US democracy is that now they vote in quantities similar to European elections. That is some spiral logic, but it again, no one blinked an eye when this kind of phrase was uttered, such was the exhibition of rhetoric.

Let’s look at how the analysis of the voters was handled. On “Porta a Porta”, the major news analysis program that also features gossip and news that comes close to gossip, such as the Mededith Kerchner murder, they analysed the “racism factor” of the voters. Interesting, extremely interesting, was the comment made upon the exposition of the composition of white voters. “54% of the white vote went to McCain,” was the exit poll statistical summary. “This means that whites were still by and large voting for the white candidate, and they could not overcome the race issue.” Then the statistic for the black vote appeared on the screen, “98% of the black vote went to Obama.” No similar comment was uttered.

Let me try to understand this, when a white votes for a white, he is voting based on skin colour, but when a black votes for a black, he is voting based on other factors. Is that what they mean? Or is it natural for a white to make a choice but the black would automatically vote for a black candidate because he or she has to? No one in the studio questioned the interpretation of the analysis of the numbers given, so we are left anyway to believe that only whites are capable of voting someone due to racial factors. The subtext is indeed this. A more interesting analysis would have been the vote as analysed according to wage earnings.

Obama is painted as the paladin of civil rights and absolutely able to do what he promised for the good of America but also the world, this was the message given again and again. I would love it if it were true, but is it? His first acts mystify me, the appointment of an Israeli to the Chief of Staff and the threats towards Iran were not really that civil, and I don’t think they are right either, and they don’t go in the direction of peaceful resolution to two of the hotspots of the globe. He promised so much nice stuff before he got voted in, and people are so ready to believe it, I can only say I hope their dreams come true.

But one dream that did come true was the restyling of the American Image. In the space of a few hours, no one thought any more about the real problems that America has, about the real problems it has with the other nations, with the real problems that it will continue to have unless it dramatically changes its course and does become one of all the nations and not the nation above other nations. All it took was a few nights of rhetoric, a bit of strange analysis and a lot of believing in vague concepts such as change and hope. We do need the change, and probably not the change Obama is able or willing to bring.

As for hope, I leave that to dreamers and optimists.