Wednesday, November 5, 2008

New Beginnings: Part One


"Politics is the art of the possible"

- O. von Bismarck

Last night I stayed up until about 2.45 AM (GMT, EST+5) by which time the BBC - taking their lead on exit poll projections from ABC - had called Ohio for Obama. I could then go to sleep with the virtual certainty - not that there was much call for doubt before then, a point to which I'll return - that he had won the election. Sure enough, the first thing I heard in the morning on the RTE news was a mention of 'President-Elect Obama'; and from that point on there seemed to be more sunshine in the late autumnal - or as you so quaintly call it, 'fall' - vibrancy of the day.

I'm not an American, of any type, in case you haven't noticed: that is, except for the majority part of my CD and record collection; my bookshelf, not so much, other than the Kerouac/De Lillo/Auster/Palahniuk section; and also the creeping use of idiom by the influence of blogging. 'Hardcore for Nerds' is in its original essence - emo - an American term and invention. While my politics are naturally Irish and European, as well as global, my interest in culture is predominantly American in its source and in its direction of exploration. Yet culture, in either its social or artistic forms, can hardly be separated from politics; so in short, we're back to Obama again.

However, my interest in the Obama phenomenon - the Obama actuality - is not wholly, or even mostly, cultural. I am a student of politics by both scholarship and temperament, just as am one of history and historic events. The quote above I probably haven't used for about five years, the last time being a school essay on the diplomacy of great-power Europe. There are plenty of things that I wouldn't want to compare between Bismarck's Prussian imperialism and the actions of a 21st-century US politician, but no analogy is perfect. In fact, it's not even an analogy: it's a classic statement of realism, which can be deliberately twisted to fit the idealism - the hope - of today (and a riposte to those who see an Obama presidency as inevitably and harmfully not living up to expectations).

This past week I had been toying with various ideas for a pre-election post, something to express my ideological support for this candidacy, while not seeming to interfere in the sovereign democracy of America or generally play up my snooty European-ness. The obvious answer to the first problem is that the election of the so-called 'leader of the free world' is a global issue, and a huge part of the international support for Obama is due to his more reasoned stance on foreign policy issues, and the expectation - critical amongst Americans abroad - that he will rehabilitate the US's image around the world.

Outside that sphere, the differences between social democratic Europe and fiercely individualistic America seem to hinder communication over domestic issues of economy or society. In the eyes of the more critical, and perhaps discerning commentators, the Irish and European almost one-sided attitude towards the Obama/McCain conflict was an illusion based on these differing domestic spheres (in Ireland, for example, abortion is almost completely illegal and the vast majority of primary schools are run directly by the Catholic Church, but we still look at Sarah Palin as if she's a crazed dinosaur).

There was one rather interesting and major argument put forward for why the Irish shouldn't be so supportive of O'Bama - his tendency towards economic protectionism. Compared to John McCain's firm support for free trade, Barack Obama's stated intent to dissuade US companies from availing of tax advantages through setting up in (and therefore taking jobs to) other countries, directly threatens the huge section of the Irish economy that is based on attracting US IT and pharmaceutical corporations with our skilled labour force and low corporate tax rate (12.5%). I'm not too worried - either way - however, because a) I'm opposed to a low-tax economy in the first place, either as the basis for under-funded public services or as essentially an unfair or unearned comparative advantage in global trade (profiting chiefly the owners of the large corporations), while b) a significant part of Europe wants us to get rid of it anyway - pace Lisbon - and finally c), see the quote above. He can't do everything.


I (cont.): Arthur Koestler, The Cold War Kids and

II : Hoover - 'Side Car Freddie/'Cable' 7"

(a new beginning for the Hoover family tree)


Anonymous said...

Alexa Peckham is hopes everyone likes terrorists socialism and high taxes...and welfare.

gabbagabbahey said...

who is he/she?

y'all don't know what socialism (or social democracy, even) really is - if you did, you'd be even more terrified! :)

one other idea I had for a post after the result was "Let the World Socialist Revolution Begin! - you know you've been waiting for it"

Anonymous said...

it was from a forum discussing people's ridiculous myspace/facebook status changes after it was quite clear that obama was the victor. people's loigic is flawed.

gabbagabbahey said...

undoubtedly. but I saw similarly, and worse, deluded statements from Republicans in Phoenix and other rallies - that Obama is not a "true American".

I have something interesting, and sorta different, on the "socialist" issue from Koestler coming up. Christopher Hitchens on the BBC said that the last part of the McCain campaign was less Rove-ian as it was McCarthyite. or a sad parody of such.

gabbagabbahey said...

welcome back, too, btw.

cretin said...

i commend the mccain campaign on successfully turning the phrase "spread the wealth" into an epithet for the iron curtain. it is too bad they could not parlay such cogent talents into campaign success.

prolly cuz they were too busy "bugging the fuck out". AMIRITE DIDDY?

i have nothing positive to add.

Matt said...

Yeah, the Republicans couldn't quite figure out what to blow out of proportion in order to hurt Obama. The Socialism stab was weak, and I'm getting tired of hearing Mccain supporters lament over their loss and explicitly state concern. Gabba, you're right, Socialism is something entirely different and, in standard incarnations, something to fear.
It's actually kind of funny and simultaneously disturbing that so many people will so quickly adopt the viewpoint that Obama is a socialist- demonstrating firstly that many of us americans have no idea what socialism is and secondly that many of us tend to follow our party leaders unquestioningly.

gabbagabbahey said...

anybody here from Vermont? I usually/sometimes hear Bernie Saunders (forgive me if I've mispelt the name) described as an independent socialist congressman.

for the record, I was being semi-ironic when I said you'd be terrified of actual socialism. socialism in its standard incarnations, as Matt says, or maybe in its previus historical forms, has definitely had its downsides. but when it comes to idealism, my own personal politics are pretty far left.

however, that doesn't change the fact that either a progressive or redistributive - however you want to describe it - tax policy is definitely not socialism.

I've got to tell you the story of the three socialists in the Irish parliament: the head of government, by his own apparent admission (Bizarro-World Fact #1: In Europe, being a socialist can be a good thing in politics!), the sole (now former) representative for the Socialist Party, and a third representative that nobody knows who he - or she - is...

Dave said...

I doubt Obama will make any serious efforts to repatriate US profits in Ireland or anywhere else- there's nothing elicit in the way US corporations shift their profits abroad, and besides, what's he going to do anyway- raise their taxes?

As an Irish citizen, however, I think it's hilarious that we get all this money in free taxes. Long may it continue!

gabbagabbahey said...

as if by magic: Former FF minister says RTÉ left-wing (that's our ruling political party and our national broadcaster, for all non-Irish readers) and 'Left-wing' RTÉ should share licence fee with independents

"As far as I am concerned, RTÉ is a left-wing organisation that has not committed itself to enunciating and promoting policies laid down by Government or Parliament".

"Labour whip Emmet Stagg responded in the Dáil by saying that the idea that RTÉ was a left-wing organisation was "crazy" ... Mr Stagg suggested that they might be "some of the leftover socialists" from Bertie Ahern's time."

we appear to be importing a farcical version of the 'liberal media' controversy!

Dave - it's not exactly repatriating profits, at least not directly; more like making it less profitable for them to set up here. One way I saw it described (though I have my own questions on this) is that by revoking tax treaties, the MNCs can be forced to pay taxation in both countries, US and Ireland. But I agree there are plenty of practical problems with the scenario.

It's not illicit, but see Obama's all about 'fair trade', not free trade. he wants everybody to play nice!

Dave said...

I imagine that would be more trouble than it's worth and probably a diplomatic nightmare too. Although I bet the Germans would be delighted.