Wednesday, May 21, 2008


This started out as a reply to Mr Hengist's excellent Head-Banging post. In fairly short order, though, it began to grow to "dude, why don't you go get your own blog" proportions, and I decided to give it its own paddock.

I was thinking today about the dissonance between what I feel about the prospect of an Obama presidency (I hope I haven't been too vague about what those feelings are), and my experience of the quality and character of the (many) folks I know who are BO supporters. These are not simpletons; they are smart, well-educated, articulate, kind humans whom I am lucky to know...and yet they throw their support behind someone I have tried mightily and failed utterly to not see as a (generally) silver-tongued but sophomoric greenhorn who could do great damage to this Nation's domestic and --especially-- foreign policy if elected. Now, given some of my own experiences, I exist in a state of perpetual humility regarding my capacity to get things Seriously Wrong. But the more I look and poke and sift and analyze, the more convinced I become that an Obama presidency would be a setback at best, and quite possibly a catastrophe. And yet all these good people earnestly believe that he would be a boon to a nation ravaged by policies which they see as having been themselves disastrous. This is not the kind of dilemma I sleep well without accounting for.

I have arrived at the tentative conclusion that at least part of what is "wrong with" those Obama supporters is a function of what is right with America:

In this Nation, we live in a society in which you can say pretty much whatever you feel (fires and movie theaters aside, of course)--including publicly declaiming that your speech is being suppressed-- in near-total safety from any official reprisal (some permit ordinances may apply). This freedom has afforded citizens the space to plumb our individual and collective consciousness with an historically unprecedented depth, unmoored from the structures and strictures of scriptural or secular constraint. This postmodern awareness has permitted a granularity to our perceptions and ruminations in which exceedingly fine distinctions can at times take on disproportional dimensions.

Not surprisingly, this has not been an unmixed blessing of liberty. For instance, the deconstruction of previously absolute moral and metaphysical containers for our thoughts and actions has had many beneficial effects, unlocking untolled human energy (e.g., that of women) previously sequestered in philosophical Faraday cages. Indeed, I make my living applying some of the products of this enhanced self-scrutiny in the form of psychodynamic therapy. A far more unfortunate offshoot is the mode of thought which can so radically relativize all cultural and philosophical systems that they can be seen as equally valid, because they are all defensible within describable frames of reference. For example, because some identifiable group can claim a grievance against another, then the aggrieved group comes to be perceived as having as legitimate a claim as that of any party who may offer a rebuttal. It's All Good.

There are many groups which can claim grievances against the United States, and many of them cleave to some very robust memes. We done screwed up good and proper on many occasions. That said, I take serious issue with the viability of a perspective which can maintain that the aggregate of the US' actions in the Middle East warrant reprisals of the brutality and malice of those which are planned and have been executed against our citizens. But a combination of postmodern thinking and identity politics has made it de rigeur to at least entertain such notions. National self-criticism is an essential part of the healthy functioning of this Republic. It has allowed it to evolve into more than the sum of its parts...and it started off with some pretty fine parts. It is the very oxygen of liberty, and it is one faculty of our society which so animates the people who gravitate toward Obama. But too much oxygen can induce seizures, and lapses in otherwise very sound judgment.

Shielded from the aggressive ambitions of other nations by two vast oceans --less of a deterrent than they once were, to be sure, but still not inconsiderable-- and by the most powerful military in the world, we find ourselves free to rebuke the militaristic impulse itself (again, with impunity). Thus Obama can talk about utilizing our military as a kind of global SWAT team, sent in when things get dire, but then promptly withdrawn when the acute crisis is past. I suspect that this perspective flows from a deep mistrust of military might, a wariness borne of the decidedly un-nuanced single-mindedness with which armies have been deployed through history. Allowing the military to get too big, or to take on too prominent a place in the enactment of policy abroad, the reasoning goes, is an invitation to [insert grainy jack-booted newsreel here].

The trouble is that, while far from perfect (show me any comparably large group of humans that does a whole lot better!), on balance our military has thwarted far more tyranny than it has imposed. This seems to be an unpalatable thought to many, who have accepted the premise that our society cannot claim any right to defend or spread its interests and values abroad...let alone at gun-point. In many cases, there is a strong thread of anti-capitalism running through this portion of the argument. Indeed, Obama's anti-NAFTA positions (or postures, depending on who you believe) reflect the anti-Globalizing tendencies of the transnational Left pretty closely. Unfortunately, the balkanization (pun intentional) which I believe likely to ensue with each successive disconnection from the grid of international commerce would mark a retreat back down the slope which has lifted Western Civilization so far clear of the mire of frequent warfare that there is an ever-shrinking cohort for whom Great Power War even lies within living memory. Aside from the ever-present threat of Mutually Assured Destruction during the Cold War, one of the primary historical developments which has made great-power war so unimaginable today has been that very international web of commercial and cultural interrelationships known as globalization that many of these so-called transnationals would set about eroding with the imposition of protectionist regulatory regimes.

Globalized markets depend on legal and political stability and security, so that contracts and other rule sets can reliably be struck and enforced, protecting investments and the flows of goods and services and people and ideas. Again, I make reference here to Barnett's Core-Gap distinction, one of the most useful concepts I have encountered in my studies of these matters. Barnett shows us that the lion's share of US and allied military deployments since the end of the Cold War have been into areas which fall outside of the protective network of interconnected mercantile democracies which he calls the Core. It is the growth of that Core (and concomitant shrinking of the lawless and disconnected Gap) which holds the greatest promise for undermining the sources of misery and terrorism and poverty and war...but only at the price of continued assertive installation and enforcement of the rule sets which would make that possible. Obama's supporters' hopes for a world without war and with a greater emphasis on internal, social issues are laudable. Lamentably, it appears that History has other plans for us.

In a similar vein, generations have passed since an enemy marched across American soil, leading to a perception of the absolute security of US borders, a sense of safety which allows large numbers of Americans to truly believe that national borders are becoming obsolete...and that this would be a good thing. From regulated international trade to the elevation of international organizations like the UN, the unmistakable drift of the Transnational Progressives is toward something more resembling a World Government than a marketplace of sovereign nations. I know this because I used to believe it wholeheartedly. I envisioned a kind of "United Federation of Planets" (h/t to Mr Hengist here) model of global affairs. Of course, Sir Thomas Moore's great joke on history is that "U-Topia" actually means "No-Place."

Now, some would astutely argue that Europe has much more recently experienced the carnage which can ensue when national borders are seen as porous, so one would expect its nations to be a mite more prickly about the matter of sovereignty than the formation of the EU would suggest they are. But Europe, on closer inspection emerges as the exception which proves the rule. Over the course of the Cold War, Europe allowed itself to become comfortably benumbed to the dangers of a looming USSR by a long-standing American umbrella of nuclear and conventional deterrence, and by the stable network of rule-driven trade relationships which that umbrella has allowed to form. European nations had the luxury to rely on the long, pregnant pause from history afforded by the Pax Americana, and to radically de-fund their militaries, spend that money on elaborate social support systems, and increase the permeability of the membranes which separate them into distinct entities. Unfortunately, that epoch of uneasy but generally stable peace was a great mirage; Western Europe had essentially outsourced its recourse to force to a United States which obliged by maintaining (at mammoth expense) its long stalemate with the Russian Bear. So, again, the idealistic vision of a post-historical world which is held so dear to the hearts of transnational progressives like Obama and many of his supporters forms a lovely vista indeed...but it is broader by far than it is deep.

I could go on. I could, for example, talk about the strong populist proclivities of the Obama camp. The idea that the wealthiest people in this Nation should pitch in and support the struggling remainder sounds perfectly reasonable and even noble...until one considers that it is predicated on the redistribution of wealth whose continued generation is assumed to be a constant. Of course, high taxation and other redistributionist schemes would act to degrade the incentive to generate wealth at current levels, ultimately creating the conditions (e.g., increased off-shore investment) which will progressively undermine those Progressive policies and the programs they are designed to fund. Again, it is a strength of America (the dynamism and robustness of its economy --even during periods of relative slow-downs-- which makes possible the widespread creation of personal and corporate wealth) which creates the conditions for the Obama critique and its earnest, incessant calls for "Change."

I suppose I could also expand on the Obama complaints about what he appears to perceive as this Nation's unsatisfactory use of international diplomacy to address its differences with rogue regimes. Much has already been said about that on this blog, and not a bit of it can possibly improve on what has already been said by the august grandfather of political blogging, Steven Den Beste about the concept of Diplomacy as Obama and his supporters admirably but mistakenly conceptualize it.

In short, I do get it. After all, it was really not so long ago that I would have been right there, boycotting Starbucks, Questioning The Timing, making fun of John Bolton's moustache, and basking in the satisfaction that an African American candidate stood a stone's throw from the White House, where he would set about deconstructing the tottering hubristic edifice of American Empire. For the children.

Thus do I preserve my high estimation of the intelligence and character of my friends, while still heaping what I believe to be amply-earned derision on the candidate who speaks to their finer angels. If anything, it makes me even more proud of the Nation which fosters and facilitates their earnest pursuit of their ideals, even as in many cases I judge those pursuits to be based on faulty intel.

No comments: