Hard, Political

Waging war to gain votes

Friday, August 29, 2008  

I returned from a 6-week trip to the US the other day. I have been looking for an opportunity to write about the presidential campaign there in this space. Unsure of what exactly to write,  I have had the idea of something with the view of an ex-patriot filtered through an international perspective. This is an important difference because I have the context of living in Latin America, and of a country that is simply not the US. Here US foreign policy has a lot more weight than domestic issues.

Shoot the FreakThe opportunity has come already with the passing of the Democratic Convention and the ground-breaking acceptance speech by Barack Obama last night. This speech really disappointed me. It made me sad.

Reluctantly, my boyfriend Guillermo watched the speech with me. Well, he watched “CNN en Español” on TV and I used my laptop and headphones to get the untranslated version from CSPAN.com. (I just prefer to avoid dubbing when possible. If it were the president of Argentina speaking, I would listen to her in Spanish rather than an English dubbed version.)

This was a break-through for Guillermo to listen in because he holds a lot of contempt for my native country and its dominance over everything. It’s a perspective not too different from most people in Argentina and Latin America. He calls me naive for believing that a person like Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton could make a difference, and always points to Rwanda as an example of how Bill Clinton is no different than G.W. Bush. I argue that I always saw Clinton as someone a bit to the right of me politically and that also a powerful country like the US inevitably does horrific things once in a while; but that a Democrat in the White House would make things a bit better than another Republican, and could lead the US to being more and more responsible over time.

I had voted for Bill Clinton as the better of two evils, and up till this point I have been more passionate for Barack Obama. I think he is the first liberal in decades that is not ashamed of being so, and the public has been responding to that. I was impressed by his A More Perfect Union speech for being so gutsy and turning a negative issue into something constructive, rather than just evading a political scandal. I think that will be his speech that is remembered most in history. And it is this perspective that has brought so many voters to the polls who have sat out elections in the past. But that was just oratory, and last night he was charged with putting more substance into his words.

I have expected that the candidate Obama would turn out to be someone more bland, shooting for the middle-of-the-road politically than he was previously. This is how presidential politics plays out. He is no longer an outsider but now an instrument of the Democratic machine. Guillermo and I followed along the speech attentively. It was not his best speech, but a very good one, and certainly will be seen as a whole lot better than what John McCain delivers in his acceptance next week. That was really smart what he said about cutting taxes for 95% of the people, and accounting for this by cutting back favors to big corporations and to very wealthy individuals. He also talked about making higher education more of a right than a privilege. That is so important.

But his words against shipping jobs overseas sounded more like anti-immigration rhetoric, playing on the fears of US citizens that the rest of the world is waiting at the borders to steal their jobs and lifestyles. He could have said that differently, talking about corporate exploitation of US citizens being converted into the exploitation of foreign work forces under the most inhumane conditions. Something bad for the US and bad for foreign workers.

Then he re-iterated his plan to get out of Iraq responsibly. He has been consistent there, and this one issue has gotten him a lot of mileage. But then he talked about Afghanistan, pursuing the Osama Bin Laden and the Taliban into their caves. He basically stole that line from George W. Bush, and with that Guillermo wouldn’t listen to another word.

Patti Smith likes PeaceIraq is an easy war to be against, but the war in Afghanistan is horrific enough and I have never supported that one either. When the US invaded Afghanistan I was living in New York with the former site of the World Trade Center still smoldering from that nightmarish attack. It appalled me to see my government glibly participating in such horrors, and after that on to Iraq, etc.

Barack Obama is now playing politics with war to win a few votes in Pennsylvania and Michigan, and is no longer speaking from conscientiousness. He may have turned a campaign that spoke about imagination and breaking with bad habits from the past to being just the same story with a new face. War is horrific in any context, and proving you can be a cowboy just like the others does not get us into the 21st century. I think he turned off more than just the two of us here with this strategy.

I picked up a copy of the Village Voice last week when I was in New York. They published a semi-humorous look back from the future at four years of the Barack Obama presidency. It ends with him invading Venezuela and then leaving politics in disgrace. Chillingly, it comes across as feasible. Democratic presidents have started at least as many modern wars as Republicans.

Barack, please don’t try to prove how tough you are. I hold optimism for your mandate as president. Guillermo tells me I am naive to think there can be any improvement in US politics, but I hope to prove him wrong. The American public is open to new ways, just give everyone a chance. And give peace a chance too.

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One comment for “Waging war to gain votes”

  1. Patrizzzio says:

    I guess I´ve been naive too. Like Patti and you I like peace too, it’s good to know I am not the only one ;)

    Welcome back, Mike!