Saturday, November 22, 2008
U.S. ELECTIONS AND OBAMA
A brilliant lawyer and mother friend of mine (Robyn) was telling me I have weird, crazy ideas. I'm not sure if that's true; I just think we can make things better. So yes, I hate conflicts of interest so much that I would love limit presidencies to one term so that you never worry if a president it doing something to win votes for re-election. But I know this also hampers momentum (perhaps lengthen the term to five years like in South Africa?). I would love to have a rotating citizenry service in national and state Congress instead of elected officials. Then it would be easier to put salary caps on the House and the Senate with even homeless and poor people serving one term.
I could go on, but you get the idea. We're stuck with imperfections, but I would like to point out one thing. People have this notion that when the outside world sees the U.S. as a bully or self-interested big kid on the playground, it is an exaggeration. I'm not sure that's true. When you study U.S. foreign policy, U.S. history, especially U.S. international relations, and much of the rhetoric (in documents and speeches) in the past number of years it's been shockingly clear and scary sometimes. Even across presidents we seem headed down the usual path of any world power in the history of man. We look out for ourselves and interfere in places that cause people harm. If you don't see this it's ok. It may just mean you haven't studied it enough. It's not anything particular to the U.S.; it's what happens with all superpowers. It would be the same if any country was the front runner. It will be the same in 2100 with the next superpower. And though the U.S. may not be the sole leader anymore, I think it is fine. In 1900 it was the UK as the sole superpower in the world. One hundred years later in 2000 it was the U.S., but the U.K. was still doing fine, though. Likewise, we're probably moving towards a world with a few front running leaders even if we are not the leader. And that's fine.
My lawyer friend challenged me to go back to the States and try to change things. I'm not sure anything I say is actually necessary. Plus big change tends not to be good for people; it's at least difficult. I think Obama will probably bring about incremental change. That's the only change people are comfortable with and as long as we move forward, that's good for now. For instance, hopefully we can continue to reduce the stockpile of nuclear weapons with the hopes of have a nuclear free world. In the meantime we sit in the awkward position of hypocritically telling others not to have any weapons while we slowly play this game of “'you put your gun down first' 'no You, put yours down first' 'ok, let's do it at the same time 1-2-3' 'now you put your second gun down first' 'no You put yours down first. . .'” The closer we get to having nuclear weapons in the actual hundreds (they are in the thousands now) the harder it will be to get all five security powers (China, Russia, UK, France, and the US) to decrease. . .all the way down to zero.
Well, many people are not happy with Obama.
I thought this article was interesting on the Economist's endorsement of Obama. Enjoy.
Then there is Ayman al-Zawahiri, the number 2 guy in al-Qaeda. He called Obama a “house negro” and accused him of turning away from his Muslim roots.
Lastly I've heard a lot of Christians and Christian fundamentalists are unhappy and saying not-so-nice things about him. I think that's to be expected. He ran as a Democratic candidate and many people who label themselves conservative feel he will ruin the country with a liberal agenda. I think the nice thing about Obama is that if you are against the Democratic platform (how can anyone be for everything in any platform?) but you had to accept a Democratic president, he is the Democrat you would want in power due to his desire to engage a wide spectrum of viewpoints and opinions and his ability to unify.
From a nuclear-free world to Guantanamo Bay, from economic crises to auto industry bail outs, from energy and environment and international protocols and agreements, from the finance reform to international finance reform, from war in Iraq and Afghanistan to al-Qaeda, from universal health care to tax reform, he has his work cut out for him.
But I think he has the decision-making ability to do it. It would overwhelm me I believe, but he has an ability to sit back and listen to all sides and make a decision and go with it.
He was the cover and front news story for probably a week (at least 5 days in South Africa and Africa). There was no other news for the first two days after the election. People were overjoyed and are STILL overjoyed.
Do you remember what I said about just the accomplishment of being elected has already done work he doesn't have to take on? Well at the beginning of last week (about two weeks ago on Monday) guess who said something nice about the U.S.? Hugo Chavez. He said it [Obama's election] was a good thing and hopefully the U.S. can get back to the great nation it once was. First of all, Chavez NEVER calls the U.S. great. Secondly, he went on to say that after Obama's inauguration he will accept/appoint a U.S. ambassador in Venezuela, again. So it's just as I thought. People don't really like the current president. Without a single communication (I'm guessing) or act of negotiation, we've reestablished ambassadorial/diplomatic relations with Venezuela like that! And I'm willing to bet we will also get one in Bolivia as Morales follows suit. You can add Nicaragua to the list as well, with Daniel Ortega joining the pack.
This is a bit of what I mean. Though half the U.S. is not particularly enthused, something magical has happened. I promise you this—a Sudanese guy was trying to figure out how to relax the restrictions on Sudanese people receiving visas to go to the U.S. He said he could move to the U.S. and put his boy in school. One day his boy will grow up and become the president of the U.S. and he can change the rules. He laughed and I did, too.
More importantly people are saying what they used to always say about the U.S. “Only in America.” “This can only happen in the U.S.” “No where else in the world can something like this happen.” “In Sudan, you will NEVER see a person from Southern Sudan [like Darfur region] become the president. They would shoot him first.” “If the U.S. can do it, so can we.” “Maybe we can have fair and free elections.” I remember discussing with Estelle a politics masters student (starting next year in Feb 2009) in South Africa. She's white and wants to be president but it's “impossible” here. Maybe not so impossible anymore. . .
Moreover so many ex-pats used to say that are not really interested in going back to live in the U.S. One girl told me she didn't want to go back if the other candidate won. Now that Obama won, I've already heard from one girl who can't want to go back, move to D.C., and work for the administration. I have already received two e-mails from people giving me website information to apply. People are excited, including ex-pats. Quite amazing. Ex-pats. Funny.
So something magical is occurring. We'll watch, wait and see and ride it out. Along the way there will be mistakes and missteps, but this is a huge step forward for the U.S. in the eyes of people around the world, so far forward and missteps or regressive steps are still ahead of where the U.S. was before the election.