Obama or McCain, a Mandela moment?

Having sworn off news in a recent post, I’ve fallen off the wagon in a big way. I blame the American election. The ultimate stagecrafted reality show, I’ve been completely enthralled. The New York Times and Fox News, reddit and dailykos, huffingtonpost and drudgereport, karl rove and the Guardian, the Times of India, Voices without Votes, countless blogs and even prisonplanet, I seem to have read it all.

There has been overwhelming quantities of rubbish written, but, through the gloom, some wisdom as well. Of the posts I came across today, I particularly enjoyed Deepak Chopra’s article on Palin as the shadow of Obama.

In 2000, I made the mistake of thinking that it doesn’t matter. Clearly I wasn’t the only one. After 8 years of Clinton, it seemed like business as usual in the US. Corporate smoke and mirrors continues as before, and the war machine continued to grow. Nothing much changed from the Reagan and Bush senior years. The marginalised of the world continued to suffer Collateral damage.

So, when Al Gore ran against George Bush in 2000, I bought what Ralph Nader said – that there was no difference between them, that America urgently needed a third way.

8 years later, we all know what a terrible mistake that was. George Bush and his team took the US to where even I thought it couldn’t go. Two wars, the destruction of international systems and various multinational attempts to solve the worlds problem, giving free reign to authoritarians worldwide as a consequence. In the US itself, lies and deceit of its own people, paranoia reigning supreme, and the passing of the kind of legislation PW Botha would be proud of, such as the Patriot Act.

So this election does matter. America at present has no credibility in the world beyond it’s might. It’s moral credibility, tarnished as it was, has been utterly destroyed.

When George Bush pontificates about Mugabe, no one listens, as it’s the lying Americans speaking, who say one thing and do another. When Bush criticises China for actions in Tibet, no one listens, as the US does worse in its occupied territories. When the US talks about invading Iran, all sympathy goes to the Iranians, victims of more US bullying, regardless of what they’re actually doing.

It’s sad to see a powerful member of the world community lose it’s way so badly. During the 80’s, even with a president such as Reagan supporting the apartheid government, and various vile dictatorships around the world, America was not united behind him, and people looked to progressive forces in the US for support. After the attacks in New York in September 2001, the entire US seemed to go into a state of shock. It disregarded the huge levels of international support at the time, burnt its bridges, and lashed out on its own. The whole country seemed united behind Bush’s war.

Which is why having the possibility of someone who, bravely, and in the face of great opposition, opposed the war from the beginning, is a huge step forward. Someone who wants to focus on renewable energy and reduce reliance on oil (foreign or not). Who sees the world not as an evil monolith out to get everyone in the US, but as a diverse group, most of whom share the same fundamental interests, and would be happy to work with the US.

I have no doubt that Obama, if elected, would disappoint. We cannot look to others for messiahs or saviours. Under the stresses of getting elected, he’s already talked of invading Pakistan, and backslid over Israel. It’s surely a sign of things to come. Just as the election campaign has forced compromises, I’m sure the reality of leading will cause even more. Some think it’ll be much worse.

Even the talk of a liberal supermajority (liberal, by American standards, at least) may not be enough to turn the US from a rogue state to a positive force that will work with the rest of the world.

But the differences are real. Drill baby drill versus a comprehensive, well-thought out renewable energy plan. Bomb bomb bomb, bomb bomb Iran versus real communication. A supportive congress and senate more willing than before to make real changes.

I’ve been closely following the kind of statements made by both the campaigns and their supporters. There’s a difference between statements made by supporters and by the actual campaigns themselves. Both sets of supporters have at times been insulting and hurtful, ignorant and bigoted. But there’s a greater level of fear and intolerance coming from many McCain supporters. International sites get flooded with ignorant vitriol if they seem to support Obama. As the character in Easy Riders said, shortly before being beaten to death, fear makes them dangerous.

Fox news, which I’ve been reading avidly, is especially flooded with hate from its readers. As a news source, it’s not as biased as I expected, simply showing a particular editorial slant. But it seems to have a lot more of fluffy entertainment as news style articles. Various celebrity goings-on seem much more likely to be on the front page of Fox than more Obama-leaning sites. Perhaps it’s simply the equivalent of a sports story. The winning team makes front page news in their hometown, but the losing team merits a mere footnote.

But it’s the two campaigns where the differences have been most real. The Obama campaign, much more than the McCain campaign, has focused on real issues, over personal attacks. They’ve both been guilty, as is expected, some would say necessary, in the kind of presidential campaign found in the US, but there’s a huge qualitative difference between the two.

If Obama is elected, there will be a surge of international goodwill for the US, and welcoming back of an old friend into the global community. If McCain is elected, many will turn away in sadness.

As the Guardian puts it, the US could be on the verge of its Mandela moment, a new epoch. No doubt, as happened in South Africa, the dream will fade, and be diluted. But to take flight, just for a brief moment, will be worth it all.

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