Friday, 7 November 2008

why I care about Obama

I got a comment after my post The day before yesterday in which someone wondered why, all the way down here in oz, we’d care so much about the outcome of the US elections.

And you know, I’ve not cared so much ever before so it got me thinking about why I do this time.

I think there’s two quite different buckets of reasons. Firstly there’s the things about Obama.

That he represents (to me, way back here in my metaphoric armchair on the other side of the world) the politics of hope. He seems to be a man of integrity, honesty and realism. He seems smart and insightful and largely undeluded about the nature of things. Basically, he seems like an ordinary bloke, of the very best and most elevated kind.

I really like that he is of African American descent, that he has lived in different parts of the world, with white relatives as well as black and in a range of circumstances. I think this makes it more likely that he will have understanding and empathy for all people, not just people like him. And I like that he is well educated because I think that gives him the power to use what he has experienced in the most effective possible way.

I like that he has been a champion of those without power and status, without seeming to be stuck in the burn out and despair that this kind of work can bring. I like that he seems calm and reasonable. It seems a lot less likely that he’ll do something really scary and stupid based on his own personal emotions or prejudice than the other mob have been doing for a while now.

If it sounds a bit like I’m elevating him to the status of super hero then I’m not making myself clear. A good deal of what makes a good leader is knowing when to do nothing, when to accept the situation as it is and not act all god like. Heck, I’ve worked in government long enough to know that the desire to change the world is often ill-conceived, poorly executed, bound to fail, and wastes a lot of resources.

I don't expect him to move mountains, I'd be happy if he just didn't fuck things up even more than they already are. He's taking on pretty much the worst job I can imagine so just showing up for work will be a challenge and clawing back any ground at all a victory.

I feel like Obama gets this. I’m not sure why, I just think he knows that real change comes in much more subtle ways. Not grandstands, wars and sledgehammers, but in accepting the flawed nature of human beings and trying to do the best you can in complicated times.

And even if he doesn’t get all this, he can make me, and a really large number of other people believe he does. And that’s enough for me to be really happy. Because people could have chosen differently. They could have chosen out of fear, and accepted a starting premise that the world is a bad place, full of bad people out to do you wrong. They could have believed that their best chance in life is predicated on knocking the less able and fortunate out of their way to protect their patch.

So you know, I’m glad he won because I like him and what he represents to me.

But the other reason I care is because over here in Oz we are, willingly or not, bound to the US and all the things they do. As the years go on my sense of the interconnectedness of us all grows ever more strong. This is something I feel, something I have experienced viscerally since having kids. Like radiating circles out from myself, I just can’t see an edge to what can and will impact me.

You know, I can’t watch a kid on a world vision ad without feeling like it is my own, without thinking what if Amy was left in the world without me, without food, while bombs rained down? So you know, their suffering causes me suffering too, however abstracted.

But before you go thinking this is just another sob story, those impacts have other dimensions. Clinical and quantifiable. When the US government bails out banks who lend money to people who can’t afford it so they can buy a lifestyle they haven’t earned, I end up paying some of that. I pay for it through the shifts and ripples of the global market, through local job losses and rising prices in imported goods I can’t avoid.

When the US goes to war, we go too. Even if we weren’t sending our troops, the costs of those wars reverberate back through economic exchanges that lead right to my door.

Now this isn’t new, not even new to me. The ties that bind people and nations have always been there. But it feel like they have been strengthened over time, and my awareness of them has been heightened. While the global economy and environment goes into decline and some serious questions are floating to the surface about the market and our concepts of freedom and choice and rights, the time seems really pregnant with possibility.

Possibilities for good, possibilities for bad.

So choosing the bloke who seems most focused on dealing with the hole we’ve dug ourselves, without losing sight of the hill top we wish we were on seems like a very good omen indeed.

Plus, did you see him dance on Ellen? How can you not vote for a guy who moves like that?


Judy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
sooz said...

I understand your point about the developers - but in the end developers only exist because people are buying. In Australia too! The average house size has more than doubled in the last 50 years and the level of personal debt that people have is astronomically higher. This consumption drives the kinds of industries that speculate and make both spectacular profit and spectacular loss (requiring tax payer intervention).

The idea that people will buy more is what drives the engine of capitalism and the economy, and as we can plainly see this drive for profit and the willingness of people to consume it is fragile and unsustainable. To me this is the crux of where we are and what is wrong with it. Once we strove to have enough resources to feed and protect ourselves from the elements, now people consider themselves poor if they don't have a lifestyle that 30 years ago was what only the 'rich' had.

And people's willingness to borrow money to fund that lifestyle is outrageous to me. The media is full of sad stories of people drowning in debt because they bought stuff they couldn't afford and (often by their own admission) didn't need. This sense of entitlement to luxury and consumption just can't be satisfied, simple as that. Even if we can recover the economy, it is only a matter of time before our fundamental measure of what we need and ought to have will be reset - if we can't do it for ourselves, the planet will do it for us.

And don't get em started on people's cry of foul that someone didn't prevent them from borrowing more than they could afford - the abdication of personal responsibility is also totally out of control but that's a whole other post...

ruby-crowned kinglette said...

thanks, for saying so wonderfully, what i think the world seems to feel. a huge sense of relief, that there might be and end, at last, to the last 8 years, to the selfish sense of entitlement and the wholesale neglect of personal responsibility.

Lezlie said...

Wow. That was beautiful! I voted for Obama, and I could not have more pride in the fact that he is now our president-elect. The work is just beginning, but, like you, I believe Barack is the man for the job. I'm so glad the hope is felt far beyond the borders of the U.S.


Di said...

So well said (as always).

Re the finanical stuff, I heard part of an interview on the radio the other day, and the interviewee was saying the current financial crisis is really the culmination of the last 30-odd years of increasing debt.

After WW2, until the mid 60's, credit was much harder to obtain and people who had lived through the uncertainty of world wars and the depression weren't exactly keen to take on debt. From the mid 40's to 60's a very robust financial system was established.

But from the mid 60's the people taking on debt, and the people offering credit, were from the next generation, perhaps resenting the financial conservatism of their parents. The robust system has been gradually eroded, everyone (businesses and individual) operating on lines of increasing and unsustainable credit.

In the case of housing, the price rises have been unsustainable in that people have been borrowing more and more of the house price in order to purchase. Apparently some loans were for 110% or 120% of the house purchase price. Lenders assumed prices will continue to rise in the future and the property will be worth more. But it will only be worth what people can afford to pay (ie, how much credit they can get). At some point, prices can't continue rising, and people are left with debts far greater than the assets the purchased with the funds.

It's going to be a long, hard, slow road back to a robust credit system.

angelasavage said...

Enjoyed your post, Sooz. Roo and I have had robust discussions about the significance of Obama's election victory. While admitting it represents a massive cultural shift, Roo remains to be convinced about how much will really change - though he'll stand corrected if the US stops bombing people and fucking up their trade (quote...unquote). I agree with you about Obama's cultural origins giving him a sense of how big the world is and can only hope this will translate into improvements in US foreign policy. We'll see...

And hey, it doesn't hurt that he's gorgeous!

Kate said...

I totally heart Obama. I am busy hero worshiping him, so please no comments, I will come down to earth in a few months.

But the thing I love the best, the most is that he doesn't pretend it's easy, it's simple, that there are quick solutions. He knows some people hate him now, more will hate him later, people who think he's fantastic now will turn away when he doesn't magically fix everything.

And I trust his judgement. how big a relief is that?!

Corrie said...

well said! I'm so happy he won and was very teary watching him...personally his wife was a better dancer than he was but I'm yet to see john howard or kevin dance like that!
I was trying to email but keep getting reject messages. I finally got a few japanese magazines and one has lots of ladieswear...on my blog for sale