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?