The obligatory Obama post

I’m sure nobody will be surprised that I’m pleased that Barack Obama has won the election. I’ve got various cousins in the USA (of the two I actually know, one lives in North Carolina and one has recently lived in California, Virginia, Mexico and Cuba, depending on where the US State Department sends her), and the latter in particular told me that her colleagues were particularly displeased at having to work for Condi Rice instead of Colin Powell. I am particularly pleased that both Virginia and NC went blue (not that it matters which states went blue and which red, as they all get the same president in the end). I heard the election called a landslide, but really it wasn’t - many of the states which had a majority for Obama this time border onto states which voted for Kerry in 2004, and Obama made few inroads in the south, even in places which had voted for Clinton (in fact, many of these places had a heavy swing towards McCain). So, it seems like more a case of boundaries being pushed back from 2004 than a revolution. (More: Ginny, Izzy Mo, Abu Eesa, Haroon Moghul: [1], [2], [3], Umar Lee: [1], [2], Tariq Nelson: [1], [2].)

Of course, it could be said that Obama could not have won it without Bush, but then, John Kerry had Bush in 2004 and didn’t win. I have heard that this is the first time in decades that the Democrats have fielded a northerner with an academic background (rather than a southerner with a good-ole-boy background). On the other hand, while the Republican presidential candidate was a long-standing senator with a “war hero” reputation, his vice-presidential candidate proved herself to be a complete know-nothing. There is a stereotype of Americans, particularly provincial ones, who cannot answer basic questions about geography, such as naming a country whose name starts with a U as seen in one YouTube video, and Palin’s failure to name members of NAFTA or any Supreme Court judgement other than Roe v Wade demonstrated this in the crassest possible way. Of course, the Republicans have a recent history of playing the “good ole boy/girl” card, but they usually pick candidates who actually did go to college (even Ivy League colleges) and then pretend to be humble and down with the common folk. By picking an actual ignoramus, allied to an elderly veteran politican (i.e. she could have actually become president), they overplayed that card drastically. Let’s face it, you wouldn’t really want the average “hockey mom” running the country.

So, it’s a kick in the face for anti-intellectualism, which is no bad thing in my book. This may also be an inspiration to anyone struggling with pressures not to be “too smart”, something brother Tariq has frequently posted about on his site. It’s a problem which affects both black and white Americans, but at the end of the day you don’t seem to have blacks going to high-class universities who then get elected to high office by pretending to be hustlers and thugs.

Something which has bothered me about this election is the criticism of the alleged misogyny in the rubbishing of Sarah Palin. I am not talking about the pornography based on her; I am talking about things like this, posted on the Guardian’s website yesterday:

Until then, the snobbish, sexist Palin ripdown keeps on rolling in the aftermath of the election. There are the jibes about her campaign clothes being returned, about her thinking that Africa is a country (along with “Russia and such”), about her venality, avarice and stupidity generally. Well, you know who else was venal, avaricious and stupid? Bush. But the plentiful insults against him never had the physically violating, bilious quality of these attacks. The puerile prank call, in which Palin fell for an impostor pretending to be Nicolas Sarkozy, is just another form of harassment, just another guy bugging a woman. I thought Palin was admirable in responding gamely. Any other woman’s reaction upon learning that Sarkozy was on the line, his face glazed from excessive supermodel sexual activity, would be “Euch!”

The problem is that Palin is demonstrably even more ignorant than Bush, and had she won high office, would have relied even more on “advisors” than Bush has to fill in the gaps in her knowledge of geography. Most of the attacks Bidisha is describing are legitimate: nobody really needs to spend six-figure sums of money on clothing; at a time when the country is heading into a recession (or, indeed, at any other time), the place doesn’t need its own Imelda Marcos. A potential leader does need to have a grasp of geography, so not knowing that Africa is not a country is a big drawback. Sarah Palin is not the first politician to get a prank call - Tony Blair got one from a joker pretending to be William Hague, the then Tory opposition leader. He knew it was a joker, because he was addressed as “Tony”, when the real William Hague addressed him as Prime Minister. If you cannot understand such things, you should not be taking phone calls purportedly from foreign politicians, particularly in countries where they speak a language you do not speak. It was not “just another form of harassment, just another guy bugging a woman”, it was a local radio DJ baiting an already powerful politician who was at serious risk of becoming even more powerful, and succeeding because the latter did not know what she was doing. There was none of the usual power relationship that men have with women between that DJ and Palin, because she was thousands of miles away, was in a position of political power and threatened to acquire one which would have allowed her to strong-arm the leaders of his country.

Besides which, there were some Americans who openly said that a woman shouldn’t be president. Admittedly, they did not seem to influence the vote much in heavily religious parts of the country, and quite possibly they would have voted for McCain because they realised that voting for their preferred candidate (Chuck Baldwin of the Constitution Party) would simply have let their states’ votes go to Obama (or simply because Baldwin was not on the ballot in their state). However, I would have little respect for a mother of a disabled child who decided to take a job which would mean relocating thousands of miles away, and could easily have meant having little time to spend on him. Then we have the issue of American policy favouring the preaching of abstinence in third-world countries with an AIDS problem, even when alternatives have been shown to work (such as the “ABC” formula from Uganda: Abstain, Be faithful, use a Condom), while one of this woman’s unmarried teenage children is already having babies. Besides which, what sort of mother (or father, for that matter) names one of their sons Track, and one of their daughters Bristol? When the president of France intervened to rescue some of his country’s citizens from their rightful place in a central African jail after they’d tried to traffic some children out of the country, he boasted that France is a “good mother”. Well, Palin is not my idea of a good mother, and neither would the US have been if Palin had been running it. When it was announced that Palin had been picked, I immediately thought of a certain British comedian; but instead of a comedian, McCain picked a joke.

In the UK, the news presenter Jeremy Paxman managed to make a complete ass of himself in interviewing the London rap artist Dizzee Rascal. Not to say that “Mr Rascal” didn’t look silly himself by suggesting that “hip-hop played a big part in this as well” and then stumbling over his words, but to ask him if he considers himself British is really something else. Of course, if he had asked this of a Muslim in this day and age, there would be plenty of people defending him, but the point is that there is not much of a scandal about it either. Trevor Phillips, the head of the Commission on Equality and Human Rights (the successor to the Commission for Racial Equality, which was also run by Phillips) has claimed that a “British Obama” couldn’t happen the way things stand, because of our system of choosing leaders (i.e. they have to come up through the ranks and stand for election at the head of a party, rather than as a candidate for office in their own right). As I wrote here the last time this issue came up, Britain’s history with its ethnic minorities is different from the USA’s; Afro-Americans have been in the country a lot longer, and while the British empire had slavery, it was not followed by a regime of segregation (although Obama’s family history includes none of this, and many of our most successful Black politicians are of west African, not Caribbean, descent).

To conclude (and I had better, since this was meant to be posted well before midnight as the election was, let’s face it, last week’s news), I am thoroughly glad Obama won the election; it means the end of Bush’s politics, which means that all his neo-con advisors and their cheerleaders in the media will become outsiders, and will no longer be able to make any claims to being “anti-establishment” as they had eight years of dominance. One hopes that he might move to regulate the way elections are held, so that no future shenanigans along the lines of Florida 2000 and Ohio 2004 happen (and by the way, no other developed country has these problems on anything like that scale). As for the British politicians who expressed their approval, particularly the Labour politicians, they should hang their heads in shame, because Bush was able to get away with so much in the past seven years because they showed no backbone whatsoever, leading this country into his wars and signing an odious and unequal extradition treaty which leaves British citizens with no real rights. They are nothing but patsies. A new American president will not change that.

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