Now That He’s Won . . .

By Carl Arnold:

All commentators, from mass media pundits to the call-ins on WBAI, are using the word historic to describe yesterday’s election of Barack Obama. Indeed they should. For all the reasons repeated incessantly, everyone should feel profound respect for the watershed nature of this extraordinary event.

And yet — it is not too soon to look beyond.

What does this mean for alternative parties, and especially for us in the Green Party? There appears, at first blush, to be more wiggle room for popular pressure now than yesterday, when the Bush administration simply did what it wanted and ignored what it didn’t like.

Consider what needs to be accomplished: a realistic, wide-ranging and immediate response to climate change, single-payer healthcare reform, an enormous shift in foreign policy, rearranging the US electoral system to wrest control from the moneyed puppeteers to establish a democracy in which every vote counts and is counted, is genuinely inclusive of all legitimate points of view, and in which presidential candidates are not barred from participating in a presidential debate (or threatened with arrest for attempting to merely sit in the audience — Nader in 2000).

The list is of course, far longer.

Most people I speak with — even if highly educated— are largely unaware of Obama’s main positions: he wants to expand the war in Afghanistan, is in favor of the death penalty, is not for single-payer healthcare, and has continually touted the oxymoronic “safe nuclear” and “clean coal.” I expect that progressives and radicals, even many liberals, hope he follows a venerable American tradition and breaks these campaign promises.

The president-elect, at best a centrist, has said many times that “this is not about me, it’s about you.” Whether or not he really means to invite popular pressure for the things that matter to folks, it’s up to us to provide that pressure — by finding and focusing on local races that we Greens might actually win. There’s no reason for anyone to take us seriously until we create a presence on the local level by building a local reputation by proving what we can do. That will eventually translate into higher office because we earned that shot at something bigger.

We should regard this moment as our chance for change. The American people are fed up — and hungry, even impatient — for progressive change domestically and a more enlightened foreign policy. Greens must take full advantage of an extraordinary shift in mood to press for the kind of progress we’ve been striving for.

— Carl Arnold
November 5, 2008

Coda: To avoid any illusion about what Obama may do, remember his stated intention for military escalation in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and that his principal foreign policy advisor is Zbigniew Brzezinski, Carter’s national security advisor. A mere ten years ago Brzezinski wrote:

It is also a fact that America is too democratic at home to be autocratic abroad. This limits the use of America’s power, especially its capacity for military intimidation. Never before has a populist democracy attained international supremacy. But the pursuit of power is not a goal that commands popular passion, except in conditions of a sudden threat or challenge to the public’s sense of domestic well-being. The economic self-denial (that is, defense spending) and the human sacrifice (casualties, even among professional soldiers) required in the effort are uncongenial to democratic instincts. Democracy is inimical to imperial mobilization.
— Zbigniew Brzezinski (national security advisor to Jimmy Carter)
The Grand Chessboard, 1997, p 35

Not only are these sentiments remarkably close to those expressed by the neocons of Project for a New American Century, they unfortunately derive from a much older US attitude:

We have 50% of the world’s wealth but only 6.3% of the population. In this situation, we cannot fail to be the object of envy and resentment. Our real task in the coming period is to devise a pattern of relationships that will permit us to maintain this position of disparity without positive detriment to our national security. To do so we will have to dispense with all sentimentality and daydreaming . . . We should cease to talk about vague . . . unreal objectives, such as human rights, the raising of living standards, and democratization.
— Secretary of State George Kennan
State Dept. Policy Planning Staff memorandum 23, 1948