Saturday, November 29, 2008
Thursday, November 27, 2008
CNN: Testimonies of witnesses
Key-developments, Hindu Times
BBC: Map of the locations
CSM: Home-grown terrorism in India
Council on Foreign Relations, on India's terrorism
Wednesday, November 26, 2008
"China's decision to cancel its scheduled summit meeting with the EU is a spectacular gesture and an unprecedented step in the bilateral relationship. In blaming Nicolas Sarkozy's upcoming meeting with the Dalai Lama, China takes its policy of routinely cancelling human rights dialogues with European officials to the highest political level. This aggressive move from China's diplomacy has been facilitated by the scurrilous divisions between EU countries themselves. Throughout the year, senior European leaders have scandalously failed to coordinate on the issue of Tibet and the Dalai Lama. The sorry spectacle of European disunity over the financial and economic crisis has confirmed to China's leaders that Europe is not a unitary actor and can be publicly provoked at no significant political cost. It is urgent for Europeans to realise the steep political price for their failure to agree on common principles and practice for their China policy."
Sunday, November 23, 2008
At the end of the last week, National Intelligence Council released its 2025 Forecast of the Global Trends.
The reports, drafted with the participation of non-American specialists, are documenting the emergence, in the next 20 years, of a multi polar system, with an increased dispersion of power. US will remain the sole superpower, but in decrease, with an emergence of a clearer influence of
February this year, NIC published Global Scenarios for 2025.
One of the most charismatic
Historically, his speech was a very important expression of support of the
17 November TIME 2003 issue is offering an extended texts and photographic coverage of his presidency.
Almost one year ago, US diplomats started to present their views on current foreign affairs activities on the blogs hosted by US State Department. It is not about revealing secrets, but presenting and discussing for and with the readers daily issues facing the diplomacy in the making. Recently, the 2.0. activities received on-line dimensions, after Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy Colleen Graffy get in touch with his followers on Twitter, about recent meeting in One of the most active diplomatic presences on 2.0. space is the UK Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, who’s frequently posting on youtube personal accounts of the places he’s visiting as well as of the public statements and conferences, available in this way to quite a wider audience.These kind of openings of diplomacy aren't diminishing at all overall substance of the diplomatic exercise and, for sure, is not available for all the domains covered- as the treaty negotiations, for example. It is not necessarily about democratization of foreign affairs, but about a focus on a more explanatory dimension. Plus, it could offer a source of instant information for journalists, as well as an alternative source of information, as a possible countering to what it was called in the latest years "CNN diplomacy".
One of the most active diplomatic presences on 2.0. space is the UK Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, who’s frequently posting on youtube personal accounts of the places he’s visiting as well as of the public statements and conferences, available in this way to quite a wider audience.These kind of openings of diplomacy aren't diminishing at all overall substance of the diplomatic exercise and, for sure, is not available for all the domains covered- as the treaty negotiations, for example. It is not necessarily about democratization of foreign affairs, but about a focus on a more explanatory dimension. Plus, it could offer a source of instant information for journalists, as well as an alternative source of information, as a possible countering to what it was called in the latest years "CNN diplomacy".
Saturday, November 22, 2008
Sowar (the phonetic pronunciation of the word pictures in Arabic) was launched in 2007, being published in Beirut, Lebanon. Its tag line: "A picture with a few words is worth a million".
Another issue was dedicated to the Lebanon civil war (1975-1990).
Thursday, November 20, 2008
Zimbabwe’s health system is in collapse, the local doctors fearing a wave of deaths, with a cholera epidemic sweeping through the capital city of Harare. Cholera might outbreak rapidly, 72 cases being already identified in South Africa. According to the non-governmental group Doctors without Borders (MSF), the epidemic is threatening up to 1.4 million people in Zimbabwe. The country is under the rule of president Robert Mugabe, accused of massive violations of human rights. The country is facing a perpetual economic crisis with serious shortages of basic products. In august 2008, the inflation hit 11,200,000 percent, with an expected annual rate of inflation of more than 230 million percent. Beginning of this November, the international non-governmental organization the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria accused the government of misusing a 7.3 million USD grant.
The natural resources of a country could represent a valuable source of wealth. The primordial condition is to set up proper, functional institutions and to have the minimal basis of a state. If not, everything could be at the mercy of small or larger entropic groups with terrific effects on the population and the resources are spoiled in the advantages of military/armed groups. In Congo, for example, since 1998, 5, 400,000 people have died because of a deadly conflict, the equivalent of the population of Denmark.
The total population is of 65.75 million, distributed on 905,063 square miles, being the third largest country by area in Africa. It is reach in natural resources, as diamonds, copper, zinc and coltan.
The victims are dying mostly because of hunger and diseases.
The Democratic Republic of Congo, former Belgian colony, acquired its independence in 1960. After the assassination of Patrice Lumumba, the power was seized and kept for 30 years by Mobutu Sese Seko, whose reign was rotten by corruption and dictatorship. In 1994, he was lashed following a civil war, nurtured by the Rwandan refugees, after the Hutu’s massacre of the Tutsi tribe, who occupied the Eastern part of the country. Laurent D. Kabila, a former rebel himself, became president in 1997. He was later assassinated in 2001 and followed by his son Joseph. Despite some efforts to create certain normality, by organising elections – the first free elections ever, in 2006, confirming Joseph Kabila as president – or signing peace accords, in 2003, the conflict between various warrior groups are continuing. According to International Rescue Committee, almost 1.250 people are dying daily, while the UN is hesitating to take a final decision to send more troops in the area.
will advice in policy matters during the transition period. Rice and Steinberg, together with retired Marine Gen. James L. Jones, a former NATO commander are also possible national security advisers.
Eric H. Holder jr., another former Clinton administration official could be the next Attorney General with at least one difficult task ahead: what to do with Guantanamo? Holder jr. was involved, as former deputy attorney in the case of fugitive Marc Rich pardon.
Peter R. Orszag is considered for the position of Director of Office of Management and Budget.
The main question is whether senator Hillary Rodham Clinton will accept to be the next Secretary of State and, if yes, what kind of relationship would she have/negotiate with the president, for guaranteeing a reliable and persuasive US diplomacy.
Wednesday, November 19, 2008
World Energy Outlook released November 12 in London by International Energy Agency (IEA) is recommending that, to compensate the decline of existing oil fields by 2030, the world would need to find new production equivalent to 45 million barrels per day to maintain present levels of supply. IEA, based in Paris, is the energy advisor to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). OPEC, through the voice of its secretary-general, Abdullah al-Badri, dismissed the study, saying shortly that IEA is not "equipped" to revise the current oilfields.
Piracy is not only a subject of successful movies or children stories, but a daily matter of concern, despite the sporadic presence in the headlines of the international media.
According to Live Piracy Map, the pirates are operating in a quite extended area. Through the Piracy Reporting Center, based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, the International Maritime Bureau is providing 24 hour emergency assistance on piracy cases.
Venezuela’s president Hugo Chavez found a way to use openly the enormous amount of information gathered secretly against his political opponents (practically all those who are not with him , according to very pre-modern conceptions of state and society). September 2008 Human Rights Watch released a detailed report on the permanent deterioration of the Venezuelan democracy and subsequently of the bad human rights record, ten years after Chavez seized power. The various left movements in US or Europe could see in Chavez a “hero”, mainly because his flamboyant “anti-gringos” speeches. He could consider himself the new Bolivar; he’s quite far away and is not perceived too much as a treat at the level of South America, where he even found “political friends”. The “patriotic” rhetoric has always been helpful, everywhere in the world, mainly in countries facing serious socio-economic problems and with a precarious – if any – democratic record. Ideologies and political dreams are useful for a hand of people, deeply in love with power, their power. The rest are simply victims.
Tuesday, November 18, 2008
Libya succeeded to have a very successful image lifting in the last years. Moammar Gaddhafi and his sons are having these days intensive dialog with both US and EU despite the fact that from the democratic point of view the country is very far from an incipient democracy – no political parties, no freedom of speech, no democratic institutions. But, as the Chinese example is showing quite well, a certain formula of capitalism, with a strong state involvement could survive, with the condition of having adequate resources.
In March 2008, the Middle East Institute from Washington DC, held an international conference „Libya, Africa & The West” http://www.mideasti.org/conference/libya-africa-west outlining and explaining the overall interest to this country from the last period.
Mideast is boiling again (is already a truism). The military option of an Israeli attack against
Saturday, November 15, 2008
What They Think Now
"In one of the most rapid turnabouts in our history, college youth—the chief source of social dissidence in the '60s—has moved swiftly toward reconciliation with the larger society, while the noncollege majority has taken over many of the campus-bred values." So says Social Psychologist Daniel Yankelovich, whose research firm has just completed an extensive survey of American youth for five private foundations.* Among the survey's major findings and conclusions about college youth:
> In 1971, 45% of college students felt that "this is a sick society." Now that figure has fallen to 35%.
-In 1971, 56% felt it was morally wrong to use violence even in a good cause. Now that figure has risen to 66%.
> In 1971, 57% identified with the Republican or Democratic Party. Today 73% of college students identify with one of the two major parties.
While tempering their general attack on society, college students have even more strongly swung toward an acceptance of new social values.
> In 1969, 42% felt that homosexuality was morally wrong. Now the figure is 25%.
> In 1969, 35% considered patriotism to be a very important value. Now that figure has dropped to 19%.
> In 1971, 56% believed that the
> In 1971, 38% said that big business needed fundamental reform. Now 54% feel this is an important concern.
The poll also shows that the views of noncollege youth have shifted approximately to those held by the college population five years ago.
> In 1969, 57% of noncollege youngsters believed that casual premarital sex was wrong. Now 34% hold that view.
> In 1969, 60% stressed patriotism as an important personal value. Today that figure is 40%.
> In 1969, 54% said they would welcome less emphasis on money. Now that figure has increased to 74%.
> In 1969, 79% believed that hard work always pays off. Today only 56% share that view.
The study's most predictable findings were about members of minority groups (mostly blacks) and
Among the veterans, alcohol, drug use and unemployment were found to be twice as high as among nonveterans, and only 50% of the veterans (v. 74% of the others) say that "things are going well" in their personal lives.
*The Edna McConnell Clark, Hazen and Mellon foundations, the JDR Third Fund and the Carnegie Corporation of
Tuesday, November 11, 2008
Monday, November 10, 2008
The move will be possible after, it seems, a successful work of conviction of Lithuania and Poland, who threatened a couple of days ago to block any kind of dialogue, mainly because the still tense situation from Georgia, where nothing is yet under control. Georgian authorities themselves asked EU to do not resume talks with
The question should be: how efficient and fair is, in fact, a relationship with
Sunday, November 9, 2008
Abraham H. Foxman
For those of us engaged in the fight against anti-Semitism, the commemoration of Kristallnacht which took place 70 years ago on November 9-10, has special meaning. Of course, Kristallnacht is important to remember because it was the moment when it became clear that Nazi hatred of Jews was beyond anything seen before. It is important to remember because there are yet those among us who lived through, witnessed it, and survived it. And it is important to remember because after Kristallnacht, the world no longer had any excuses for not acting against the barbarism of Nazi anti-Semitism.
Most of all, however, Kristallnacht teaches us the most basic lesson about how to view anti-Semitism and other forms of hatred. One could ask the question: if we observe Yom HaShoah every spring, why do we need to have a second commemoration every year on the anniversary of Kristallnacht? The answer, I believe, lies in the different focus. Yom HaShoah speaks to the horror of the murder of six million. It remembers and calls attention to the ultimate brutality that humans are capable of and that the history of anti-Semitism eventually produced. It is about remembering the millions of people whose lives were snuffed out because of hatred. And it reminds us that “Never Again” must be a guiding principle of our lives as Jews
Kristallnacht, on the other hand, is not about the end product of hate but the process. It represents the reality that a Holocaust does not just happen; it has to be prepared, cultivated, acted upon first in small steps, then bigger ones, and finally the biggest. In this sense, Kristallnacht commemoration is not only about remembering the over 90 Jews who were killed, the 30,000 male Jews who were arrested and sent to concentration camps, the over 1,000 synagogues which were torched along with their Torah scrolls and prayer books, and the 7,000 Jewish shops and business that were looted and destroyed.
It is also about how the Holocaust came to pass. It reminds us that the Holocaust couldn’t have happened had there not been 2,000 years of demonization of Jews throughout
Harsh words, no action
Hatred in its most extreme form, like the Holocaust, evolves over time. The challenge is not to wait to stand up until the final stage when it is too late. The time to stand up is during its evolution, indeed as early as possible. Kristallnacht was the moment when the world had to stand up. It didn’t.
There was no doubt from that point on that the Nazis were no longer content to simply strip Jews of their legal rights. Many newspapers and government officials around the world decried the violence and barbarity of Kristallnacht, but few governments were prepared to act.
Franklin Roosevelt condemned the outrages and recalled the
Kristallnacht proved the point. The world responded with harsh words and no action. Soon enough, the words themselves echoed empty and hollow. Silence followed. Kristallnacht was the first nail in the coffin of European Jewry.
Kristallnacht commemorations are important for many reasons, including the need to show the world that we must stop hate in its tracks before it leads to the ultimate - a final solution.
Abraham H. Foxman, National Director of the Anti-Defamation League and a Holocaust survivor, is the author of "The Deadliest Lies: The
(Plato. Plato in Twelve Volumes, Vols. 5 & 6 translated by Paul Shorey. Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd. 1969)
Maybe, just maybe, the result will be a step away from the anti-intellectualism that has long been a strain in American life. Smart and educated leadership is no panacea, but we’ve seen recently that the converse — a White House that scorns expertise and shrugs at nuance — doesn’t get very far either.
We can’t solve our educational challenges when, according to polls, Americans are approximately as likely to believe in flying saucers as in evolution, and when one-fifth of Americans believe that the sun orbits the Earth.
Almost half of young Americans said in a 2006 poll that it was not necessary to know the locations of countries where important news was made. That must be a relief to Sarah Palin, who, according to Fox News, didn’t realize that Africa was a continent rather than a country.
Perhaps John Kennedy was the last president who was unapologetic about his intellect and about luring the best minds to his cabinet. More recently, we’ve had some smart and well-educated presidents who scrambled to hide it. Richard Nixon was a self-loathing intellectual, and Bill Clinton camouflaged a fulgent brain behind folksy Arkansas aphorisms about hogs.
As for President Bush, he adopted anti-intellectualism as administration policy, repeatedly rejecting expertise (from Middle East experts, climate scientists and reproductive health specialists). Mr. Bush is smart in the sense of remembering facts and faces, yet I can’t think of anybody I’ve ever interviewed who appeared so uninterested in ideas.
At least since Adlai Stevenson’s campaigns for the presidency in the 1950s, it’s been a disadvantage in American politics to seem too learned. Thoughtfulness is portrayed as wimpishness, and careful deliberation is for sissies. The social critic William Burroughs once bluntly declared that “intellectuals are deviants in the U.S.”
(It doesn’t help that intellectuals are often as full of themselves as of ideas. After one of Stevenson’s high-brow speeches, an admirer yelled out something like, You’ll have the vote of every thinking American! Stevenson is said to have shouted back: That’s not enough. I need a majority!)
Yet times may be changing. How else do we explain the election in 2008 of an Ivy League-educated law professor who has favorite philosophers and poets?
Granted, Mr. Obama may have been protected from accusations of excessive intelligence by his race. That distracted everyone, and as a black man he didn’t fit the stereotype of a pointy-head ivory tower elitist. But it may also be that President Bush has discredited superficiality.
An intellectual is a person interested in ideas and comfortable with complexity. Intellectuals read the classics, even when no one is looking, because they appreciate the lessons of Sophocles and Shakespeare that the world abounds in uncertainties and contradictions, and — President Bush, lend me your ears — that leaders self-destruct when they become too rigid and too intoxicated with the fumes of moral clarity.
(Intellectuals are for real. In contrast, a pedant is a supercilious show-off who drops references to Sophocles and masks his shallowness by using words like “fulgent” and “supercilious.”)
Mr. Obama, unlike most politicians near a microphone, exults in complexity. He doesn’t condescend or oversimplify nearly as much as politicians often do, and he speaks in paragraphs rather than sound bites. Global Language Monitor, which follows linguistic issues, reports that in the final debate, Mr. Obama spoke at a ninth-grade reading level, while John McCain spoke at a seventh-grade level.
As Mr. Obama prepares to take office, I wish I could say that smart people have a great record in power. They don’t. Just think of Emperor Nero, who was one of the most intellectual of ancient rulers — and who also killed his brother, his mother and his pregnant wife; then castrated and married a slave boy who resembled his wife; probably set fire to Rome; and turned Christians into human torches to light his gardens.
James Garfield could simultaneously write Greek with one hand and Latin with the other, Thomas Jefferson was a dazzling scholar and inventor, and John Adams typically carried a book of poetry. Yet all were outclassed by George Washington, who was among the least intellectual of our early presidents.
Yet as Mr. Obama goes to Washington, I’m hopeful that his fertile mind will set a new tone for our country. Maybe someday soon our leaders no longer will have to shuffle in shame when they’re caught with brains in their heads.
Saturday, November 8, 2008
Friday, November 7, 2008
Communications are very important in mapping any kind of political and institutional approach. The rapid development of 2.0 tools offers practically an infinite possibilities of combinations, in order to reach properly your audience.
But a right balance between on- and off-line politics still should kept. Just communicating without building long-term coherent policies - to do not be permanently according to the changing mood of a virtual community - could be damaging for democracy in itself. The core values of democracies remain the same, whatever the circumstances, and the new media opportunities offer nothing more, nothing less than better ways to achieve it.
They are still many places in the world where isolation and ignorance, fear and violence are the basic ingredients of the daily life. We are aware of their existence randomly, as the access of the foreign media is strictly prohibited, and the information is exclusively released by censorship and biased channels. Took for example North Korea, four weeks ago took off of a terrorist list by US. The Pyongyang authorities released these days exclusive coverage of the last activities of Kim Jong-il – who, among other things, “attended a concert where a state choir and opera groups performs numbers like “’Please Receive Our Salute’!” – being “healthy and in control”. (http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/07/world/asia/07kim.html?_r=1&ref=asia&pagewanted=print&oref=slogin )
In Cuba, Brazilian president Lula de Silva met Fidel Castro, who, we are assured is “very lucid and active”. (http://afp.google.com/article/ALeqM5jtG6AJe5yEBOoAlpU6xrKYt3Vlhw)
Lybian leader Moammar Ghaddafi met in Belarus his counterpart Aleksandr Lukashenko (http://www.iht.com/articles/ap/2008/11/02/europe/EU-Belarus-Libya.php). Mid-October, EU ministers decided to lift, for six months only, the travel ban imposed to Lukashenko and another 41 associates, following 2006 presidential elections, judged not in compliance with the international norms. Their assets are still frozen.(http://afp.google.com/article/ALeqM5h8u0ElWuKMSPSp-iPF6o9YfURNqg)
Thursday, November 6, 2008
The event it’s the last from a long list of intensified contacts, in the first half of this year, leading to the opening of the first regular, direct flight from mainland China to Taiwan, in July (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/7488965.stm). While the potential towards supporting this opening in the relations across the straits is increasing, Taiwan’s aims to get more international space of manoeuvre continue to be hard to estimate (http://www.etaiwannews.com/etn/news_content.php?id=779479).
But, in fact, China don’t have what to negotiate and why. The economic opportunities offered, the cheep labour force, the geopolitical positioning – to name only a few of them - are offering to China a series of key-advantages in the relationships of any kind with the Western democracies.
And, apparently neither the high level of corruption, a serious warning regarding the healthy economic relationship any Western investors will have to develop with the Chinese authorities - http://www.carnegieendowment.org/publications/index.cfm?fa=view&id=19628&prog=zch , nor the disturbing level of human rights violations (http://hrw.org/doc/?t=asia&c=china) are a reason enough to continue “business as usual”. Shortly before the outburst of the most violent anti-China protests from Tibet in the last 20 years, the US removed it from the list of top ten human rights violators and the Olympic Games were held as scheduled this year in Beijing, despite a worldwide protest. Tibet continue to be a matter of international concern, but the access of the international media in the area is strictly limited and the information are completely biased and it is hard to believe the situation will change in a foreseeable future. (http://ap.google.com/article/ALeqM5iAMqM2_Dwudz52KLQeY2ZKFQq9-gD949EHQG0)
Relations between China and Taiwan
Relations between China and Tibet
One day after, Obama’s aides continued their work, picking up the first nominees of his Cabinet. The democratic transition, lasting from November 4 to January 20 2009, is involving various aspects, from the details of resettlement of the presidential family to Washington D.C., to the enormous time pressure to be ready to assume full responsibilities as soon as possible.
The two big important questions are who would lead the foreign policy and the defence?
The international reactions following Obama’s victory varied from warm to polite and most part of the messages stressed the need for a change in the way of addressing America’s foreign presence in the world.
Bush successive administrations put in practice various programs of public diplomacy, none of them fully successful, because being permanently counter-weighted by an often contradictory political positioning in foreign affairs. The Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, Karen Hughes, started her job in 2005 with, at least in words, a very promising mandate. But, public diplomacy is only part of the overall representation of the system of values of a country. Its aim is to find the most appropriate language in order to make your messages understood by the addressed audience. Cynthia Schneider, Distinguished Professor in the Practice of Diplomacy at Georgetown University, made recently a very interesting evaluation of the current image deficit of America across the world and of what have to be done by the future administration in this respect. In a lecture delivered at the Center for International and Regional Studies, Schneider stressed the need for a “re-examination” of the way in which US is representing its values in the world. Closing Guantanamo Bay – a decision considered necessary also by five former US Secretaries of State, from both Republican and Democratic administrations it's one step, quite important in the process of restoring the image of United States abroad, but which might be followed by a comprehensive approach of the mutual understanding and respect.
Wednesday, November 5, 2008
The US elections are over now, and Barack Hussein Obama will be the next 44 president of the United States of America. According to last estimations, his administration - to sworn in at the end of January 2009 - could count too on a secure majority of Democrats in both Senate and the House .
The lessons of the last two years of campaigning are still to be learned, with many interesting conclusions regarding the new style of politics in the era of global communications, in a world of permanent and unexpected changes (as was the case of the recent economic crisis, predictable, but impossible to estimate the very moment of bursting out). Obama created a huge mobilization of voters, putting at work the unknown power by now of social networks, as Facebook or Twitter or whatever any mean useful to reach the most isolated voter. The effects, advantages and disadvantages of the new trends of personalized politics are not fully evaluated, but, for sure, the overwhelming success of Obama it's a matter of preoccupation and analysis for many countries over the world confronted with coming elections .
In the discourses held shortly after the announcement of the first results, both Obama and McCain stressed the need to get over partisan lines and tackle together the long, long list of issues on the domestic and external agenda.
Former secretary of state in Clinton administration, Madeleine Albright, published today a letter to the new elected president stressing the emergency to the Obama administration to offer a comprehensive approach to the challenges facing nowadays America. The final paragraph of her opinion is extremely inspiring and doesn't concern exclusively the successful Democrats, but the whole spectrum of politicians in Washington D.C., with lessons to be drawn by the Republicans as well:
"To justify our confidence in you, you must show confidence in us. End the politics of fear. Treat us like adults. Help us to understand people from distant lands and cultures. Challenge us to work together. Remind us that America’s finest hours have come not from dominating others but from inspiring people everywhere to seek the best in themselves".
In today's NY Times, Thomas L. Friedman is writing a very good opinion stressing the historical moment in US contemporary history and the hard tasks ahead.
Indeed, it is a new beginning and the pressure of the huge expectations impose very much details and focus in projecting the future, not only for America, but for the fate of democracy as well.
A civil war that, in many ways, began at Bull Run, Virginia, on July 21, 1861, ended 147 years later via a ballot box in the very same state. For nothing more symbolically illustrated the final chapter of America’s Civil War than the fact that the Commonwealth of Virginia — the state that once exalted slavery and whose secession from the Union in 1861 gave the Confederacy both strategic weight and its commanding general — voted Democratic, thus assuring that Barack Obama would become the 44th president of the United States.
This moment was necessary, for despite a century of civil rights legislation, judicial interventions and social activism — despite Brown v. Board of Education, Martin Luther King’s I-have-a-dream crusade and the 1964 Civil Rights Act — the Civil War could never truly be said to have ended until America’s white majority actually elected an African-American as president.
That is what happened Tuesday night and that is why we awake this morning to a different country. The struggle for equal rights is far from over, but we start afresh now from a whole new baseline. Let every child and every citizen and every new immigrant know that from this day forward everything really is possible in America.
How did Obama pull it off? To be sure, it probably took a once-in-a-century economic crisis to get enough white people to vote for a black man. And to be sure, Obama’s better organization, calm manner, mellifluous speaking style and unthreatening message of “change” all served him well.
But there also may have been something of a “Buffett effect” that countered the supposed “Bradley effect” — white voters telling pollsters they’d vote for Obama but then voting for the white guy. The Buffett effect was just the opposite. It was white conservatives telling the guys in the men’s grill at the country club that they were voting for John McCain, but then quietly going into the booth and voting for Obama, even though they knew it would mean higher taxes.
Why? Some did it because they sensed how inspired and hopeful their kids were about an Obama presidency, and they not only didn’t want to dash those hopes, they secretly wanted to share them. Others intuitively embraced Warren Buffett’s view that if you are rich and successful today, it is first and foremost because you were lucky enough to be born in America at this time — and never forget that. So, we need to get back to fixing our country — we need a president who can unify us for nation-building at home.
And somewhere they also knew that after the abysmal performance of the Bush team, there had to be consequences for the Republican Party. Electing McCain now would have, in some way, meant rewarding incompetence. It would have made a mockery of accountability in government and unleashed a wave of cynicism in America that would have been deeply corrosive.
Obama will always be our first black president. But can he be one of our few great presidents? He is going to have his chance because our greatest presidents are those who assumed the office at some of our darkest hours and at the bottom of some of our deepest holes.
“Taking office at a time of crisis doesn’t guarantee greatness, but it can be an occasion for it,” argued the Harvard University political philosopher Michael Sandel. “That was certainly the case with Lincoln, F.D.R. and Truman.” Part of F.D.R.’s greatness, though, “was that he gradually wove a new governing political philosophy — the New Deal — out of the rubble and political disarray of the economic depression he inherited.” Obama will need to do the same, but these things take time.
“F.D.R. did not run on the New Deal in 1932,” said Sandel. “He ran on balancing the budget. Like Obama, he did not take office with a clearly articulated governing philosophy. He arrived with a confident, activist spirit and experimented. Not until 1936 did we have a presidential campaign about the New Deal. What Obama’s equivalent will be, even he doesn’t know. It will emerge as he grapples with the economy, energy and America’s role in the world. These challenges are so great that he will only succeed if he is able to articulate a new politics of the common good.”
Bush & Co. did not believe that government could be an instrument of the common good. They neutered their cabinet secretaries and appointed hacks to big jobs. For them, pursuit of the common good was all about pursuit of individual self-interest. Voters rebelled against that. But there was also a rebellion against a traditional Democratic version of the common good — that it is simply the sum of all interest groups clamoring for their share.
“In this election, the American public rejected these narrow notions of the common good,” argued Sandel. “Most people now accept that unfettered markets don’t serve the public good. Markets generate abundance, but they can also breed excessive insecurity and risk. Even before the financial meltdown, we’ve seen a massive shift of risk from corporations to the individual. Obama will have to reinvent government as an instrument of the common good — to regulate markets, to protect citizens against the risks of unemployment and ill health, to invest in energy independence.”
But a new politics of the common good can’t be only about government and markets. “It must also be about a new patriotism — about what it means to be a citizen,” said Sandel. “This is the deepest chord Obama’s campaign evoked. The biggest applause line in his stump speech was the one that said every American will have a chance to go to college provided he or she performs a period of national service — in the military, in the Peace Corps or in the community. Obama’s campaign tapped a dormant civic idealism, a hunger among Americans to serve a cause greater than themselves, a yearning to be citizens again.”
None of this will be easy. But my gut tells me that of all the changes that will be ushered in by an Obama presidency, breaking with our racial past may turn out to be the least of them. There is just so much work to be done. The Civil War is over. Let reconstruction begin.