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No Hope For Hitchens

I think Christopher Hitchens drinks because he likes hangovers.  His latest in Slate points out the fact that the election of President Obama, while certainly significant and a well-placed boot in the arse to the Bush administration, solves precisely nothing…and all the giddy, hopeful, rose-coloured hippies had better prepare for a series of disappointments.
What?  No unicorns?

There is an element of the “wannabe” about all this—something that suggests that, if the clock were to be rolled back, every living white person would now automatically stand with John Brown at Harper’s Ferry and with John Lewis at the Edmund Pettus Bridge. All the evidence we have is to the contrary: Abraham Lincoln ringingly denounced John Brown, and John F. Kennedy (he of the last young and pretty family to occupy the Executive Mansion) was embarrassed and annoyed by the March on Washington. In other words, there is something pain-free and self-congratulatory about the Obama surge. This has happened before, of course, with the high-sounding talk about the “New Frontier,” the “Great Society,” and “Morning in America.” It’s just that this time it’s more than usually not affordable. There are many causes of the subprime and derivative horror show that has destroyed our trust in the idea of credit, but one way of defining it would be to say that everybody was promised everything, and almost everybody fell for the populist bait.

More worrying still, there are vicious enemies and rogue states in increasing positions of influence throughout the world (one of the episodes that most condemned the Republican campaign was its attempt to slander Sen. Joe Biden for his candid attempt to point this out), yet many Obama voters appear to believe that the mere charm and aspect of their new president will act as an emollient influence on these unwelcome facts and these hostile forces. I can’t make myself perform this act of faith, and I won’t put up with any innuendo about my inability to do so.

It wouldn’t be so bad if there weren’t something quite so accurate about the point.  It would seem certain that the long hard slog out of the mess the United States is in will be longer and harder than the American ADD culture can tolerate.  Having elected Obama, they want their unicorns and they want them NOW.

Unfortunately, eight years of Republican navigation in an unsustainable credit economy, thirty-year-old ideas about wealth trickling down rather than being siphoned off, vicious and ill-formed foreign policies spawned by myopic neocon imbeciles, and the reprehensible shredding of both the spirit and the letter of the Constitution have rendered a rather uneven playing field on which to judge the speed and efficacy of an Obama administration.  There just aren’t any contemporary benchmarks by which progress might be fairly surveyed.

In view of all that, perhaps it is also fair to take another step.  Maybe we ought to grow the fuck up and recognize that not only are we not getting unicorns, there isn’t overnight delivery for mythical single horned equines in any case.   Maybe the hangover was caused by those bastards who cooked up all that moonshine and the people who guzzled it like mother’s milk instead of the guy who just got here and is now supposed to sort out the mess.  Christ…look at Wall Street lining up for a bit of the hair of the dog that bit them.

I know Hitch is a crank – but he’s a fuckin’ smart crank.  He has staked out a point that’s rather painfully unassailable:  There are serious problems in the world that are not magically going away and will not be solved by charm and popularity no matter how intelligent, thoughtful and measured this president Obama.  No unicorns for you!

Balls.  Leaving aside the inspiring, hopeful wave of political awareness and involvement that the Obama campaign sparked within the American population – young, minority, liberal, first time voters – there are now opportunities in the foreign policy arena that only possible precisely because of Obama’s popularity and charm.  Opportunities to communicate with friends and enemies alike from a position that is equally well perceived by them as being different in kind, temperment, style, manner and means than the past eight years.

An administration defined by Bush (a semi-literate frat boy rich kid dunce) and Cheney (a power mad neocon bastard from the Nixon era) has been replaced by an educated, thoughtful, popular president – a man who doesn’t smirk while tossing off canned bits of Reaganomic blither and John Wayne-esque ‘You’re either with us or you’re against us’ blather; who had his head around the priniciple of never getting involved in a land war in Asia before it started; who overcame what they all thought were impossible odds.  A man named Hussein.

The world, friends and enemies alike, are now hoping for an improved dialogue – something they knew (as we all did) was impossible with Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Rice, Feith….  Their concept of negotiation was, “Do as we say or else.”  Rampant capitalism and American superpower hegemony tied up in red, white and blue ribbons.

It remains to be seen what will come from this – whether the opportunity is seized, taken, realized, exploited.  I expect nothing worse than the past eight years and am hard pressed to imagine how it might be.  But while there may be no benchmarks, this opportunity to talk – the sense around the entire planet (from celebrations in Kenya and Japan to letters of congratulations from Mahmoud Achmidnijhad) that perhaps something positive can be achieved – is no small accomplishment for a man who has yet to be sworn in.

I think Hitchens misses an important bit and Obama expressed it perfectly:  The Audacity to Hope.
It should not be discounted.
Not to say that Hitchens needs to hope.  I know better than to expect anything like that.  If Hitch can be said to hope, one suspects it is only insofar as his darkest predictions are confirmed and the bottle is always full.  Nevertheless, he might accept that Hope, as a present or absent quality in the global psyche, is to be preferred.  He seems settled on Faith.  No idea where he’s at on Charity.

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One Response

  1. Never get involved in a land war in Asia. Ha! Everyone knows that.

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