Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Obama and the world

Click on the links for

On KPFA, Against the Grain on Obama's possible policies,

and at Foreign Policy in Focus, myself and others on Three Priorities for Obama,

and still up on the Guardian, thoughts on the transition and the White House.
Respect the office, if not the man
Barack Obama's White House visit was a polite formality, but it sends a powerful signal to his opponents: it's over
Comments (62)

* Ian Williams
o Ian Williams
o guardian.co.uk, Monday November 10 2008 23.36 GMT
o Article history

Barack Obama is a cool guy, so his visit to George Bush's White House today was likely not as tense as it could have been. After all, given his commitment to talk with his enemies, Obama could have been chatting with Kim Jong Il or Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, neither of whom has insulted him or ripped up the constitution recently. But Obama is savvy enough to realise that whatever his thoughts on the man, he has to make nice to the office.

By all accounts, Bush is a sociable sort of guy, and as long as the conversation did not stray too into nuance - what type of dog to get was probably safe - it should have been easy. Despite the ugly overtones of the election, the man who appointed Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice is clearly no visceral racist himself, even if his campaigns happily conjured up the ghosts of the Ku Klux Klan.

Indeed, given the bitterness of sectarian Republican politics, which is now as inherently schismatic as the Leninist left, it is quite possible that Bush was actually quite glad to see John McCain get his comeuppance. After all, it does not do much for a guy's ego when his party's successor attempts to bury him alive and out of sight for the duration of the election.

There are probably some denunciations of Obama for accepting Bush's hospitality already prepared. However, the constitutional whiz kid from Harvard is doing the right thing in subtly underlining the years of Republican denial of election results. There is, as he says, only one president at a time.

For decades now, the conservatives in the Republican party have had difficulty accepting the idea of a "loyal government" when Democrats won elections. Most memorably, they never accepted Bill Clinton as president, regardless of mere details like elections.

Obama's acceptance of Bush's proffered hand has no downside. It does not commit him to anything, let alone to continuing his policies. On the contrary, for those Americans still hoping the Minutemen or Nathan Bedford Forrest will come and rescue them from their living nightmare, the Bush handoff sends a signal that it is all over.

So, dignity should be the watchword for Obama. When the Clinton family left the White House, the rabid Republican interns rushed in and began counting the spoons. Obama's team does not have to stoop to that. Bush is a manifest failure and falls down on his own record without embellishment of any kind from the victor.

Now that he has done the barely necessary honours, Obama can continue, without personal malice, to undo the executive work of eight years of the worst president out the 43 variously talented previous occupants of the office. It seems that he has been preparing his agenda and can, at the dash of a pen, undo some of the substantial damage his host today has done. Much better to reach for the presidential pen to sign away all those regressive executive orders than an ostentatious wipe with a sanitising tissue after today's handshake.

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