Saturday, November 08, 2008

Obama's lessons for Brown

Ian Williams: Bush in history’s dustbin and what Obama can teach others
November 9, Tribune

Ian Williams says the President-elect gives Americans a reason to face the rest of the world with pride again, while Gordon Brown could learn a few things from his campaign

BARACK OBAMA’S victory is historic – in terms of centuries and more recent decades. After 230 years, it finally puts truth in the rumours spread by America’s founding fathers about freedom, and government by the people, which at the time they assumed meant white people.

When Obama was born, anyone of his complexion would have had difficulty voting in most of the south. When Ralph Bunche, one of the highest-ranking black Americans in government, was offered a choice between the State Department and the United Nations, he chose the latter, because it was in New York. Washington was still segregated legally.

Even 20 years ago, it was inconceivable for whites and blacks to kiss in a movie, since any such film would be unmarketable throughout large stretches of the United States. A lot has changed in those decades, which is reflected in the age profile of intense Obama support. Forced desegregation of schools and other civil rights policies have worked.

However, we should not neglect the importance of George W Bush in this. His perversely positive legacy is that his melange of myopic malice and incompetence has done as much as Martin Luther King’s hard work to unite Americans of all colours – against him.

But as the world watches the White House race for all its historical significance, there is a more recent historical resonance – not least for those countries foolish enough to imitate the American model too slavishly. Obama has reinvigorated politics across the US and revived the Democratic Party, which in the Bill Clinton era seemed destined to become a mere PO box for corporate donations. Obama insisted on contesting supposedly unwinnable states and building a nationwide base, which is, in a way, the best guarantee that he will not recede too precipitately to unprincipled presidential behaviour.

That very base, those habits of organisation that Obama has built, could turn against him if he fails to deliver. In fact, his own success has now guaranteed that his party now has control of both houses in Congress as well, so he has fewer excuses for backsliding on his promises.

Because of his adept political organisation, Democrats now have secure majorities in the Senate and the House of Representatives to back his firm electoral mandate. He will need it to turn the Balkanised federal government around.

As a Senator himself, whose work will have brought in many of the new intake of legislators, he is in a better position than Clinton to work with the Congress.

He clearly has to win over some Republicans, but one can but hope that he avoids Clinton’s mistake of pandering to conservatives in the hope of reciprocation. They will no more accept his legitimacy than they did Clinton’s. Obama will almost certainly face interference from a conservative Supreme Court that is even more committed than in the 1930s to deny central government powers to act for the common good. He will need all the political support he can muster to prevail and reverse the deleterious effects of decades of Republican appointments to the bench.

However, beyond the parochial, Americans can now consign the Bush years to history and face the world with pride. They have put centuries of racism behind it and elected a President who shows signs of knowing where the rest of the world is, as well as knowing that the way to hearts and minds is not crushing testicles in some secret CIA dungeon.

Perhaps now is the time for Gordon Brown, always an assiduous student of the American way of doing things, to take some lessons about building parties and electoral success.

And perhaps he should note that after the economic collapse brought about by neo-liberal economic policies, the most potent issue for American voters in their choice of Obama for President was the debacle of Iraq – a war supported by the British Government.

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