Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The Vision Thing

Bill Clinton had his popularity balloon punctured this week for attacking Barack Obama's ability to galvanize audiences by infusing them with hope--hope being, you know, that flimsy thing with feathers. Obama's drastic fits of hope have infuriated Clinton, quite literally making his skin twitch, because Clinton considers Obama's hope-filled dreams to be pie-in-the-sky whimsy, a flat-out denial of the catastrophic realities confronting us. Vision, both Clintons claimed from their tandem bicycle, is fine as far as it goes, but vision stops short of actually getting things done. It took an experienced president, Lyndon Johnson, to put into law the "dream" of Martin Luther King, Hillary chimed in, tragically managing to shoot herself in the foot, in what may yet prove to be a lethal, if self-inflicted, wound.

As if in direct response to these perturbations in the electoral college, Ted Kennedy (and his niece Caroline) came out simultaneously with their big endorsement of Barack Obama--precisely because he IS so inspirational and speaks directly to the best we can be, and to our highest aspirations as a country, by seeming to rise above the deforming effects of many of our cultural pathologies. Obama's "vision thing", it seems, is about recapturing a positive identity for America, which has been in the grip of what the German philosopher Hegel called "negative identity" for some considerable time now--defined as, the process of creating an identity for yourself by having an enemy who you are against.

My eyes were opened to this distinction--and to just how much, as a country, we have been in the grip of "negative identity"--while reading a recently published book, called "Dark Ages America: The Final Phase of Empire" by Morris Berman. I cannot recommend this book highly enough.

Berman claims it was inevitable that when the Berlin Wall fell, signaling the end of the Cold War, we were suddenly stripped of our identity as "anti-Communists," which created a void and left us stuck with only our humdrum identity as "consumers" all during the Clinton years, a distinction that somehow lacks any grand mythological appeal. However, with the collapse of the USSR, it had also become obvious that only one superpower remained standing: "toys are us."

Enter the right-wing, neo-conservative "junta," (consisting of Dick Cheney, Paul Wolfowitz, Donald Rumsfeld et al.); their "vision thing" was to see to it that America would have no rivals in the next century and that no other nation would ever become a great power. Their Big Idea was world hegemony, otherwise known as "Full Spectral Dominance." The previous foreign policy of "containment" that had largely underpinned the Cold War was ditched, to be replaced by notions of preemptive war and "regime change," as the sublime tools for fulfilling the vision of America as an empire with complete global hegemony. (This became known as the "Bush Doctrine.") The intention was to remake the entire planet in our image. And if, as Berman writes, "a country should, for some unimaginable reason, disagree, well, what else is the U.S. military for?"

September 11th became the unexpected opening for the neoconservative crowd to press into action with their agenda of a new American empire of world domination. All this has been, in Berman's words, "a gradual turn toward a Dark Age" for America, achieved through a slow-motion coup d'etat that would, in the process, hopefully transform U.S. democracy into a one-party system and a theocratic plutocracy.

Hail to the Chief! The blow-back of our foreign policies over many decades of American militarism has finally come home to roost in the form of terrorism. It's an enemy, says Berman, that we cannot defeat because it is, strictly speaking, not an enemy, but rather a technique--the only weapon available to those who object to the violence of American empire and how it impacts them.

"What it would take now," he states, "to pull back from the edge, let alone reverse course, requires a grace, a flexibility, and an imagination that I suspect we simply don't possess."

When Berman wrote those words, there was no Barack Obama to be seen riding the escalator of ambition, no blueprint for change in the sky visible in our political destiny. There was no sign of America's last chance to still pull back from the deadly scenario of "negative identity," in which our country has morphed into a monster in the rest of the world's eyes. As it happens, I definitely agree with Berman: we will not get another chance.

So, anybody who thinks this election is somehow about race, or about gender, is sadly mistaken. What it is really about is America's one and only last chance.

1 comment:

Morris Berman said...

Dear Suzi,

Many thanks for recommending "Dark Ages America" to your readers; I appreciate it. I just want to say, however, that neither Obama nor anybody else can provide America with a last chance. What I really discovered in writing "Dark Ages America" is that our problems are structural, and that some of them go back to the very early years of the Republic, if not before. These problems have come full circle now, and whoever winds up in the White House--whether black, white, male, female, blue or green--is essentially going to be a funeral director, nothing more. Certainly, a GOP president will accelerate our collapse, insisting on a hegemony we no longer have, and thus carrying out self-destructive policies at home and abroad. As for the Dems: Hillary not only backed the invasion of Iraq, she has also been saber-rattling over Iran, which would be a rerun of the Iraq scenario, only much worse. She also has major ties to leading corporations, esp. the medical establishment (see article by Ari Berman in The Nation, 4 June 07), which means that we shall have with her what we had with Bill: the shadow of social change, but hardly the substance (rich got richer and poor got poorer under Bill's admin). As for poor Barack, all he can do is smile and provide cliches about unity when there is little to smile about and no unity in the country at all. A few months ago the New Yorker did a very sympathetic portrait of him--he certainly comes off as a nice guy--but ironically enough, his political outlook is probably closest to that of Edmund Burke, the famous British conservative who saw societies as organic, and believed their basic framework could not be altered very much, if at all. Burke would not have been surprised at my 'discovery' (hardly mine, really) of the structural and deeply historical nature of our problems, and it just may be that Barack is aware of them as well. He may indeed be the perfect person to act as funeral director, but let's not kid ourselves that he or anyone else can turn this country around. That is a pipe dream. I recall reading some fairly sophisticated economic analysis recently entitled "Farewell to the Dollar," or something like that; readers might also want to check out the essay by Parag Khanna in the NYT Magazine, 27 Jan 08, entitled "Waving Goodbye to Hegemony." Finally, on the microlevel, the street level of daily life in the US, we have a population so incredibly dumb or ignorant that very little can be expected of them in the way of intelligent action or decision making--even if that were to make a difference. ("A nation of sheep breeds a government of wolves"--Edw. R. Murrow) I have been documenting this for years, and have a huge list of stats that boggle the mind. For the latest example, readers might want to check this out:
Nor is this limited to the proverbial woman-in-the-street. John McCain strolled thru Baghdad last year in a Kevlar vest with helicopters flying overhead, and proclaimed the city "safe". This has to be just about as idiotic as anything the current president has said during his tenure. While Obama is certainly no moron, talking about "hope" and "vision" when the data clearly show dark days ahead is a kind of ignorance all its own. I'm sorry, but Sartre really did have it right: No Exit.

Thanks again for your kind comments on my work.


Maury Berman