By David Fitzsimmons in The Arizona Daily Star, 18 January 2009.
It’s a long road to the top of the highest mountain. So today, let’s enjoy the view.
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195. The arc of history – USA election 2008
What history looks like
199. Farewell to George Bush
4. GO British ! Chicago Marathon 2002
173. Lines from the New Hampshire primary
1. Chicago 1, London 3
194. The US Electoral College: a From Scratch guide
Rosa Parks sat so Martin could walk. Martin walked so Barack could run. Barack ran so generations hence can fly.
I watched it all in a heady mixture of awe, near-impossible hope and creeping trepidation. Such slight shoulders, I thought, for such a heavy burden.
My old pal Hunter S Thompson once suggested that the GOP had encouraged Ross Perot to run against Bush Snr and Clinton so as to split the party vote and ensure a Democrat victory. The Kingmakers had turned their snouts to the winds and sniffed trouble, he said; better to let the other lot take it on the chin, Bill’s inevitable failure paving the way for future Republican Dynasties.
Of course it backfired. The Great Philanderer turned out to be not half bad. He humanised the post (in all kinds of ways) and even enhanced America’s reputation overseas, lining up decades of lucrative after-dinner, super-statesman appearances into the bargain.
The same conspiracy theory could be levelled at this generation of Grand Wizards; throw McCain/ Palin under a bus, let Obama take the ugliest of falls and Bob’s your uncle; another stream of Right-thinking folk in the hot seat.
I have a feeling that in spite of the other mountain – the one he has yet to climb – Barack Obama has a few tricks up his sleeve, and those GOP dinosaurs will be disappointed. I’m delighted for the generations of African Americans rejoicing yesterday – there’s no doubt this is a watershed for millions. But it’s not the righting of internal, opressive wrongs that excite me; it’s the promise to extend that dignified hand to other nations – if they will open their clenched fists – that fills my heart with hope.
The mountain is high, shrouded in thick cloud , battered by debilitating storms. Our mountaineer carries a monstrous backpack filled with hope and expectation. But his eyes are on the summit, his strategy is sound. I hope above all else that we, the people of the world, give him the air he needs to power forwards to base camp and, in time, launch his assault upon that summit. If he makes it even half-way there the world will be a different and infinitely better place.
Bring. It. On.
Yes, exactly. ‘Standing on the shoulders of giants’ is how Sir Isaac Newton described it, I think.
You can see a long way forwards from all the way up there, I should think. Especially if you can still see all the steps that helped you on that climb.
What a day! Even from 3,000 miles away, the visions of Washington have been incredible, breathtaking and inspiring.
Thanks, Sweder, and it’s excellent to see you thinking in the mountaineering style of oratory yourself.
You’re right to imply that all those hopes and expectations can’t possibly be met. But the commitment to try and meet them is the most important thing we’ve heard for a long time.
That’s quite a list for Day 1.
Hello again. Sweder – Good to see you again. I so agree with you and also appreciate that phrase from the speech. Another that stayed with me is “the bitter swill of civil war and segregation.” We seldom hear the word “swill” these days and it’s such a good word. The previous president probably doesn’t even have it in his vocabulary.
I think his first full day was good, what with the pay freeze for top staffers, the increased transparency and accountability and then that silly re-doing of the oath. Do you know some on the right were already saying — to their willfully ignorant audiences — that they just aren’t sure Barack is really president after the Chief Justice flubbed the oath. Of course, they didn’t mention it was Roberts’ flub — he’s an ultra conservative and Obama opposed his nomination.
But more to the point, he became president at noon even though he didn’t take the oath till 12:05. The Constitution says so. We are never without a president; the Constituional authority trumps any oath. ie: LBJ became president the moment JFK was pronounced dead, although he didn’t take the oath until hours later. But the right has never let the facts get in the way of stir-up.
Hey Ella – yes, ‘swill’ is an excellent word. The last time I read that in print – last week, as it happened – was in a letter* written by Hunter S Thompson to his friend Paul Semonin November 22nd 1963 on the occasion of JFKs murder. HST loved emotive words; swill, ugly twisted . . . He often used them in the context of the GOP and of course his nemesis, Richard Milhous Nixon. Thompsons’ Nixon obit. for Rolling Stone is still one of the finest and most damning pieces of shoot-from-the-hip journalism I’ve encountered. It appears at the back of Better Than Sex, notes from the Clinton campaign trail in ’92. Of course he also used ‘swill’ in reference to some of the Arkansas governors proclivities; turns out he was pretty much on the money then, too.
The re-swear was an oddity but I guess essential to knock those whispering schoolboys on the head. President Obama has a full enough agenda without arming the snipers.
An aside for you. The Times wrote reams yesterday on the momentous occasion of the inauguration but the one piece that grabbed my attention referred to Dick Cheney’s unfortunate need for a wheelchair. The journalist noted, with unashamed relish, that Cheney in his chair struck an eerie resemblance to Peter Sellers as the eponymous evil scientist in Dr Strangelove. Brilliant.
The feelings of excitement and quantified expectation remain strong in me. I challenge myself to examine why this man should conjure such blind faith in a white, middle-class Englishman. It’s because if he gets a toe-hold on the greasy ladder out of the foul pit of institutionalised politics that infects both our countries, where platitudes are offered to pigswill-gorged bankers who’s unchecked greed has plunged us into these dark times, he might just haul us all out with him. It’s because whilst he acknowledges the weight of history on his shoulders and the meaning for millions of African Americans inherent within the attainment by one of their own of the highest Earth-bound office, his feet remain on the ground and his head well and truly in the game. That, and because I have children who I love and fear for and above all wish to grow up in a better world.
Whatever the future holds for Obama, if he can get a good start others will take heart and find the courage to follow, to complete his work and redeem the blinkered, frightened governments of the west.
My fear is not the crazed gunman on the grassy knoll; it’s the menace behind it, the dark, smoke-filled rooms where scaly reptiles, pockets stuffed with sweaty, blood-stained cash, gather to preserve the status quo. As Roger Walters once wrote:
Welcome, my son.
Welcome – to the machine.
* published in The Proud Highway – saga of a desperate Southern gentleman 1955 – 1967: The Fear and Loathing letters volume 1
Thanks very much all round. Obama was always great on inspiring rhetoric, but would he really follow that through into decisive action?
And now we have the answer: Barack Obama signs order to close Guantánamo Bay detention centre.
What a fantastic start to repairing the reputation of the US around the world. How could the US argue these past eight years for the rule of law and the protection of human rights around the globe, when it was content to torture its enemies without trial or legal recourse in a facility deliberately set up beyond the reach of international law and the decency required by the Geneva Convention? The simple answer was that it couldn’t.
The land of the free. That’s how America loves to see herself. And Obama is intent not just on dreaming that dream, but on delivering it, too.
Not bad for Day 2. Well done, Mr President.
I offer the following in consideration of the Palestinian question. I make no judgement here, but feel this illustrates the delicate nature of things . . .
What happens when a fly falls into a coffee cup in an International Cafe ?
The Italian – throws the cup and walks away in a fit of rage.
The Frenchman – takes out the fly, and drinks the coffee.
The Chinese – eats the fly and throws away the coffee.
The Russian – drinks the coffee with the fly, since it was extra with nocharge.
The Israeli – sells the coffee to the Frenchman, the fly to theChinese, buys himself a new cup of coffee and uses the extra money to invent a device that prevents flies from falling into coffee.
The Palestinian – blames the Israeli for the fly falling into his coffee, protests the act of aggression to the UN, takes a loan from the European Union for a new cup of coffee, uses the money to purchase explosives and then blows up the coffee house where the Italian, theFrenchman, the Chinese, and the Russian are trying to explain to theIsraeli why he should give away his cup of coffee to the Palestinian.
Colin Randall of Abu Dhabi’s excellent new paper The National provides a taste of the Inauguration coverage from the Middle East (be patient on clicking the main image, since it takes a few seconds to load).
Here’s The National again on Obama’s plans for the Middle East, and the closure of Guantánamo.
America as the friend of the Muslim world, and the new champion of peace? Just how wonderful, and how long overdue is that!
I’m not at all sure about that one, Sweder. The violence on both sides can only be condemned, and I agree that the situation almost looks hopeless because right now there is a complete absence of any kind of conversation towards peace.
For all its terrible faults, Hamas was democratically elected in elections which were strongly encouraged by the US government. The Bush administration seemed completely unprepared for the outcome and tried to ignore the results of the elections since they were decidedly inconvenient.
The continued firing of rockets into Israel which followed was unacceptable. Yet flattening a nation, splattering its children with illegal white phosphorus and destroying its entire infrastructure is only going to breed more hatred and a new generation of suicide bombers to follow.
The only way to make progress here is through dialogue, and with Obama at the helm that looks much more likely to happen. The nomination of former Northern Ireland peacemaker George Mitchell to the task is inspired. Let’s wish him every success.
The definition of good policy is always that it looks so good when you make it that you wonder why on Earth you didn’t do it before. And so with Guantanamo.
Thursday’s Times is singing the praises of Obama for the four calls he made to Middle Eastern leaders on Wednesday, his first full day in office. The first call was to the Palestinian leader, indicating that the Arab-Israeli conflict is at the top of his foreign policy agenda. As by God and Gaza it bloody well should be.
Concerning the ‘wingnuts’, Ella, as you call them, those Neocons who make conspiracy theories out of missing Bibles and birth certificates, let’s not worry about them. Because their day is done.
America has been bitterly divided from north to south, from liberal to conservative and from intellectual to redneck for far too long. In the past eight years, those divisions have lain behind some of the least effective, morally corrupt and scientifically ignorant policies of any US administration.
It’s easy to get carried away, if only because it’s so tempting. But if only we could put that kind of destructive divisiveness aside then the world would be such a better place for all of us. A tall order, I know, and yet right now this man has the charisma and the power to inspire respect and understanding across chasms of historic miscommunication. He is a uniter much more than a divider.
Hi, guys! This feels like a little clubhouse.
Sweder – My first snarky thought about Cheney in the chair was that he just wanted to ensure good parking spaces once he returned to being a private citizen. I’m somewhat surprised by criticism of him in a Murdoch paper, although an anti-Cheney cartoon made it onto the gossip page of his NY Post today. The rest was drivel except for a long, almost vitriolic piece about Michelle’s clothes over the 2 big days. Dumpy, frumpy and channeling Mamie Eisenhower was the Post’s verdict. Blerg.
I loved Thompson. One of the first political books I ever read was the Fear and Loathing ’72 one. I hated Nixon. So much.
Roads – Not so fast there. You know our wingnuts. They’re already objecting to Gitmo closing, instilling fear among their followers of terrorists moving into their neighborhoods. Seriously. And some Republicans in Congress don’t want them on military bases in their states. Tough beansies. We also have maximum security prisons, so between bases and prisons we ought to be able to find a place for them. (If I had time I’d start a blog just to keep track of what the wingnuts are saying.)
But bravo to Obama for getting rid of torture over the objections (predictable) of some in the intelligence community who say they need the “enhancements.” I might write about that over the weekend.
You know what really took guts? Repudiating Bush’s policies, almost rebuking him, during the Inaug address with Bush sitting right there.
As I said, no judgement offered by me . . . only a partial understanding of the complexities of a delicate situation.
The phospherous bombing was unaceptable in any sphere. I cant accept that any so-called government can in this day and age sanction use of weapons designed to cause that kind of collateral damage, irrespective of who it’s aimed at, or indeed, why. I hope the Israealis are called to account.
Lest we forget, we’ve seen similarly callous acts committed closer to home in the name of a good cause. 9-11, 7-7, and before them the atrocities in Omagh, Manchester and Enniskillen – freedom fighters and government-driven iron fists – that lead to horrific suffring of the innocents.
I’m delighted that we have a man in the hottest seat determined to eradicate such evil from our world. My hope is he gets the chance.
Thanks, Sweder. It’s an interesting debate we have emerging now, where the BBC refused initially to broadcast a charity appeal for the residents of Gaza, organised by the DEC (Disasters Emergency Committee — the same body which co-ordinated our charitable response to the Indian Ocean tsunami, Dharfur and the Burma Cyclone).
The idea that broadcasting a charitable appeal implies taking sides in an armed international conflict is risible. It’s purely a humanitarian aid initiative to support so many who so desperately need our help.
I’m a keen supporter of the DEC. Nevertheless, it feels slightly galling to donate towards the rebuilding of all that was so calculatingly and mercilessly destroyed. Personally, I believe that Israel should now be brought to account and made to pay at least 50% of the reconstruction costs, with that figure rising to 100% if they do not actively and constructively participate in peace initiatives to find a lasting peaceful solution to the struggle with Hamas, who in turn should be subject to the same conditions .
Yes, a curious (and misguided) decision by the BBC. I’ve followed the debate the past few nights, one of the highlights being Tony Benn’s incandescent performance on Five Live last night. Judging by the nature and volume of the reaction the Beeb got it badly wrong, hiding behind the thin veil of impartiality; or, as some of us would have it, ‘bottling it’.
When the UN makes a move Israel enjoys the protection of the US (witness Condee’s embarassing last-minute abstinance on the resolution last week). I listened intently to BO’s speech to the Jewish community in New York six months ago when he promised to continue support of Israel whilst working for a just peace in the region. The atrocities of the past two weeks will test President Obama’s resolve, if not force his hand, at a very early stage.
If the UN decides to act – perhaps along the lines you suggest Roads – I’m keen to see what message comes from Washington this time. If Mr Moon’s outrage on visiting the razed UN schools finds an outlet at the Security Council we may find out very soon.
For me it was the use of phospherous bombs that was most shocking; evil weaponary designed to burn and maim, fired into heavily populated civilian areas. At last, Mr Bush, we’ve found weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East. Trouble is it’s your mates, the bank-rollers you were so scared of upsetting a few days back, using them.
Thanks, Sweder. Well said, and some interesting observations on where the WMD proved to lie. There has been a lot to make George Bush feel uncomfortable about in these past few days (if he’s capable of that — the last press conference focused on reinventing the past much more than regretting it). Foremost in that category must have been the section in Obama’s speech on Inauguration Day which spoke of focusing on our security whilst not abandoning our ideals.
Guantánamo is just one issue facing Obama, of course, and the Canadian cartoonist David Parkins put the train wreck all around the White House (and indeed around us as well) into his customary finely sharp perspective… Enjoy.
Many thanks again.
Anyone linking to the David Parkins ‘toon (previous comment) may like to scroll back and forth to view more, including some cutting edge commentary from the Guardian’s Steve Bell.
These boys can say so much with a single picture: terrific stuff.
The ending of US-sponsored torture. Small thing, which makes a huge difference to the shape of our world.
And then yesterday, the rolling back of Washington’s obstacles to new initiatives to make cars more efficient and less polluting — the first important step to lower America’s greenhouse gas emissions and become a leader rather than a bitter laggard in the battle against global warming.
The days of Washington dragging its heels are over.
It’s amazing, since just a week’s gone by, and already it feels like the world is changing for the better at a breathtaking pace through the sweeping vision and ambition of this new President.
And the only question left is whatever on Earth was George Bush thinking?
Meanwhile, many thanks to Ella for the link to Ann Telnaes’ cartoons. They’re simply wonderful.
Yes, He’s been at it again . . . and really He’s only doing what he said He would do. We’re shocked because we’re used to a different outcome once politicians grasp power. The call to seek alternative fuels makes perfect sense, ecologically, economically and in terms of national security. When the New Guy puts it like that you have to wonder why Bush failed to grasp the nettle and bushwhack the kudos.
It’s early days, and we should perhaps remember that Obama is in his Honeymoon phase. I don’t doubt he will continue to drag his compatriots forward; I just expect a few of the old stagers to dig their heels in a bit as the days and weeks go by.
Not bad for week one.
Thanks, Sweder. That Inauguration Day speech is well worth a closer look — you can find the full text at From Scratch.
Obama is an excellent writer and given the historic context of his election it’s interesting to compare the style and content with previous well-remembered speeches by FDR and JFK.
It’s interesting to speculate which (if any) key soundbites will be remembered from the speech. ‘We will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist’ could be one, but finally I think it has to be:
‘… we reject as false the choice between safety and our ideals’
— because it so comprehensively repudiates Bush whilst taking forwards the spirit and ethics of the Constitution and the Founding Fathers.
This critical appraisal provides some fascinating literary analysis of the speech as well as providing background on how it was put together by Obama and his speechwriter Jon Favreau.
It’s intriguing stuff.