Wednesday, January 21, 2009

“…our way of life…”

First: Barack Obama is good for the U.S.A. and very likely for the rest of the world.

Second: I am convinced that even if the climate and context into which Obama stepped as president would not have been as difficult, there still would have been incredible expectations on his time in office due largely to the fact that he is the first African American president. The scrutiny that he will face is certainly daunting to contemplate.

In our Anthro of Race and Ethnicity class we have been looking at the fluidity and ambiguity of racial boundaries. We have seen that what began in colonial times as essentialized biological distinctions soon evolved to include categories of race that really did not apply to color of skin or other biological referents. Instead distinctions were made on basis of economic standing, occupation, dress, cleanliness and proper education and upbringing. This was as a result of the fact that the colonial enterprise produced a new racial category through miscegenation – primarily Métis/Mestizo. We have studied how this category has produced fluidity in the definition of racial categories due to how this 'mixed race' attempted to attain either indigenous or 'white' status within society. So the racial boundaries are no longer distinct or essentialized but are open to various cultural factors and these factors can be negotiated to enhance one's standing in the social order.

Mr. Obama is a prime example of this as a person of mixed origin. Much has been made of what his ascendancy to the White House (hmmm interesting term) means for the racial struggle that has marked U.S. history. The inauguration has largely been lauded as positive step against the injustices of racism. (see New York Times; the Examiner ) Most commentaries and editorials have also been quick to point out that racism is far from vanquished. For the most part I agree…

Allow me to center on Obama's inaugural address. Whether you liked it or not there did seem to be some substantive shifts marked by the rhetoric he used. Suggesting the need to curb reliance on foreign oil, working towards peace and stability across the globe – even with former foes, addressing climate change, and addressing the economic woes of his country all seemed to mark a shift toward some promising change.

One thing that seemed a little odd was this line in his speech,

"We will not apologize for our way of life, nor will we waver in its defense, and for those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents…"

This comment is stuck in the middle of a focus on terrorism in his speech. Why will America not apologize for its way of life? When Obama refers to "our way of life" he no doubt means those qualities like peaceful and generous and benevolent. When terrorists think of the American "way of life" they no doubt see the greed and arrogance of a consumeristic nation that has exploited foreign people. What Obama is presumably unwaveringly going to defend are qualities that America has yet to demonstrate to it neighbours. Could some apology be warranted? I think so. Could it be that in the days when we celebrate a significant victory over racism we might actually be blind to the far more illusive and insidious ways that our extravagant wealth might be an expression of a type of nationalistic racism? Was it not after all the protection of the European 'way of life' that informed so many of the pegorative attitudes toward indigenous peoples.? This particular aspect of Obama's address does not seem to have gotten much attention (except that John Stewart was able to make comparisons to Bush's speeches that seemed all too familiar). Taken on the whole the speech is able to convey that the new American spirit will be one for which Americans can be proud and will not need to apologize. So we wait and see how the new guy will do. No pressure.


Ger said...

Hey, I miss you big guy and all your big thoughts. It was always fun talking current events with you. Somehow reading doesn't stir up thoughts like talking does. I sill need to read that speech. It's an interesting time isn't it?!
Anyways, all that to say, thanks for being you!! Happy Birthday tomorrow too!!! Let's get together sometime?

Increasing... said...

aw thanks ger
I know i miss that too
Too bad we don't have a saturday sale to catch up on things eh?

Anonymous said...

Eric Holder[Attorney Genral] – Had a large part with helping Clinton with the controversial Mark Rich Pardon

Timothy Geitner [Treasury Secretary] – Didn't pay his taxes and now head of the IRS. He paid them now so he could get the job.

Lawrence Sommers [top economic advisor] – Oversaw the deregulation of the banks under Clinton. According to the Left this caused our current financial crisis.

Leon Panetta[ [Head of the CIA] – No major experience in National Security. Chief of staff under of Clinton when the controversial Extordinary Rendition policy became a more common practice.

Hillary Clinton [Secretary of State] - self explanatory

Obama reversed the abortion funding policy of Bush. Whether you agree with abortion or not now Obama will be using your tax dollars to fund them abroad.

Oh yeah... The bailout is getting bigger and bigger.

Enjoy the change.

Increasing... said...

While I'm sure that the vetting of Obama's cabinet members is important in gaining public credibility, I am entirely unclear how this litany of dis-qualifications serves to reliably predict competency. Gaining public credibility seems an all too fickle tool to choose key directors for these positions.
I think your comment illustrates the added pressure that Obama is facing positionally. The American people obviously afforded the blunders of incompetent cabinet members who led the Bush administration into war in Iraq. We should not shrink from holding this administration to a higher standard - after all they have aspired to as much. That is as long as our 'higher standard' does not pass for the thinly disguised desire to see the black man fail...

Anonymous said...

The point is that Obama`s cabinet is a couple of retreads from the Clinton administration and some questionable characters. We were promised change. If we were to believe the Left about the deregulation of the Banks causing the current financial crisis I think we could expect a different set of advisers to Obama then the current ones who put in place that very policy. Some of the other appointements, as I pointed out, do not exactly reject the Bush doctrine on how to handle those suspected of terrorism. I do not have a desire to see a black man fail. I think it would be just as reasonable to speculate that there are an equal number of guilt ridden whites who want to see a African American succeed. What is most important to me is his ideas. His skin colour is irrelevant to me.

That said the initial cabinet posts may not 'reliably' competency. I think it does give the best indicator of future policies that one can expect from his administration. What else could one go by? He does not appear to be the most principled politician to come along.

Increasing... said...

Again allow me to underscore a vital aspect of the 'qualifications' of Mr. Obama's cabinet namely the fickle nature of public whim on what counts as adequate or desirable. We should not be under the illusion that the president's choices are at the core based on a conviction that these people will help him runn the country effectively enough to garner a second term for himself. So ultimately regardless of how his selections are viewed by the public at this point in history, the effectiveness of the cabinet will be judged in four years at the polls. At that point his ability to bring about real change to America will be weighed.
Unfortunately, perspectives like the one you bring to the table suggest a presumptive failure of the administration before it has had the space to act - to prove itself.
Those kind of presumptive notions belie the more insidious aspects of partisan rhetoric that keep meaningful dialogue muted in public poltical discourse.

Anonymous said...

Are you mis-reading what I have written? I was trying to bring up some of the cabinet appointments that Obama has made that might contradict any hope for the change he has promised. I think it is meaningful to discuss the history of cabinet appointees and the influence they may have in his administration. As you have pointed out, the cabinet members of Bush administration played an instrumental role influencing Bush to go to war in two different countries. Of course we will not know fully how successful or unsuccessful Obama will be until we can look back on it years afterward. This should not keep anyone from being critical of the Obama administration right now as you seem to suggest. I find it strange that you think any critical remarks about his administration should be considered some kind of veiled racism or insidious partisan rhetoric. These accusations ironically are hindrances to meaningful dialogue.

Increasing... said...

You could be right. I may have misinterpretted your comments as being presumtive of the inevitable failure of this administration. If in fact you were not suggesting that the appointment of certain members of Obama's cabinet point his administration toward failure and away from the hope of 'real' change then I humbly recind my comments.

Anonymous said...

Okay here is the first failure.

The Stimulus bill. Besides being a bad piece of legislation. I am against any stimulus/bailout bail on moral and philosophical grounds but this is besides the point. He promised a more transparent government saying "o account to spend wisely, reform bad habits, and do our business in the light of day, because only then can we restore the vital trust between a people and our government," But he insists that the house and the Senate push through a bill that none of them have had time to read. The public only gets 48 hours to read the bill.