I’m reminded of something John Cole said the other day: “The moral of this story is not the danger for Obama going forward with his Gitmo decommissioning, the moral is that when venal, shallow, small men are given unfettered power and authority, they do incompetent, stupid, and evil things.”
We are not witnessing the articulation of a new “Obama doctrine.” Rather it is the triumph of tradition and experience over eight years of aberrant bad judgment.
Its a been a heady period – a bit like watching the Australian Open to see the rise and rise of a tennis star – and reading reams of autobiographical press that probe through interviews for ‘qualities’ that make this hero. These days we are indulging in Dokic and this morning there was tensing news: her father, the cause of all her traumas, is threatening to come from Serbia to watch her if she gets to the semis. That would be a disaster I sigh into my chai in tune with all the readers of the Age in this part of the world. I go through all the sports pages and pass them on to my daughter – who is following the women’s matches fanatically.
I then picked up my copy of the Atlantic, which arrives a bit late in Australia, and began reading. Half and hour later I am here blogging with a half opened copy of the magazine. Its another kind of dismay that has brought me to blog on a sunny sunday morning – when I should be on the trampoline or in the backyard doing some gardening. So here is the story.
I have liked Obama’s speeches, but his books have lots of cringe inducing bits. Cringe, for I come from India where the separation of state and religion is an oft debated issue, for the privielging of religion is seen as potentially damaging to the rights of one or other section of society. This has been borne out by historical evidence of events in which one religious group has taken to the streets killing people (with particularly brutal acts against children and women) of another another religion – where the call to arms is invariably issued by a politician. Anyway Obama’s writing inducing this cringe when he has this slavish way of invoking God – which is not in a spiritual or intellectual context – but as an acknowledgment of omnipotence or divine right. All very chillingly similar to the prose of the religious power discourse or the past President.
I was to get support from Fallows for my queasiness about the God references in Obama. Though his objection seems more aesthetic – it sounds tacky and so on. Still atleast someone is bracketing this. You can see Fallows’ post here:
As I may have mentioned from time to time, I view the Reagan-onward tic of
closing all presidential speeches with “God bless America” as just a
tic. That is, a substitute for doing what FDR, TR, Abraham Lincoln,
Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, and all pre-Reagan American
presidents had done: namely, find a “real” way to end a speech. Here is
interesting proof that it is a tic. The prepared version of Obama’s
inaugural address – here, among other sources — does not include those
words at the end. But the transcription of what he actually said —
here — confirms what we all heard, that he tacked them on at the end.
When he had time to think about the shape of the speech, Obama, as a writer
and thinker, realized that he had a strong close without those cliched
words. In real time, he threw them in, as any of us (including me)
might throw in “you know” or “I mean” when answering a question. Let me
say that again: when he had time to think about it, Obama the literary
craftsman thought better of it.
Which then brings me to the more recent Atlantic issue where Obama’s ‘coolness’ is the topic of discussion. I agree entirely that Obama is ethical and likeable – possibly superficially charming (charmful? dont we all know people who put on their charm, and can switch it off too?) – but quite sponge like and bears ‘the imprint’ of the others he encounters.
It was, I think, Lloyd George who said of Lord Derby that, like a cushion, he bore the imprint of whoever had last sat upon him. Though Obama, too, has the dubious gift of being many things to many people, the difficulty with him is almost the opposite: he treads so lightly and deftly that all the impressions he has so far made are alarmingly slight. Perhaps this is the predictable downside of being a cat.
And yes for all us non-Americans the whiff of imperialism is ever present. We talk about the way of the ‘american’ – their ‘leadership’ of the world and their presumptuousness. What is interesting here is that Benjamin Schwarz in this peice sees it too – through a ‘literary’ device of comparing what Bush might have said with what Obama actually says. I cannot fault an America president ( the leader of the free world) of being presumptuous about such leadership – for didn’t someone say that we must get the Americans back onto their spending habits to save us from this recession?
All this is – after the show – second thoughts. Just the sort of feelings I began to have two days after I saw ‘Slum Dog Millionnaire‘.
“Change” has been President-elect Barack Obama’s mantra, and for many of his supporters, the most important change his administration promises is a more restrained, less arrogant foreign policy, a global posture that avoids the costs and dangers inherent in playing the world’s policeman. They’re dismayed by the presumptuous and anachronistic attitudes behind the declaration that the president of the United States is the “leader of the free world.” They’re exasperated with the messianic invocation of “America’s larger purpose in the world,” with the smug notion that this country is “called to provide visionary leadership” in “battling immediate evils and promoting the ultimate good.” They discern the dangers of declaring with righteous omniscience that America “has a direct national security interest” in seeing its economic and political beliefs take hold in foreign lands. They’re annoyed with the historical myopia that results in an unironic reference to American military “operations to win hearts and minds.” In the claim that “the security of the American people is inextricably linked to the security of all people,” they hear echoes of the universalist logic that led to the disaster in Vietnam and see a sweeping foreign policy that the rest of the world finds at best meddlesome and at worst menacingly imperialist.
These lofty but potentially dangerous sentiments are entirely consistent with George W. Bush’s assertion in his second Inaugural Address that “the survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the success of liberty in other lands”—an assertion his critics at home and abroad rightly judged as … lofty and potentially dangerous. But the pronouncements quoted above—all of them—are in fact from Barack Obama’s two major foreign-policy statements, both made in 2007.
This isn’t to charge the president-elect with hypocrisy (he has consistently enunciated these views, which could be fairly described as standard liberal internationalist, even if some of his enthusiasts haven’t been particularly alert to them) but to show that the beliefs underlying America’s global role since the end of the Second World War have been remarkably consistent, embraced by both Democratic and Republican administrations. And they lead inevitably to America’s playing the “imperial” role so many of Obama’s supporters decry.
I missed this by a decade – even though I went for Obama. So its not about people like me.
n. The generation of people approximately 18 to 35 years old who voted for or supported Barack Obama in the 2008 U.S. presidential election.
Generation O is that college kid at the White House gate early Wednesday morning, lifting his shirt to reveal ‘Obama’ painted in red on his chest.
Or that stylized Obama T-shirt that makes irony look old, the ‘Obama Girl’ on YouTube, or the thousands of notes on Barack Obama’s Facebook page: ‘U are the best!!!’ ‘yeah, buddy.’
And, of course, Generation O is the president-elect himself. …
These young voters and those slightly older, who together may forever be known as Generation O, were the ground troops of the campaign.
—Damien Cave, “Generation O Gets Its Hopes Up,” The New York Times, November 9, 2008
President-elect Barack Obama has been very judicious thus far about mobilizing the vast coterie of supporters from his campaign. Generation “O,” for Obama, is ready to do its part in putting the country on a more hopeful path.
The question is what Obama should ask of his supporters. Washington already expects 4 million people on the Mall for Obama’s inauguration, but what will he say to activate his supporters?
As a dreary Thanksgiving comes and goes, one answer is to mobilize Generation O to help the nation’s struggling nonprofit sector. Unlike the automobile industry, whose representatives were ferried to Washington on private jets, the nonprofit industry has yet to show up at all.
—Paul C. Light, “Obama Must Mobilize Supporters to Help Nonprofits,” The Washington Post, November 28, 2008
Salon’s Shapiro writes, “the morning after Comet Obama slashed across” the NH sky 12/10, Dems “were still trying to sort out exactly what had happened” and “long-memoried political reporters struggled to find a parallel.”
—”Oh, Cruel, Cruel Hero, How You Mock Us,” The Hotline, December 12, 2006
Bharatiya Janshakti Party president Uma Bharti’s latest slogan is “Yes we can”. It worked for Obama, Uma is now asking, why wont it do wonders for her too?
“When I saw him taking oath, you cannot believe I thought I was taking oath. I felt I have become President of America. I identify so much with him,” said Uma Bharti.
Dreaming to be India’s
Obama to many that may sound strange given that the two have little in common.
Where Obama swept the US elections, Uma was once the BJP’s poster girl in Madhya Pradesh now struggling to find feet just before the elections. Despite that she is eyeing the top political job in the country.
On being asked, do you think you have it in yourself to be a prime minister, Uma Bharatisaid I can go gaga over myself when I am talking off the record.
She is often been accused of inciting communal sentiment, be it the Babri Masjid demolition or hoisting the Tricolour in Hubli for which she was jailed. And now she has backed Malegaon blast accused Sadhvi Pragya Thakur.
In 1998 I wrote a paper and presented it at a conference – the paper was called “Commodity fetishism and the need for theory building in Design”. It was one of those rare events where I showed my work – and talked about how we must all do less of ‘yet another chair’ – and we must all collectively boycott institutions like the salon satellite which promote design as an agency that creates objects for rich people. I have grumbled and been snide about the ‘art’ side to design. I have referred to this as the eilitism of a dying discourse.
There is very little of a conscience – if we set aside sustainability and the assistive side to design – energising design discourse. The gurus have their eyes firmly fixed upon the past – and even there the categories are borrowed.
I read Ian McEwan in the paper on saturday and a wonder at his take on ‘Obama will save the world’. Will Obama save design too? To do this he would need to take the preocupation of design with the ipod and direct it at something more emotional and messy. He wouldn’t do this in person – but the agenda he sets – like health care could become the clarion call for a design rennaisance. For the community orientated and bottom up to flex its brain muscles.
Some artists have been directly critical of Obama’s image, including 24-year old Chicago art student David Cordero, who sparked a controversy in the international press when he displayed a life-sized papier-mache representation of Obama as Jesus, entitled ‘Blessing’ and topped with a neon halo, at his senior show. Cordero explained to the Associated Press that the work was “a caution in assigning all these inflated expectations on one individual, and expecting them to change something that many hands have shaped”.
Many artists are politically engaged but they – unlike politicians – tend to be focused on issues rather than personality contests. Artists who create work that supports or opposes an ideology can contribute to the general discourse, and the collectors who buy such work can show their support for the ideas it expresses. But active participation in politics, whether financially or through personal activism, is also needed.
I’ve written a brief note on the June 2008 publication of Designing Denuclearization: An Interpretive Encyclopedia (Transaction Publishers). Designing Denuclearization puts my case that nuclear weapons abolition should be the subject of focused research and policy discussion, a practical aim of governments to be pursued with urgence in the immediate future. The note includes links to other books I’ve written on war and nuclear policy, and to course materials on nuclear nonproliferation and abolition.
I have in recent days been looking at curricula in design schools all over. You would have seen posts here about how service design is the management-wallahs (and there are many among us in design who find management a big turn on) gaining prominence, how interaction design is the computer-science-wallahs gaining prominence (and their position is not about quality of life so much as problem-solving, the internet is taken for granted. as is the pervasive nature of the digital. But is that all?). Both these disciplines are a-political and anti-social so now they both have jargon to make up for the deficiency: Corporate Social Responsibility and User Centered Design. Both of these perspectives answer the question (which has come done unaltered from the 1st industrial age) of “how do we humanise our work?” So this is top-down perspectives trying to sound bottom up. This was my criticism of the BOP agenda – where CK speaks of ‘money to be made’ in the markets where the poor shop!!
Dont you find that a bit problematic. Post crash we have seen acknowledgement of the venality of the ‘top’ – and the bailout by the friends of the ‘top’. I dont see Obama making that much of a change. He has the promise – but isn’t ll that much of a bottom up person. He was after all only a community organiser – not like some of us ‘an activist’. And therein lies the biggest challenge to world civilization – to do ‘feel good’ stuff (Obama) or to get down and ‘privilege’ the bottom over the ‘top’. This is impossible for this way of thinking is considered ‘left’ and red.
I’ve been reading the Obama Administration Plan for Innovation, Science & Technology on the barackobama.com.issues.technology site. And the site name gives it all away—the discussion about innovation is on the tech site. There is, in fact, very little in the way of innovation in this plan, as you will see for itself when you read it. It’s all about technology—math and science and engineering. Which is terrific, but not necessarily innovative.
Now on all the major issues, Obama gets it right—openness of the net (yes), connecting government with its citizens through social media, more funding for science, a permanent R&D tax credit, etc. You can check off the issues.
But, and this is a big but, there is little about user-centric methods to create new options for tough problems in education, transporation or health. The Plan says that “Obama will appoint the nation’s first Chief Technology Officer (CTO).” Well, he actually needs to appoint a Chief Innovation Officer (CIO) because change is as much about sociology as technology, as much about creativity as science.
Its November – and I have finished my teaching for the year. So I am not thinking of my students – but am focussing upon the world of ideas. Typically in this period I reconnect with the core of by practice. I was asked yesterday – what my dreams these days are. I said I haven’t got dreams of the flash big house, that possession, that car (maybe a cruiser HD bike on the side would be nice) – if anything I would like to see my Diabetes company take off. The business plan of the company is in this blog – hidden away making it difficult for you to find. But seriously it is open source – as it should be.
I used this blog to keep pace with my explorations in Social Innovation. When November came I found myself working on a vision-strategy document for a new design school in New Delhi. A school with an affirmative action slant – which dovetails into my ‘social’ focus in design – as against the technological. So I read on the net, got google alerts happening, got lots of RSS feeds on Netnewswire – and the best of this stuff found its way into the blog. This was a lot – so Mark said ‘thats a lot’.
This point of the shift was also the still point of the turning world – it was the week Obama made it to the White house. I could safely delete all the ‘real clear politics’ feed and other such alerts. That was over – or so I thought. I have kept the Atlantic Monthly blogs – and discovered Megan McArdle – after her blast about bailouts.
So this post is in a new category called Faint Voice News – where I plan to reflect and give the reader (I seem to be acquiring a neat little following) advance warning about the shifts in my preoccupations.
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The Chronicle of Philanthropy reported yesterday that influential progressive think tanks New Democracy Fund and the Center for American Progress are advocating for the creation of a White House Office for Social Entrepreneurship.
While Obama had advocated for a Social Entrepreneurship Agency on the campaign trail, his stated proposal would have it in the Corporation for National and Community Service. A White House placement could signal that nonprofits and social enterprises will have a more important role partnering to enact change than in the past.
The proposals also articulate several ideas for promoting social entrepreneurship and nonprofit action, including creating funding programs that reward innovation, tax incentives for partnerships between nonprofits and businesses, new development aid that better mirrors the private sector investment model of the Acumen Fund.
All of these things would be incredible, and are high on my White House wishlist, but when it comes to government, the emphasis has to be on building a sustainable infrastructure for social innovation.
In june I took the will.I.am you tube video soundtrack and made a ring tone out of it. Obama made me acquire skills in Audacity. I sent it to some friends and colleagues – and they looked at me oddly. Needless to say – my plan for a viral campaign where the public spaces of Melbourne would be resonant with ‘yes we can’ rintnes. Alas it was only one phone that rang out this call. And received many odd looks. Its good to know there are many closet obama supporters and some not so closet ones.
On the evening of the election, as I was watching the returns come in at an Obama election party, I met a man who was more informed about the election than anyone I’d met in the past twenty-one long months. CNN blared over the bar’s loudspeaker. Images of Obama in various thoughtful poses decorated the walls and the chests of more than half the crowd. The partygoers had come to drink, whether in celebration or commiseration—consequences for work the next day be damned. Moving toward the back of the bar, I shared a counter with a short black man dressed in a white button-down shirt and dress pants, wearing rimmed glasses that gave his round face an intellectual air. “Do you think Obama’s going to take Virginia?” he asked. We spoke for a minute about the possibility. “I’ll be honest with you,” he said, “when I look at the polls there, I start to think it might actually be possible—it looks good, but you never know.”
It was the kind of hopeful but guarded statement heard across America on Tuesday night, but this time, the speaker was a Soweto-born South African man who has never been to the United States. We were speaking at 3 in the morning in a bar in Johannesburg, South Africa, where an equal mix of Americans and South Africans had turned out to see—they hoped—the first black man elected president of the United States.