26 February 2008


Politics again. I can't help myself. Skip it if that's how you roll.

I haven't been in the mood to say much lately. (I know - shocker!) I've been getting a lot of work done at the historical library (yay!) and some spinning (yay!) and also spending way too much time following election coverage and figuring out ways I can support the Obama campaign from afar (can't wait to get back home and get involved up-close and personal, but that's still a little ways off). I've also just been on such an emotional rollercoaster.

On the one hand, I think I'm seeing one of the most wonderful things ever to happen to American politics in Barack Obama's slow, careful, steady, brilliant climb to the nomination and then the Presidency. It's happening. It's not only exactly what we need, but the only thing, I think, that can save us. Not because of who we're going to elect (though that's im por ta nt), but because of how we're electing him. People are getting excited about politics, about progressive change, about literally, personally, doing something to help. People are getting involved. For the first time ever, in many cases (like mine - though I toyed with democratic politics in my teens and 20s, it was a cyclical exercise in disappointment and disillusion until I finally gave up on it when I went to grad school). What's so special about the Obama campaign is that he's winning not because he's the least of any evils, but because he actually represents exactly what so many of us want, and it's us, the supporters, who are making it happen. Obama doesn't take money from lobbyists or PACs - his money, which is a lot, has come in very small increments from almost 1 million people. It's unprecedented, and many are saying that this alone will change the way future campaigns are run.

How many of us said, as recently as a few months ago, that political campaigns suck but how can it ever be changed?

Then there's the other hand. Two people whom I have deeply admired, with reservations but sincerely, throughout my adult life, two people who have done an enormous amount of good in the world in their careers (along with some very questionable stuff, too, but undoubtedly there's a lot of good there)...these two people have horrified me over and over and over in the weeks since it began in South Carolina. And the worst part is that it's all utterly pointless, and they're plenty smart enough to have seen that. But they're doing it anyway. They achieve nothing, and the price we all pay for their blundering is a more difficult battle in November, and the loss from the future political landscape of two figures who could have continued to do so much more good, and to be a part of real, positive, grassroots, popular change for the better. But who have, instead, chosen to commit unnecessary political suicide while taking down as many innocent bystanders as possible on their way to an ugly flame-out.

But the worst part, really, is this.

This is the one factor that makes it unforgivable. This is the part that has been burning me up inside for weeks, that made me pretty much stop hanging out in the Ravelry forums (still love the Rav! just needing a break from some of the forums.) There are no excuses, and there is nothing left to be said (except maybe this), as far as I'm concerned.

While watching all this from afar, there's been one particular issue that I've followed with obsessive closeness. Since it's one that's not considered particularly big by other Americans, and which I have some (limited) expertise on, I also wanted to mention it here. It's about how Kosovo declared independence recently, how the US and most other major countries recognized their independence, while Russia and China were pissed off. Why should this matter? Well, for several reasons. First and arguably most important is that Russia and China should matter to us in general. Both countries have the potential to be very, very threatening to US security interests in the not terribly distant future. We ought to learn from past mistakes and pay attention before it's too late. Part of doing that is to notice when and how we piss off these people, and above all, why. Not because we need to pander our foreign policy to their wants, but because we live in a world with others, and a smart way to handle that is to find ways we can all live here without anybody getting so pissed off or desperate that they start blowing up other people. Another reason we should care about this latest kerfluffle is that the issue of independence in Kosovo intersects with just about every issue that makes the world scary right now: terrorism, ethnic/religious conflict, stability in developing countries, and separatism. Accurately understanding and responding to what is happening in Kosovo is a microcosm for what has to be done world-wide in the coming years. Finally, the Kosovo issue, because of its importance as a touchstone for the greatest security concerns of the coming decade, is one more way to help us decide whom we want to put in the White House. (One might also add that there's an argument for why foreign policy is a better means of comparing Presidential candidates than domestic policy anyway.) Here's an analysis of the statements made by Obama and Clinton in response to Kosovo. I don't claim to be an expert on Kosovo or on current US-Russian relations, but I do pay a lot of attention and, obviously, I'm accredited to teach, at the college level, the history of US-Russian relations (among other things). The analysis I just linked to NAILS IT. I link because I could not possibly say it better myself. I've been enthusiastic about Obama since '04 for many reasons, but even I was blown away by the brains and poise and diplomacy with which Obama and his advisors are thinking about Kosovo, and Russia. Blown AWAY. What Clinton said was not terrible[footnote] - it was merely utterly unsurprising and typical of how every American President has looked at Russia - there's been very little partisan difference in US foreign policy overall, really, and certainly not as relates to Russia. I never expected to see any, but I did hope that Obama would at least be seen and talked to differently by others - by foreign statesmen - because of his uniquely un-cowboy-like and un-insular background. Now I'm seeing so very much more than that.

Where does this amazing vision come from, btw? One of the things I like about Obama is that he recognizes talent when he sees it, and knows how to inspire that talent to want to work with him. One of the people on his foreign policy team is this really brilliant and knowledgeable woman. You can get to know her better through her extensive interviews on Charlie Rose.

(BTW, I recognize that at this point in the proceedings we should really be comparing Obama to McCain, not to Clinton. All I have to say there, relating to Kosovo, is that here's what McCain's party has managed so far, and McCain himself is so irredeemably and irrationally hawkish in all matters - and he seems to think there really isn't any difference from one international issue to another - that the prospect of his Presidency literally makes me want to build an underground bomb shelter. Literally.)

[Footnote: What Hillary Clinton said about Russia that is "terrible" is this. Putin's response is here. I am not remotely a fan of Putin - in fact, that's kind of my point here - but he is right in that a President sure as heck ought to be smarter than that. Honestly, that comment was so out-of-whack, uncharacteristically stupid, and pointless that I get this weird, creepy feeling that Karl Rove figured out how to possess Hillary Clinton's mind and body with George W. Bush's soul (to speak of souls). There's really no other way to explain it. In fact, that theory would explain quite a lot of things lately. UPDATE: another "terrible" note and still more evidence that Hillary Clinton has been possessed by the soul of George W. Bush: watch this clip from the most recent debate, in which Clinton utterly fails to remember the name of Russia's next President (Medvedev) and seems to be confusing him with Lebedev. And she's supposed to be the hard-working, wonky one who knows every detail? WTF? It was embarrassing in 2004 when John Kerry called Lubyanka Square in Moscow (headquarters of the KGB and site of a prison where many political prisoners were tortured in the 1930s, especially) with "Treblinka Square" (there is no such thing, but Treblinka was a WWII concentration camp). But that's nothing compared to this flub. Hillary expects to be President in 2008 and doesn't know the NAME of the Russian President she'd have to deal with? Honestly, this is a W moment, and I couldn't believe my eyes. Yes, it's true, Putin will continue to pull the strings, but Medvedev is no stooge (he's intelligent, competent, and entirely capable of going on his own if he decided to - Putin seems to have chosen him because he trusts him to be loyal, not because he's an idiot who wouldn't know how to be otherwise), and the fact that Clinton doesn't remotely have a clue even what his name is and clearly hasn't bothered to learn anything else is deeply disturbing. If we can all use Wikipedia, why can't she? Finally, because I can't resist, this made me laugh out loud. Put it all together and: what a bloody embarrassing way to destroy a legacy.]

Now, so that the post is not all politics, I'm officially going to try inserting a video for the very first time. This was taken this morning, when the snow was blowing so hard that we not only couldn't see the University building, but hardly anything else, either.

Here's hoping you're all warm and snuggly and surrounded by wool (unless you're allergic, in which case I hear bamboo, silk, tencel, hemp, and cotton are also nice).

EDITED: one last time (sorry) to add two important links: this blog post about the grassroots aspect of Obama's campaign and how he's offering real tools for collective action, not just rhetoric (though let's all remember that rhetoric is vastly important in politics and that there's no universe in which Hillary Clinton could have done any better than Gore or Kerry before her (and probably worse, since half the country violently hated her even before this campaign) because she just doesn't have the charisma and rhetoric that moves people to vote), that post references this very important article about the nature of Obama's fundraising. Also, to those of you who liked my links - yay! It makes my swollen bookmarks folder worthwhile. If you want more, there's always the "shared items" in the Google Reader box in my sidebar. I read a lot of Obama and Leftist blogs every morning, and share the best posts there. Also, there's a link in the sidebar to my del.icio.us bookmarks - click on "politics" there and you'll get more than you bargained for. With a slant, of course! I'm going to try to go back to just knitting and spinning in future posts here, really!


hyunjee said...

Great post. Thanks for writing, and linking, and putting it all out there

Sonya said...

Great post. Agree, agree, agree.

EnnaVic said...

I agree with all of that. Actually I think Obama's much mentioned 'inexperience' is a positive (overblown though that aspect is in any case). Obama seems to think things through a bit more carefully than the other candidates rather than just pronouncing.

Anonymous said...

Great post - I agree with ennavic - In this situation, a fresh eye is an advantage and experience can just leave you trying the same thing that failed all over again.

Marianne said...

FABulous post, absolutely!

As far as foreign relations go, bottom line? Relating. Learning. Respecting. Emotional maturity goes a long ways also,eh?
Obama is our guy.
(loved all the links, thank you!)

Beth said...

But with all of this foreign policy, who is going to take care of our roads, our energy, our railroads and the rest of the stuff that needs attention at home? I want to hear about that and there's not a lot of talk about it on either side.

Where's my Romney:-)

Holly said...

nice, well thought out and reasoned commentary.

And what we in the west fail to see is that we are continuing the mistakes of the late 1800s to early 1900s by insisting that artificial boundaries on a map be respected because we (the west) decided where we wanted them.

Kosovo is a great past and future example - exactly how long is it going to take before the Serbian area (which should have gone to Serbia) blows up again?

And we don't even want to go there with the British boundaries which created a country called Iraq out of a previously tribal area because it was more convenient for England to deal with a central government.

Knitting and spinning are good, really good - you feel better even when listening to the radio or watching news.