kolmapäev, jaanuar 09, 2008

decisions, decisions

Something weird happened after Barack Obama won in Iowa last week. People around me started trying to figure out who he was, in a historical context.

Is he a visionary Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who, like Obama, rocketed to the presidency in 1932 after serving only three years as a governor of New York at a similar age (he was 50, Obama will be 47)?

Is he a soulful James Earl Carter who came out of nowhere in 1976 to give people hope after eight years of Nixon-Ford, Watergate, and Vietnam?

Or is he some wild combination of Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr., two men that greatly inspired the generation of Hillary Rodham Clinton, and two men whose ghosts haunt them every time they see Obama give one of his speeches?

I will confess that at least three people told me they were anticipating Obama's assassination should he win the nomination because the US "isn't ready" for a "person of color" to move into the "White" House.

I found this talk extremely depressing because as I walk around the southern tip of Manhattan island, I can't help but notice that Barack Obama looks more like the America I grew up in than the one people claim he is too different to lead.

At school I have had friends and acquaintances of every background, often times mixed. If you bump into any random human on Pearl Street, it's likely they have a story that begins in as odd a place as Honolulu, Hawaii and leads to Indonesia before stopping in Boston and Chicago.

This is what they call the "generational divide" in politics, and Obama has played his hand well by distinguishing himself from all the things about American politics that have made this younger amorphous and multicultural "generation" -- if such a diverse and abstract group of people can be recognized under one heading -- tune out altogether.

Who wanted to fight about the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth in 2004 when they couldn't even remember that war themselves? Who wanted a political bloodbath over Roe vs. Wade from 1973, when all of us, including Obama, entered adulthood with it in force? America, over the past 20 years or more, has been so bogged down in mind-numbing arguments over "faith" or "guns" that large swaths of younger Americans have remained apolitical because, like they have said on numerous occasions, they really don't care.

And so to them, including myself, seeing Barack Obama speak, someone who looks like someone I might work with during my life, someone whose history of an extended family matches so many families I know, and someone who was a tyke in 1968 -- a year in which he is allegedly stuck -- is as tired of Boomeritis as we all are, its refreshing and dangerously appealing.

I want to look away because I am afraid the man with the pretty words may sell me something we both know he cannot sell: hope in a better future. Change. Who can sell these things? Nobody. Because if you look at the history of the US, change in the form of a presidential candidate does not come often and if it does, it is because it was packaged that way. Thomas Jefferson was an old hand in American politics by the time of his Revolution in 1800. Was it really a revolution then?

As engaging as I find Sen. Obama, I have a hard time listening to 30-second clips of Hillary Clinton because she is telling me everything I have heard from Democrats all my life.

She is an appealing candidate, because you figure after eight years sharing a bed with Bill Clinton -- and our spouses do know us, at least most of the time -- she would be best to inherit the groaning apparatus of American foreign policy.

And yet I cannot listen to her. I respect her somewhat, but listening to her speak, I find myself wondering if Teddy Kennedy wrote the script. I know that to some people Teddy Kennedy is a dirty word, but I think he represents Massachusetts, warts and all, to the hilt.

And I hear the same promises from her that I would hear from John Kerry or Al Gore or Bill Clinton or Mike Dukakis or Walter Mondale. I hear about universal health coverage. I have heard a lot about that in my life and I don't expect to see it happen, even if Hillary becomes president. Even with Democrats controlling both houses of Congress. There are just too many institutional tripwires to stop that kind of change.

But beyond that is the arrogance, not coming from her but coming from her husband who called Obama's political rise a "fairy tale" in a demeaning way. It's an arrogance that says "we know better than you." But did Bill Clinton really know better? His record was either hit or miss and blame it on the Republicans. His professional hacks -- Paul Begala, James Carville -- alienated so many young voters that they were able to turn comics, like Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert into folk heroes.

Given a choice between real politicians or comedians, younger people would probably choose the latter. This is the legacy of the Bush-Clinton-Bush years, years of non-ending arguments over what the definition of 'is' is. People would put more faith in Colbert for President than they do in Hillary for President.

So, to summarize, voting for Hillary Clinton would give some younger people icky feelings, feelings that might dissuade many young people from voting for anyone at all, except perhaps a comedian-cum-talk show host.

Barack Obama would also give them icky feelings but in a different way: of actually in believeing in something again for a few minutes, only to be let down again. I mean how many times can you put a quarter in the slot machine before you realize that today is not your lucky day? Some of us just never win. Ever.

Barack Obama: he inspired one part of America and scares the other part. Hillary Clinton, she embodies a different part of America and turns the other part off from politics. Who is the better candidate? Decisions, decisions, decisions ...

11 kommentaari:

Jens-Olaf ütles ...

You gave a hint, governing New York State you have find her style liberal. Does this not fit with the younger generation? Will Obama be more liberal in politics? Reading the German version of news I would doubt it.

Giustino ütles ...

Will Obama be more liberal in politics? Reading the German version of news I would doubt it.

I am against the "liberal versus conservative" paradigm that has been in existence since the 1964 race between Lyndon Johnson and Barry Goldwater.

There is no Democratic presidential candidate that wants to enact "Great Society II" and there are plenty of Republican candidates that will not touch the remnants of the New Deal.

Remember, I have lived in Estonia where they have socialized medicine AND a flat tax. I just don't believe in "left versus right" anymore. I believe in pragmatism over idealism.

In NY state ütles ...

Estonia sounds liberal as both the universal health system and the flat tax are probably intended to be fair. And the Estonians had to create the tax system from scratch. A flat tax system is regressive in the US because of other hidden taxes that in the final analysis involve a heavier tax on the less well to do.

Whenever Norquist and Forbes advocate this system here in the US, both know full well that the amount of tax they will pay will drop significantly.

In the US, 5% of the population earns 30% of all earned income. So the question becomes, should that fraction of the population pay 5% of the government's income or 32% of the government's income?

In the US, a liberal would say 32%, while a conservative would say 5%. Also understand that in the US, there are all sorts of other taxes, such as payroll taxes and sales taxes, that are disproportionately paid by the lower income brackets.

Andres Sehr ütles ...

Whenever Norquist and Forbes advocate this system here in the US, both know full well that the amount of tax they will pay will drop significantly.

Would their taxes drop? Warren Buffet is famous for saying that because of the current tax system in the US he pays less tax than his secretary. A flat tax is a fair as it gets as there are no loopholes or deductions that the ultra rich can take advantage of.

I don't know if the flat tax suits all countries but it's working in Estonia at the moment.

Jens-Olaf ütles ...

'I am against the "liberal versus conservative" paradigm that has been in existence since the 1964 race between Lyndon Johnson and Barry Goldwater.'

Right, I was confused with the german meaning of liberal. What sometimes seems to be a mixture of different views on politcs in the States.

Kristopher ütles ...

Socialized medicine AND a flat tax, as you say -- sometimes it seems that paradigm-twisting approach is directly responsible for the fact that doctors and nurses make as little as they do.

Not that I support income brackets -- or any corporate income tax on reinvested profits.

When it comes to the blame game, I have to say I don't remember any griping from the Clinton Democrats. You may be right, but the Democrats have never had anything like right wing talk radio, where even now you can hear some blowhard explaining how the economic boom under Clinton was actually the work of good policy under Reagan and Bush 41.

There's a lot of "Republican" policies I might well support, but in terms of perceived personality, is there anything more sanctmonious, petty and can't-see-the-forest-for-the-trees than a Republican?

In NY state ütles ...

"Warren Buffet is famous for saying that because of the current tax system in the US he pays less tax than his secretary."

Buffet, I am, sure means that he pays less proportionately than absolutely. In other words, if he earns $1 million in capital gains, he pays $200,000, or 20%. If his secretary earns $200,000 (which would be a very, very healthy salary here), the secretary could pay as much as $60,000, or 30% (actually a little less, as payroll taxes around not paid on wages above $80,000). So Buffet is paying more in absolute value but not proportionately. He is saying that he should pay more proportionately.

The issue is further confounded as there are many other taxes in the US, such as sales tax, real estate tax and others that citizens pay. Especially the payroll tax and the sales tax make the less well to do proportionately pay more in taxes.

"A flat tax is a[s] fair as it gets as there are no loopholes or deductions that the ultra rich can take advantage of."

This is assuming that there are NO other taxes collected by the state, including payroll taxes, sales taxes, tariffs, VAT's, etc.

Tatsutahime ütles ...

Socialized medicine and flat tax is just a show-off.

First, most of Estonia's hospitals are private-owned, profit-orientated companies. Now, we have compulsory health insurance, which covers some of your costs - but if we measure how much and which costs are covered, they keep dropping every year. Moreover, public health care services are overcrowded, you have sometimes to wait unbelievable time to get a service. Most of our nurses are underpayed and look for jobs in other EU member states, our medical stuff are threatning with strikes to get at least some normal pay.

People were ready in 90s to suffer until "we built our state". Everyone was poor. Now this has changed - and flat tax is living its last part of life, I would say.

Giustino ütles ...

Socialized medicine and flat tax is just a show-off.

They can be combined though. American politics assumes either/or.

If you are a lefty you have to support socialized medicine but not a flat tax. If you are an American righty, it's vice versa.

The reality that they are combined in a state means that policies can be debated on their results rather than the ideological platform upon which they are based.

Tatsutahime ütles ...

This is what I am telling - our socialized medicine is fading and in one point we have to decide to either reform our taxation system or to give up socialized medicine. Everything can be combined in this world, but the question remains - is it reasonable to do so.

Topi ütles ...

I think Hillary Clinton is the first candidate in a long time who at least implies that what America needs is a president like Lyndon Johnson. She said that King was the inspirational figure (read the Barack Obama of his day) but it took LBJ (read Hillary is LBJ II) to get the job done. So why not, Great Society II, now that there finally is an admirer of LBJ to claim the mantle of the party?

I understood that Jens-Olaf actually meant with "more liberal" (the German sense of the word) "less liberal" in the American sense of the word. I believe Obama will indeed not be more of a supporter of free-market classical liberalism than Clinton is.

Certainly there is also a very liberal streak to Obama. A lot of people see him as a combination of RFK & MLK, liberal gods really. They were such powerful figures that they appealed to people of other ideologies as well. It is hard to say how much of that is rhetoric and 1968 nostalgia.

But Dr. King is someone who certain conservatives like as well. Mitt Romney was celebrating his legacy with African Americans in Florida and said, playfully posing to reporters, to one teenage girl (quoting the Baha Men 2000 hit) "Who let the dogs out? Woof, woof". Of course he wasn't quoting MLK but he was showing his ability to take in black cultural influence and it was sort of fitting to do in a parade celebrating the King legacy.