Friday, November 07, 2008

The reframing of Obama's victory

You may not have realised it but Obama is the first ever black President of the United States. What's that you say? People just wont stop saying it? Oh, OK.

Now, this is quite an important thing to happen, of course it is. It's difficult to overstate how important having a black President for the first time is, but there's a real problem with how the Obama victory is getting re-interpreted and, I think, we're in danger of rewriting history before the ink's even dry.

Anyone who saw the very poor BBC coverage on election night will know that a) the corporation doesn't seem to have a clue what they're doing and b) after the result was in the only thing they had to say about Obama was that he was black and he had won. Literally nothing else of substance.

Now this annoyed me at the time. It's one of the many things to say, but if you say it to the exclusion of everything else then you diminish what happened this Tuesday. People didn't just vote black - they voted for a specific political program that included pulling out of an unpopular war, investment in "green jobs", addressing the fact that millions have no health insurance and dealing with the economic crisis. Americans voted on those issues and many others, not just on race.

Republicans are slippery buggers

Some Republican pundits seemed to make out that "of course" the Democrats won, they ran a black guy. Which, if this had been such a sure fire electoral strategy it rather begs the questions why they didn't do the same. Maybe they're a bunch of... oh, I wont go there tonight. I even had the wicked thought that some Republicans thought the Democrats had cheated a bit by running someone who could mobilise black voters in historic numbers, don't they know they're disenfranchised?

The next thing that happened is that the Republicans began doing a rather magical thing. They started claiming the victory for themselves, in a weird sort of way. This proves, they said, that in America anyone can make it. This shows that America is not racist. This election showed that the American dream is real. The guy elected on a platform of addressing the inequality that the Republicans stand for somehow shows that, in fact, in America everyone is equal. Even Bush said it.

For them, after eight years of neocon governance Obama's win proves that society is, in fact, fair. It makes your eyes water to think about. Suddenly, because the only thing of interest about Obama is the colour of his skin, people didn't reject the Republicans politically, they just fancied a change of tone. Like changing the colour of your curtains for a bit of a freshen up. No, no, no.

Politics, politics, politics

Electing a respectable, well spoken, church going African American is a great and a good thing. The fact that he voted against the Iraq war and is committed to pulling out the troops is ever so slightly more important though. The fact that he is a hundred times more suited to dealing with the economic crisis than the McCain/Palin team is not an irrelevance, but central to why he got elected. The fact that he is the first President elected to take climate change seriously is something we should not allow to vanish within the hype.

I know this is really an ABC of anti-racism but it might be worth saying right now anyway... the most important thing about someone is never the colour of their skin. We should not allow the Republicans in particular to depoliticise this victory and we shouldn't allow progressives to forget that there was more to this election than colour.

In the UK Cameron, Salmond and Brown were all hoping some of the magic would rub off as they welcomed Obama's Presidency, but whilst many politicos will be trying to "learn the lessons" of these events what they'll in fact do is look at campaigning techniques rather than the set of progressive politics that mobilised millions. Not because they were tricked into it by clever spin but because there was an offer of something genuinely new.


Noel Lynch said...

Yes, I also thought that the BBC coverage was crap. I spent the night flicking back and forth between BBc and ITV. With a much smaller operation, ITV was much better.

I did notice the amazing spin put on by the republicans but nobody seemed to object.

Last week, I had a visit from a leading North Dakota Green. It's not a fertile area for the Greens, but she said that even there, ther a change was in the air.

However, Obama's organising abilities should not be underestimated. He totally out-organised the opposition! Not surprising really, his original job was as a community organiser.

By-the-way, there is also celebrations in Ireland as this is the first time that there has been both President and Vice-President who are of Irish descent. It is also the first time that the USA has had a catholic vice-president.

LG Test Blog said...

Chris Rock has a great line (now proved) that Bush screwed up the country so bad that a White man can't be President any more!

Jim Jay said...

"the first time that there has been both President and Vice-President who are of Irish descent"

That is extraordinary!

thedharmablues said...

I fell asleep watching the BBC coverage, but woke up just in time to catch Obama's speech.

I know the Daily Show usually surpasses most of the US news networks, however it is a sad day when it is better than the Beeb.

John Mullen said...

Mostly symbolic as a victory, but worth oen hell of a party!