My immediate response to Saturday’s results in South Carolina and Nevada are jaded despair. None of the candidates in either party, including my preferred candidate John Edwards, inspires my confidence about the future. Even worse, my preferred candidate with the most progressive message didn’t even garner five percent of the vote in a heavily unionized state.
Overall, too many figures in the corporatist media, as well as bloggers, are consumed by the “horserace.” The focus has been on Hillary Clinton’s tears, Barack Obama’s platitudes, John Edward’s hair or John McCain’s so-called “authenticity.” There was also the silly hair splitting about who said what in the Clinton and Obama camps over race or inspid attention on Obama’s statements about his disorganized desk. What the hell is wrong with all you people out there? Why are people so incapable of focusing on the salient challenges of our time and demanding answers from the declared candidates about why their ideas are best? Sad to say, today's candidates don't measure up to previous presidents.
America for all its flaws benefited from skilled leadership at crucial junctures in history. Our first president, George Washington, established a legacy of peaceful succession in an era of kings while surrounded by enemies. Abraham Lincoln kept the union together in spite of a bloody civil war due to the evil institution of slavery that wasn’t sustainable. Theodore Roosevelt took on entrenched corporate interests that were turning America into a plutocracy and established reforms that later became the building blocks of the New Deal. His cousin, Franklin Roosevelt saved America from an economic depression that impoverished millions with the New Deal and mobilized the country to defeat Nazi Germany's quest for global domination and genocide.
During the Cold War, presidents Truman, Eisenhower and Kennedy managed to avoid the calamity of nuclear war in spite of reactionaries inside the military industrial complexes of both the United States and the Soviet Union. Presidents Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon were flawed, paranoid leaders who prosecuted a self-defeating immoral war in Vietnam but both also successfully pursued détente with the Soviets. President Jimmy Carter helped put human rights on the map and empower a dissident movement inside the Soviet Union that leveraged Ronald Reagan to seek accommodation with the reform minded Michael Gorbachev and end the Cold War.
Today’s challenges, requires a caliber of leadership beyond even Washington, Lincoln and FDR. Those presidents were guided by the concept of American Exceptionalism. It’s an ideology practiced by presidents and political parties in this country for over two centuries. It’s based on a firm conviction that our society is morally superior, America knows best and our consumption of over a quarter of the world’s resources entirely justified. I know there are some knee-jerk conservatives out there thinking, “another blame America first leftist.”
I don’t blame America first. The world itself is flawed with greed and we’re a part of it. America was simply in the best position to pursue its greed because of power. Many other societies would have been far worse for this planet in the role of super power. I’m proud of my country in many ways. If not for the United States of America my grandfather would have perished in a Polish concentration camp and I never would have been born. I love my country even with all its flaws and warts. But we have to be honest with ourselves.
America’s power is descending. In recent years we’ve overreached due to greed, immorality and misguided hubris. We’re over extended economically, strategically, militarily and spiritually. America and the world can no longer afford our addiction to empire. At one time it could be plausibly argued that the American empire preserved a level of needed stability in a bipolar world. Today however, evil non-state terrorist actors and multinational corporations regulate this planet with more influence than centralized governments.
Hell, Blackwater has one of the largest armies in the world and Osama Bin Laden has no allegiance to any flag. Meanwhile, the global economy we long championed is now carving up financial institutions such as Citcorp. When even banks are experiencing a credit crunch due to the sub-prime mortgage crisis and selling off assets to Saudi Arabian princes, your average wage earner will be left in the dust faster than you can say the American dollar is sucking wind.
The next president will have to usher in a new era of humility, conservation and international cooperation without surrendering America’s sovereignty or producing a destructive backlash among xenophobic racists, desperate plutocrats, delusional hawks and anti-civil libertarians. While I suspect many Americans can rationally and intellectually jettison our national security empire state it will require a severe cultural adjustment.
Even the most progressive peace advocates among us have grown up with an America as a colossus and many citizens will have difficulty embracing new realities. Furthermore, much of the planet alienated by America’s greed, imperialism and heavy- handed militarism will have to be cajoled into joining us in a mission to save humanity from global warming and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.
Among the candidates for president in both parties I don’t see a leader possessing the combination of strength and finesse to confront contemporary realities. Edwards has the most progressive message, Obama is a gifted man who offers great symbolism and even Clinton would be an improvement over Bush. Hell, John McCain would be an improvement over Bush simply because he doesn’t advocate torture. My boss would be an improvement over Bush. Your boss would be an improvement over Bush. People I personally dislike would be an improvement over Bush.
So yes, it’s nice that next year at this time we’ll have a new president regardless of who prevails. But I am not confident that any of these candidates is the right person for the moment. How can anyone be? My advice to citizens is stay as informed as possible in this shallow environment and don’t be easily seduced by platitudes, misinformation and just plan horse manure.
I also advise that disenchantment is no excuse for apathy. As disenchanted as I am, I intend to vote and increase participation through get out the vote efforts as much as possible. Ultimately, our only salvation is an informed, realistic electorate that's involved, asks questions and makes itself heard.