We're in Maputo, in a hotel which I can only describe as "palatial". Stark contrast with the poverty in the streets and surrounding shantytowns, but grrrreat room service.
I'm reading the new book by Jonas Gahr Støre, the Norwegian foreign secretary. Right next door to our hotel is the Norwegian embassy. Funny reading about Norwegian foreign policy right next door to a concrete manifestation of it. Støre's book is immensely interesting reading. Just finished a chapter where he interviews Tony Blair, revealing interesting differences and similarities in their ideology and approach.
Maputo itself has a distinctly Latin American flavour with a hint of Soviet Union. The language is Portugese and the seafood is great. It seems like a pretty laid-back and pleasant city, apart from the grinding poverty which so far has been ubiqitous everywhere we have gone.
Now we're going to go and have breakfast, and then maybe go for a swim in the enormous pool and try not to feel any cognitive dissonance.
Ragnfrid and I are going to Africa this afternoon. We will be gone until December 10th. This is sort of our summer vacation. Neither of us got a proper vacation this year, so we're taking it out now. I feel rather like the annoying sibling or friend who saved his candy for days just so he could eat his when you were out.
On our trip, we will be going to countries where life expectancy at birth is lower than the sea-level temperature (in Celcius). We will be visiting the last absolute monarchy on Earth and we will be visiting the place with the highest prevalence of HIV/AIDS on the planet. And all that's just Swaziland! We're also going to Mozambique and South Africa.
Here's the latest news from the Times of Swaziland, the paper of record in Mbanbane. In case you were wondering, it is a government newspaper:
Political parties are terrorists - PM
MBABANE- Prime Minister Sibusiso Dlamini has listed four banned political movements as terrorist formations.
Cops reveal five-year plan
MBABANE - Lawbreakers in the country are warned! Royal Swaziland Police Service is now eliminating crime with military precision. The statement was made by the acting Police Commissioner Isaac Magagula during the end of year for senior officers and senior civilian staff conference held at the police headquarters yesterday
Swaziland's state motto is "we are hidden away". But I'm sure our plane will find Mazani airport.
Let cities light their lamps in the evening; my daytime is done, I am leaving Europe. The air of the sea will burn my lungs; lost climates will turn my skin to leather. To swim, to pulverize grass, to hunt, above all to smoke; to drink strong drinks, as strong as molten ore, as did those dear ancestors around their fires.
I will come back with limbs of iron, with dark skin, and angry eyes; in this mask, they will think I belong to a strong race. I will have gold; I will be brutal and indolent. Women nurse these ferocious invalids come back from the tropics. I will become involved in politics. Saved.
Now I am accursed, I detest my native land. The best thing is a drunken sleep, stretched out on some strip of shore.
Anyway, all irony aside, communication infrastructure is spotty in some places we're going. I don't know how much I'll be online, but I'll try to post every now and again. But don't hold your breath. You'll get all cyanotic. See you all in December, at least.
Front page of my dreams. Click through and read some of the articles. They've managed to create a coherent little universe back there. Like the Thomas Friedman and Editorial columns are linked, and so forth.
Speaking of dreams, I woke up this morning from a terrible anxiety dream in which I was interviewing former president of the US Bill Clinton live in front an audience and I just COMPLETELY CHOKED. I kept fumbling my questions and got distracted by sending emails during the interview. I found out on waking up that I had developed a strep throat during the night. Bad morning.
Til åpningsspørsmålet "er menneskerettighetene bedre ivaretatt idag enn for 60 år siden" svarer Støre ja. Det er en kolossal feilvurdering som jeg nesten ikke kan forstå. Til tross for at demokrati er langt mer utbredt og at millioner løftes ut av fattigdom hvert år så er verdensforskjellene økende og siden det blir stadig flere mennesker blir det også dermed stadig flere som lever uten ressurser. 95 % av verdens befolkning lever på under $10 om dagen og 3 milliarder mennesker lever på under $2.50 om dagen. Dette innebærer en grusom og umenneskelig levestandard og sørger for at de er ute av stand til å sikre seg selv de mest basale rettigheter i FNs menneskerettighetserklæring, som for eksempel det følgende utvalget:
Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.
(1) Everyone has the right to take part in the government of his country, directly or through freely chosen representatives.
(2) Everyone has the right of equal access to public service in his country.
(3) The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government; this will shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret vote or by equivalent free voting procedures.
Everyone, as a member of society, has the right to social security and is entitled to realization, through national effort and international co-operation and in accordance with the organization and resources of each State, of the economic, social and cultural rights indispensable for his dignity and the free development of his personality.
(1) Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.
(2) Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work.
(3) Everyone who works has the right to just and favourable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection.
(4) Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.
Everyone has the right to rest and leisure, including reasonable limitation of working hours and periodic holidays with pay.
(1) Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.
(2) Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance. All children, whether born in or out of wedlock, shall enjoy the same social protection.
(1) Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.
(2) Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace.
(3) Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.
(1) Everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits.
(2) Everyone has the right to the protection of the moral and material interests resulting from any scientific, literary or artistic production of which he is the author.
For ikke å snakke om disse to:
Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. Furthermore, no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty.
Everyone is entitled to a social and international order in which the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration can be fully realized.
Problemet her er nok at Støre går i en klassisk felle som liberalere ofte gjør. Han har sannsynligvis vektlagt en forståelse av frihet som man kan kalle for negativ frihet. Det er en vanlig feil når man tenker på FNs menneskerettighetserklæring.
Negativ frihet er et begrep som kommer fra Isaiah Berlin. Han skiller mellom positiv og negativ frihet. Negativ frihet er frihet fra, altså at ingen kommer og blander seg inn i din frihet ved å begrense dine valg. Positiv frihet er frihet til, altså at du er bemyndiget, i kontroll og handlekraftig fordi du har ressursene til å handle slik du vil.
Klassiske liberale vektlegger gjerne negativ frihet, i tradisjonen fra John Stuart Mills On Liberty. Dermed glemmer de lett at man trenger ressurser og kontroll for å kunne uttrykke sitt eget liv slik man ønsker. Sosialister vektlegger ofte positiv frihet, og risikerer å undervurdere individets krav på frihet til fordel for statens behov.
Mange som tenker på menneskerettighetserklæringen tenker på de sakene som for eksempel Amnesty International gjorde seg kjent på å kjempe for: Frihet fra undertrykkelse, frihet fra arbitrær straff og fengsling, frihet fra tortur og dødsstraff. Dermed glemmer de at halve erklæringen er positive rettigheter. Rettigheten til arbeid, til helse, til utdanning, til kultur og til selvbestemmelsesrett.
Alle disse positive rettigheter er i elendig forfatning i størstedelen av verden, som tallene ovenfor rikt illustrerer. Skylden ligger på vår dypt urettferdige og umenneskelige fordelingssystem som avhenger av fundamentalistisk frimarkedskapitalisme og egoistisk utbytting av den tredje verden. Dette burde Støre ha sagt noe om.
I like Sarah Palin, and I've heartily enjoyed her arrival on the national stage. As a career classroom teacher, I can see how smart she is -- and quite frankly, I think the people who don't see it are the stupid ones, wrapped in the fuzzy mummy-gauze of their own worn-out partisan dogma. So she doesn't speak the King's English -- big whoop! There is a powerful clarity of consciousness in her eyes. She uses language with the jumps, breaks and rippling momentum of a be-bop saxophonist. I stand on what I said (as a staunch pro-choice advocate) in my last two columns -- that Palin as a pro-life wife, mother and ambitious professional represents the next big shift in feminism. Pro-life women will save feminism by expanding it, particularly into the more traditional Third World.
Why the war in the Congo is not a huge thing in the news is beyond me. It has a small, but thorough Wikipedia page under the name of "Nord-Kivu fighting" or "Battle of Goma" (much smaller than the South-Ossetia/Georgia/Russia War had just two days into it). Still catching up with this one.
Collective action problems: a pox on the body politic which must be eradicated at any cost - or a big, fluffy, puppy-like animal? You decide!
At the end of the day, a short observation. Something I've been thinking about for years, but which keeps cropping up in conversation these days for some reason, so I feel like writing it down:
I think that the greatest single obstacle that I can think of to the advance of human civilisation is collective action problems in all their forms. The most basic form is, I think, the prisoner's dilemma, in which the solution obviously is honour among thieves - or rather, well-founded trust, the trick of the imagination on which our societies and economies are built, and the sense of collective responsibility which that trust creates.
If the measurement of value is projected beyond the yardstick of the self into the society surrounding it as a whole, the collective action problems go away, or at the very least become organisational and not existential. This also avoids freeloading, the cause of collective action problems, commonly presented in the form of the Tragedy of the Commons.
In short, the reason we spend more money on weapons than anything else, the reason we can't raise taxes to the proper level across the globe, the reason we can't implement proper work management laws and human rights, the reason we need to put up with populist tabloid newspapers rather than substantial vehicles for public discussion is either:
a. The value system for the change does not yet exist on a large enough scale. (Not a problem e.g. with war - who doesn't oppose war?) b. We can't organise a change on such a massive scale for reasons of coordination costs. c. We can't change for fear of competitive oppositional advantage. "Somebody else is doing it, so we can't stop doing it!"
C is the reason that we...
- Have an army. If not, other countries will invade us with their armies which they have for fear that you will invade them. (I still think that standing armies represent the single greatest failure of the human imagination we have.)
- Can't fix the environment. Because if we start having carbon taxes and spending lots of tax money on green infrastructure, other countries will gain a purely temporary competitive advantage which they will later lose again when they are all drowned in the seas of armed refugees, mad with hunger, pouring out of the third world as their ecosystems collapse, a problem which we should maybe have thought about sooner.
- Can't have good labour laws in, say, Malaysia - because other countries might get Malaysian manufacturing jobs.
- Can't raise taxes in states struggling to create welfare societies. If they raise taxes, business will flee.
- Have to keep making bad tv and bad newspapers, or the other tv stations/newspapers will sell more. Because God knows we're not in the business to make good tv/newspapers - we're in the business of making money.
I think that the "solution" to a lot of these issues at the present time, since "...oh, you're such an idealist, Martin! [exasperated sigh, rolling of eyes] It will never happen, dreamer!" is the proliferation of welfare states. People who are hungry and uneducated are generally not capable of projecting value into things or other people, other than their own survival.* I read somewhere recently (I forget where) that the paradox of being poor is that you have less of a buffer, so every decision you make has to be right. But you are also lacking in the resources and personal security which help you make right decisions. I think this is exactly right. The path towards the decline of collective action problems lies in welfare and education.
Does any of this make sense?
* However, the opposite can also be true. Some affluent people invest a lot of personal commitment to ideology which values selfishness. I remember sitting at my computer at University a year and a half ago, seeing the person at the desk in front of me reading Ayn Rand's The Virtue of Selfishness. I was reading an article on child mortality rates in the third world (30.000/day of easily preventable causes) and felt like:
a. I wanted to smack him in the back of the head for callousness.
b. I couldn't leave my laptop there when I went to lunch. I just couldn't trust him.
[Jörg] Haider died in a sudden car accident on October 11, less than two weeks after his party was boosted in a contentious national election. He was speeding, drunk, and had reportedly just seen Stefan Petzner, his political protégé and rumored lover, at a gay bar. Petzner, 27, was abruptly sacked as Haider's successor on Wednesday after a radio interview all but confirmed the two men were lovers.
Jörg Haider was a closeted bisexual who died after drinking in a gay bar, speeding home on a bottle and a half of vodka while texting his lover? I have to say, and I do mean this sort of in earnest: that is totally classy. What a way to throw your conservatie memory-builders into confusion. He did always set off my gaydar a little. But then, so does Tony Blair.
In an earlier transformative era in American history, President John F. Kennedy challenged our nation to land a man on the moon within 10 years. Eight years and two months later, Neil Armstrong set foot on the lunar surface. The average age of the systems engineers cheering on Apollo 11 from the Houston control room that day was 26, which means that their average age when President Kennedy announced the challenge was 18.
This year similarly saw the rise of young Americans, whose enthusiasm electrified Barack Obama’s campaign. There is little doubt that this same group of energized youth will play an essential role in this project to secure our national future, once again turning seemingly impossible goals into inspiring success.
Overnight, people lost their savings. Prices are soaring. Once-crowded restaurants are almost empty. Banks are rationing foreign currency, and companies are finding it dauntingly difficult to do business abroad. Inflation is at 16 percent and rising. People have stopped traveling overseas. The local currency, the krona, was 65 to the dollar a year ago; now it is 130. Companies are slashing salaries, reducing workers’ hours and, in some instances, embarking on mass layoffs.
“No country has ever crashed as quickly and as badly in peacetime,” said Jon Danielsson, an economist with the London School of Economics.
It contains the mandatory-in-all-articles-about-Nordic-countries mention of Vikings.
WASHINGTON, DC–President Bush delighted an intimate gathering of White House dinner guests Monday, regaling the coterie of dignitaries, artists, and friends with a spirited, off-the-cuff discussion of the Roman poet Virgil's lesser-known works.
"Ah, W. was in top form tonight," Spanish foreign minister Josep Pique Camps said. "We were all held captive by his erudition and charm. First, a brief history of the opium trade, then a bit of Brahms on the piano, then a rousing discussion of Virgil. That boy is a wonder, isn't he?"
Or how about this one, from back just before he took office. Walk through the article and see how many true prophecies you can find:
Bush concluded his speech on a note of healing and redemption.
"We as a people must stand united, banding together to tear this nation in two," Bush said. "Much work lies ahead of us: The gap between the rich and the poor may be wide, be there's much more widening left to do. We must squander our nation's hard-won budget surplus on tax breaks for the wealthiest 15 percent. And, on the foreign front, we must find an enemy and defeat it."
"The insanity is over," Bush said. "After a long, dark night of peace and stability, the sun is finally rising again over America.
“Rule one: Never allow a crisis to go to waste,” Mr. Emanuel said in an interview on Sunday. “They are opportunities to do big things.”
This remark by chief of staff to President-elect Obama, Rahm Emanuel, made in an interview the day before yesterday, got me thinking that maybe the incoming administration has understood what Naomi Klein is talking about in The Shock Doctrine.
Klein's argument, in brief, is that the right has for a long time acted during times of national trauma and disarray to push through unpopular reforms. They have pieces of ideology lying around in think-tanks and contingency plans in lawmaker's offices around the country. Then when the crisis hits, these plans are pushed through while the opposition is disoriented or immobilized.
I've heard the argument put forward in any number of fora these past couple of days, the last time at the Globalisation conference in Oslo this weekend: the left should use the financial crisis, which has put the free-market thinkers of the right wing on the defensive worldwide, to push through market reforms and try to take the first steps in reforming the capitalist system. This argument is never put in these terms, but it is in essence the same strategy Klein is talking about. People are arguing for a reverse shock doctrine.
But while the world appears poised to give Obama a generous honeymoon, there lurks a much more important question: How long of a honeymoon will Obama give the world?
To all those Europeans, Canadians, Japanese, Russians, Iranians, Chinese, Indians, Africans and Latin Americans who are e-mailing their American friends about their joy at having “America back,” now that Obama is in, I just have one thing to say: “Show me the money!”
Don’t just show me the love. Don’t just give me the smiles. Your love is fickle and, as I said, it will last about as long as the first Obama airstrike against an Al Qaeda position in Pakistan. No, no, no, show me the money. Show me that you are ready to be Obama stakeholders, not free-riders — stakeholders in what will be expensive and difficult initiatives by the Obama administration to keep the world stable and free at a time when we have fewer resources.
Examples: I understand any foreigner who objected to the U.S. invasion of Iraq and the gross mishandling of the postwar. But surely everyone in the world has an interest in helping Obama, who opposed the war, bring it to a decent and stable end, especially now that there is a chance that Iraq could emerge as the first democracy, albeit messy, in the heart of the Arab-Muslim world. Obama was against how this Iraq war started, but he is going to be held responsible for how it ends, so why don’t all our allies now offer whatever they can — money, police, aid workers, troops, diplomatic support — to increase the odds of a decent end in Iraq? Ditto Afghanistan.
Look, Tom, after inflicting 8 years of the most incompetent administration in the history of the world, ever, you could do well to show a little humility. You do not get to go straight back to being the leaders of the free world. After 8 years of imperial foreign policy, flaunting of civil rights, torture, unilateral pursuit of national over global interest, not to mention the little matter of an illegal war waged on false pretenses. A war, let us not forget, which you supported, Tom. After all of this, you, the US,need to show us, The Rest of the World, the love. We need to see that you are back to being a serious nation again. You have a lot to prove. You have a lot to live up to. If you want our support and our money and our troops, you have to come asking for them. And if we say no, you are going to have to eat the fact that the administration whom you elected, at least once, is to blame.
In short: get off your high and mighty exceptionalist horse, stop writing stupid shit like this and look your friends in the eye again.
So last night, having slept like the dead for 45 minutes, I found myself suddenly awake, sitting up on the sofa, exclaiming "CONGO! CONGO!"
I haven't, to my knowledge, done something like that in years.
This morning, the front page of the paper reads
DANGER OF MAJOR WAR The conflict in Eastern Congo could spread to the entire region and trigger a major African war, fears the head of the UN. Yesterday, Congolese soldiers drew closer and closer to the rebel army. Over 250.000 people have been sent running in the last few days.
And then I learn that basically Congo has been tearing itself to pieces for a while now. My all-Obama-all-the-time filter probably kept that news out of my consciousness until it surfaced in this strange way.
I'm going to Africa in 10 days, but fortunately not near Congo. I'll be in Swaziland, Mozambique and South Africa.
* * *
Speaking of Africa, if you ever get the chance to see Amadou & Mariam live (as I did last night), RUN, don't walk. They're this incredibly sweet blind African couple who play incredibly groovy African blues music:
Jason Kottke has the inside scoop on that huge "OBAMA" banner headline in the NY Times which we saw online. In the print paper, it was even bigger. 96 pts, in fact. They have only used that type size four times:
MEN WALK ON MOON NIXON RESIGNS U.S. ATTACKED OBAMA
So you want to work in the White House... This is funny: the "Survivor's Guide for Presidential Nominees". An actual document prepared by the Brookings Institute for people who have been or are considering being presidentially appointed. The "Survivor's Guide" tone is actually what it reminds me of. It's kind of funny, actually. While the document itself is long (180 pages!) and boring, I take comfort in knowing these things exist somewhere. It's like thinking that in some government safe somewhere there could be a friendly, well-written instruction manual that says "First Extra Terrestrial Contact For Dummies".
(I found this on the Change.gov website - Obama's "Office of the President-Elect website".)
It just seems like a weird comment when I live in a city (Oslo) which has a 25 % immigrant population, when immigration is the #1 wedge issue in Norwegian politics and when you look at the charts for number of immigrants as a percentage of population:
US: 12 % Norway: 7.5 %. South Korea: 1.1 %
Which means Norway has a per capita immigrant population the ballpark of such homogenous cultures as the UK (9%) and Russia (8.5%). We are an ethnically diverse nation, and one in every 13 people you meet here will not have been born here.
The big question is, though: do we celebrate our racial deliciousness? To that, I’d have to say that some of us do, some of us (e.g. 1/3rd of the country who vote Progress Party) don’t.
* I'm kidding, obviously - but I still felt it needed a response.
Michael Chrichton is dead. I remember reading Jurassic Park, like, three times, even though I even at that age thought it was a terrible novel. There was just all this scientific candy in there I liked, and probably learned a lot from. Still, that's twelve hours of my life I'm never getting back.
In later years he did a lot of damage to the movement towards stopping climate change. He was an outspoken skepticist, writing a ludicrous book in which the bad guys are eco-terrorists who want to lay waste to the coast of California with a tsunami.
Michael McDonald, a professor and voting expert at George Mason University, estimated the popular vote total would reach133.3 million, after hundreds of thousands of absentee and provisional ballots that are still outstanding are finally counted, eclipsing the roughly 123 million voters who turned out in 2004. Mr. McDonald said there may be nearly a half million outstanding ballots in Georgia alone, and thousands more in other states — including the one with the largest turnout, California — that are still being counted.
Based on early figures, Mr. McDonald projected about 62.5 percent of all eligible voters cast ballots, just shy of the 62.6 percent figure that was recorded in the 1964 election. But that figure could very well rise as the remaining votes are finally counted.
Instead, the overall gain happened mostly as a result of a major shift in the political positions of the electorate. The entire United States electorate has basically shifted slightly left, meaning that the story of this election was actually that of an across-the-board rejection of the republican political agenda and the Bush era's culture wars. Clinton was right: it's the economy, stupid. That might actually mean that Obama's 50-state strategy and heal-the-divide rhetoric was playing into a shift that was already taking place, articulating and amplifying it. Synergy, baby.
Barack Hussein Obama was, arguably, the country's most unlikely candidate for highest office. He embodied, or at least invoked, much of what America feared. His color recalled our racist past. His name was a reminder of our anxious present. His spiritual mentor displayed a streak of radical Afro-nationalism. He knew domestic terrorists and had lived in predominantly Muslim countries. There was hardly a specter lurking in the American subconscious that he did not call forth.
And that was his great strength. He robbed fear of its ability to work through quiet insinuation. He forced America to confront its own subconscious. Obama actually is black. His middle name actually is "Hussein." He actually does know William Ayers. He actually was married by Jeremiah Wright. He actually had lived in Indonesia. These were not smears, though they were often used as such. They were facts. And this election was fundamentally about what happened when fear collided with fact.
Ezra's blog, btw, has been a rock of relentless (and voluminous!) smartness this election cycle.
Mayor Cory Booker, (D) Newark, New Jersey: “I reject the idea of a post-racial America. I want to luxuriate in the racial deliciousness of our country: the Italian-Americans, the Irish-Americans, the Mexican-Americans. I mean, that’s what makes America great. We are a nation that celebrates racial diversity. We’re not Norway. We’re not South Korea. We are the United States of America. The story of America is bringing such differences together to manifest a united set of ideals, not a united culture, not a united language, not a united religion, but a united set of ideals. That was what made America dramatic when it was founded, the first country of its kind in humanity. So I reject that [the idea of a post-racial America]. I want to celebrate all of America: its richness, its diversity, its deliciousness."
A magnificent victory for Barack Obama. And bear in mind that the campaign, in its final stages, was really about different philosophies of governing. This wasn't like the 2004 campaign, which was essentially fought over fake issues — Bush running on national security and social issues, then claiming that he had a mandate to privatize Social Security. In this election, Obama proudly stood up for progressive values and the superiority of progressive policies; John McCain, in return, denounced him as a socialist, a redistributor. And the American people rendered their verdict.
Thank you, America, for getting your act together!* Time to repair the damage of the past eight years and get back to a place where we can talk about actual issues. Thank you, also, for such a symbolically resonant and brave choice (The New York Times has the biggest headline I've ever seen: OBAMA - "Racial Barrier Falls as Voters Embrace Call For Change"). I am watching Obama's family dancing and singing in rural Kenya. And a historian on the Norwegian state channel is pointing out that he is the first black leader of a Western nation, as well.
Now that he has been elected, we can start talking about all the things that are to the left of Obama, and all the things that we want him to start changing his mind about (a president who could change his mind - man, remember when we had that?). I know that Obama is not going to be able to do everything he says he would, and I obviously disagree with a lot of his policy ideas. But I believe that he was the absolutely best candidate who could have won at this point in time. That means we can move the range of possible policy and political conversation back into sensible territory. If the US chooses the perfect candidate again in 8 years, we'll have come a long way. Despite all the imperfections of Obama, this is the US's Mandela moment.
Mostly, I am just happy that the Bush era is so profoundly, completely over. The disastrous presidency of George W. Bush and the dominance of movement conservatism has cast an immense shadow over my entire adult life. I feel a sense of immense relief that it's over. The conservatives have been routed and are in disarray. And that... that feeling... feels like... victory:
* And - dare I say - it took you long enough? But now is not the time for recriminations.
photo is Creative Commons and was taken by B. Rankin (Flickr user BohPhoto)
Martin Grüner Larsen og Trygve Tronhuus Svensson Opprinnelig trykt i Bergens Tidende, 4. november 2008.
«Bush har brukt åtte år til å grave middelklassen ned i et hull. Nå planlegger McCain å bruke spaden til å grave dypere», sa Barack Obama nylig i en tale. Det er med slik retorikk han har vunnet frem som presidentkandidat.
Da Barack Obama entret podiet for å gi the keynote address på Demokratenes landsmøte i 2004 var det ingen som så for seg at dette kunne bli USAs neste president. Allere-de samme kveld ble det snakket om mulighetene for en svart president. Obama brukte 17 uavbrutte minutter på nasjonalt tv for alt de var verdt, og budskapet har siden definert hans retorikk. Fortellingen om Amerika handlet om en splittet nasjon og Obama holdt en tale som fortalte at motsetningene kan løses.
"…det finnes ikke et liberalt Amerika og et konservativt Amerika – det finnes kun Amerikas Forente Stater. Det finnes ikke et svart Amerika, et hvitt Amerika, et latino Amerika og et asiatisk Amerika – det finnes kun Amerikas Forente Stater.” sa han
Det ble den mest berømte frasen fra landsmøtet, og en oppsummering av kampanjens budskap.
Mens en ekstremt upopulær president, grasrotorganisering, krig og finanskrise har alle bidratt, er den avgjørende årsaken til Obamas gjennombrudd å finne i hans vel-lykkete politiske kommunikasjon, særlig hans taler. Retorikken har med Obama vist sitt potensial til å forandre verden.
I analyser av store taler vektlegges ofte stilistiske elementer: billedbruk, kontrast, rytme, etc. Slikt er interessant, men ikke det som gjør en tale avgjørende. Det som kjennetegner bemerkelsesverdige politiske taler, er at de løser eller omdefinerer en konflikt. Dette er kjernen i Barack Obamas retoriske strategi, og i hans politiske budskap.
Symboleffekten Ingen blir president i USA uten å spille på amerikansk eksepsjonalisme: ideen om at amerikanerne har en opphøyd plass i verdenshistorien. ”A City upon a Hill” kalte John Winthrop det, da han i 1630 stiftet en koloni i Massachusetts. Obama presente-rer seg som den amerikanske fortellingens neste kapittel. En leder som kan bygge bro mellom nasjonaltraumet, slaveriet, og den økonomiske og kulturelle velstanden som loves av grunnloven og den eksepsjonalistiske fortellingen.
Hans retoriske strategi har derfor fokusert på å overvinne kulturkrigene som George W. Bushs valgkampstrateg Karl Rove var en mester i å starte og vedlikeholde (ko-piert av Framskrittspartiets i norsk kontekst). Målet er størst mulige motsetninger mellom folkegrupper ved hjelp av såkalte ”wedge issues”: verdiladete saker som abort, homoseksualitet og rase. Fellestrekket er at de splitter grupper med felles in-teresser og skjuler mer grunnleggende motsetninger i samfunnet – som de økono-miske.
Pastor Wright Obamas styrke har vært å se alle utfordringer som en anledning til å snakke om det samme: behovet for forandring. Et eksempel var i mars, da talene til presten i Obamas gamle kirke, pastor Wright, ble offentliggjort. Hva sier man til det amerikanske folk når en prest – som har døpt dine døtre, viet deg, og hvis preken du har oppkalt en bok etter – på tv omtaler 9/11 som ”Amerikas kyllinger som kommer hjem for å legge egg”? I konteksten av den amerikanske nasjonalmyten er det helligbrøde.
Dette var den mest alvorlige krisen i kampanjen. I midten av mars viste meningsmå-linger at kun 8 prosent av velgerne støttet Wrights uttalelser. Den forbigåtte Hilary Clinton ledet igjen på meningsmålingene med 7 prosentpoeng. McCain gikk også forbi begge de demokratiske kandidatene med ca. 3 prosentpoeng. Det var en tilsvarende verdikonstruksjon, swiftboating, som drepte John Kerrys kampanje i 2004.
I denne situasjonen skrev Obama, mye alene, talen ”A More Perfect Union.” Pastor Wrights synspunkter betegnes her som uriktige i en tid der folk trenger å finne sam-men. Samtidig karakteriseres Wrights ideer som en del av den amerikanske historien som ikke forsvinner: ”Jeg kan like lite avvise ham som jeg kan avvise det svarte sam-funnet. Jeg kan like lite avvise ham som min hvite bestemor.” Også her bruker han muligheten til å vise hvordan den amerikanske historien representeres av hans egen biografi.
3 dager senere gikk Obama opp med 10 prosentpoeng, og ledet igjen over Clinton. Hun gjenvant aldri ledelsen.
Kairos Kairos er et sentralt begrep fra den klassiske retorikken. Det betyr ”øyeblikk” eller ”mulighet”. Det er kvaliteten en tale har når den svarer til situasjonens utfordringer. På samme måte som talen i 2004 artikulerte en folkelig frustrasjon over kulturkampen, svarte ”A More Perfect Union” på spørsmålet om rase.
Tilsvaret er karakteristisk: Obama avleder ofte angrep ved å snakke om større problemer. Når motstanderne angriper ham ved å knytte ham til ”anti-amerikanske ide-er” hos en svart pastor, snakker han om opphavet til frustrasjon i den svarte ameri-kanske befolkningen. Denne evnen til å løfte debatten er ikke bare god kairos, det viser seg å være god politikk. Obama markerer seg ved å virke både på taktisk og strategisk nivå. Hans prosjekt er like mye å endre reglene for hva man på sikt kan snakke om og hvordan, som å vinne en enkelt debatt, holde en god tale.
Retorikkens renessanse En vanlig anklage mot Obama har vært at det han gjør er ”bare retorikk” og at han ikke har ”substans”. Til dette er det to innvendinger: For det første er alle språkhandlinger retoriske. McCains ”Straight Talk Express” er en annen retorisk strategi. For det andre henger retorikk og politikk sammen som tenkemåte. George W. Bushs manikeiske retorikk henger uløselig sammen med den ideologien han har påført verdenssamfunnet, og folket i Irak spesielt.
Romertidens siste store retoriker, Quintilian, skrev at å tale godt henger sammen med å være et godt menneske. Med et godt menneske mente han en som forstod samfunnet og tok riktige avgjørelser. Retorikk dreide seg mer om situasjonsforståelse enn sminkekunst. Denne presidentkampanjen har vært mye mer løfterik enn den forrige, nettopp fordi det verdensbildet som har kommet til å dominere kampanjen har vært det forstående og omdefinerende.
Om 20 år kommer ikke USA til å være den kulturelle, økonomiske og militære su-permakten vi kjenner fra det 20. århundre. Men de neste åtte årene vil bli overvel-dende preget av nattens vinner, og selv med forminsket makt vil USA påvirke oss alle. Forhåpentligvis vil vi allerede i morgen kunne glede oss til 20. januar 2009. Da den nye presidenten vil levere nok en tale, sin inaugural address. Den store forskjellen er at det da vil være makten som snakker. Og Barack Obama vil, om han vinner, der-etter bli stilt overfor retorikerens største utfordring: Å artikulere budskapet om for-andring som politisk virkelighet.
The lines in Mr. Obama's face have grown a bit deeper since he started his campaign, with the notches of gray hair along his temples far more pronounced. He often carries the look of exhaustion, but flying the other night to Nevada, where he arrived after midnight, Mr. Obama passed on the chance to take much of a nap.
Instead, he walked around the cabin of his airplane, which is about the size of a bedroom, and talked about a favorite diversion, the coming basketball season, as he took care not to step on a senior foreign policy adviser, Mark Lippert, who was asleep on the floor.
"He said he likes to go out trick-or-treating, but he can't anymore," Mr. Reid said in an interview, recalling the conversation he had with Mr. Obama. "He said he guessed he could have worn a Barack Obama mask."
Lunchtime reading: Michael Bérubé has two good posts on why he decided to support Obama in the primaries. His idea of broadening the base of the Democrats seem now to be ready to pay off tomorrow, where it seems we might see* record voter registration, millions of new voters, younger voters, blacker voters being put to good use.
I live in Oslo, Norway. Where I work as a journalist in the literary supplement to the daily newspaper Klassekampen.
This is my personal blog, which I've kept on and off in one incarnation or another since 2003. I post both in Norwegian and English. If you want to read the blog exclusively in one of these languages, use the links below: