Sunday, November 01, 2009

Why Obama's change might stick, and maybe why Roosevelt's didn't end up doing so

Despite being extremely critical of Obama before the election and before the inauguration I do think that despite his compromises, compromises that were foreshadowed in the details of his speeches, he is in fact sticking to his guns and trying to put forward change above and beyond the centrism of Clinton/Gore. That said, I think, I conjecture, that the support for Obama's general type of policies, the main curve of them, will have the possibility of being enduring for one good reason.

The welfare state in Europe was something rather different than that which existed here in that over there it was explicitly socialist while over here it was a kind fiddling new liberalism that was associated with the British Liberal Democrats in the pre-war years. The big, huge, enormous reason why socialism was cemented after the war in Europe is simple: the experience of Nazism, Fascism, and having both of those forces knocking on your door threatening to take you over in the case of Great Britain. It seems strange to think of it, but the welfare state in those countries was far from being typical established politics in the pre-war era; right wing domination pushed people over the edge to it. We, on the other hand, didn't experience any of it first hand. Instead, our welfare state system that came out of the Great Depression with both socialist and non-socialist features was allowed to be deradicalized by a McCarthyism that in its essence seems to have resembled movements that would have been viewed aghast by Europeans of that time. Bush and our fellow citizens have delivered us from the sort of ignorance that allowed this pullback to happen.

While the sheer destruction of human life that happened during World War II and in the years of Fascism didn't happen here, the concepts that legitimized it and eventually let it happen were suddenly adopted in embryonic form by lots and lots of people as well as our administration during the Bush years. This is significant in that I doubt that at any time in our nation's history since the cult that grew up around Andrew Jackson people in the U.S. demonstrated that they could be swayed by hyper nationalism and the worship of a leader, with torture, loss of civil liberties, wars for no reason other than that we want them, and racial and religious profiling thrown into the mix. It didn't lead to the horrors experienced in Europe--yet--but I think that it left an impression on the minds of many of just why progressive programs and attitudes are in fact good things.

It can happen here. We know that now. And the people who supported the ideas that the Bush administration and post-9/11 conservatives put forward are still with us. But enough people have learned that in Jim Hightower's words "There's nothing in the middle of the road except yellow lines and dead armadillos" that it's unlikely that we'll respond to future events like 9/11 in a way that resembles sheep and zombies as much as we did the first time. The shock and horror that people felt realizing what their fellow citizens would support, combined with the absolute intransigence of the Bush administration in the face of all attempts to get them to moderate what they were doing have cut a swath of pain through American society that's going to persist for a long time to come. When the Sarah Palin's and Michele Bachmann's get ready to try to make a show of force we'll be ready them and won't just stand by while they try to rip the democratic institutions of this country to shreds. Hopefully our experience in the last eight years will make it so the authoritarianism that we got a preview of will not turn into a feature film.

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