James Kunstler -- Clusterfuck Nation
Oct. 23, 2006 -- History doesn't repeat itself, but it rhymes, Mark Twain famously observed. A hundred and fifty years (roughly) after the civil war, the United States faces another possible political convulsion. The earlier one was over slavery, a moral contradiction so stark and awful, that an emerging modern industrial polity could no longer ignore it. The coming convulsion we face in the 21st century is not so much moral but no less stark: the collapse of a faltering industrial polity in the face of depleting energy supplies. Like the earlier dilemma of slavery, our national leaders refuse to face it.
The years just preceding the Civil War, the late 1850s, have some resemblance to our politics today. They were highly polarized. They produced outcomes in politics (the Kansas Nebraska Act, the Dred Scott decision) that allowed a vicious pro-slavery minority to impose their will on the rest of the nation -- just as a fundamentalist Christian minority imposes its will on the public today.
The 1850s were also a time of disarray in the political parties. The Whig party, which had more-or-less run things since the time of Andrew Jackson, dried up and blew away because it ceased to stand for anything. The opposing Democrats of that day had sold their souls to the pro-slavery interests. In this vacuum of cravenness, the Republican Party formed and nominated a failed one-term congressman turned railroad lawyer from Illinois named Abraham Lincoln to run for president.
Now, in 2006, we have two political parties in disarray. The Republicans are hemorrhaging legitimacy in an unsuccessful military adventure and a sewer spill of scandal. The Democrats are going Whiggish -- sinking in a bog of equivocation. And now along comes a first-term senator from Illinois, Barack Obama, as the most appealing figure of authority in a looming presidential contest.
Like Lincoln, Obama is not completely formed politically. His
lean face, like Lincoln's face pre-beard, needs filling out, as do his
ideas and prescriptions for leadership. What he has in common with
Lincoln is a gift for plain and convincing rhetoric. After decades of
spin, PC euphemizing, neocon proxy speech, and similar bullshit, the
public sees Obama as capable of straight talk. He told the last
Democratic convention that there were no Blue or Red states but only a
United States -- and after the crowd heard that they wanted to trade in
John Kerry like a bad wedding present.
Obama, who is not up for re-election this fall, has cut a swath through the heartland to boost other candidates and has generated huge admiring crowds. Time Magazine columnist Joe Klein said on NBC's Meet the Press show this week that the crowds of mainly Midwestern white people seem to feel tremendous gratitude to Obama for not being Al Sharpton or Jesse Jackson -- a seemingly odd point worth examining.
Obama's father was from Kenya and his mother from Kansas. He grew up mostly in Hawaii, with a four-year side-trip in Indonesia. He had a distinguished academic career at Columbia and Harvard. Though he is half-African he carries none of the baggage of stereotypical American black culture. He doesn't speak in the patois of the ghetto (or pretend to), and he appears not to possess a sense of implacable grievance for being who he is.
Since the 1960s Civil Rights project climaxed in the federal legislation of 1964-65, and then dissolved after the murder of Martin Luther King into a kind of voluntary apartheid of grievance, there have been no African-American leaders who represent unequivocally the prospect of real assimilation into mainstream American culture. Among the lies we tell ourselves is that America has become a happy multicultural kindergarten. In fact, black culture has never been so overtly and self-consciously separate -- and that separation has tragically been promoted by the white yuppie progressive establishment pandering to implacable black grievance. Below the uppermost classes of both races, there has probably never been so much mistrust seething below the surface.
The convulsion that a President Obama might be elected into would be one first of economics. Our industrial economy is going to fall on its knees when global energy scarcities gets traction. There is going to be a scramble for resources world-wide and here in North America, and we are all set up to fracture along ethnic and regional lines as that occurs. The presence of a suddenly overwhelming, non-assimilated Hispanic population will only make things more difficult.
A President Obama would also very probably face a geopolitical crisis as the United States, China, Russia, Japan, Europe, and the Islamic nations jockey desperately over energy resources while their own populations grow restive, desperate, angry, and possibly aggressive. In other words, a President Obama would possibly face a world war, a civil war, and a great depression all at once. This is not a happy fate for any leader, and so perhaps in the public perception of Barack Obama, in the rising of his star, so to speak, the public apprehends the outlines of tragedy, just as the historical Lincoln is an incomplete picture without the tragedy of his murder a few days after the resolution of the terrible war he presided over.
Remember, history rhymes but does not necessarily repeat itself. I am not saying that a President Barack Obama would be assassinated. But he would certainly have a rough passage through a sea of troubles. This nation, and the familiar patterns of everyday life in it, might not survive the kind of convulsion I describe. Whatever happens, an Obama presidency would probably have to be improvisational, on-the-fly, as Lincoln's had to be amid the uncertainties of war. Someone on Meet the Press said Obama's wife would pressure him not to run. Well, Mary Lincoln was nervous, too, and with good reason, it turned out. But Abe did not shrink from his call. Destiny is a stranger mistress. And maybe more compelling.
LINK: Clusterfuck Nation