Thursday, November 06, 2008

The Greatest Nation on Earth

As a formal speech-maker Obama is a heady mix of post-modern and pre-modern, his discourse full of textual and gestural quotes from earlier American discourse, whilst harking back to the days where no political statement could be made without first embedding it within one or other prevailing mythology.

Maybe Simon Schama was right that he represents a self-conscious reinvention of 'American fervour' It's this aspect of his appeal that fosters reservations in my father's mind. He's in no doubt that the right man won on Tuesday, it's just that what others find inspiring he finds comparatively flimsy.

McCain's speech outside a Phoenix hotel on Tuesday night reminded me how much respect I used to have for him before he picked Sarah Palin as his pitbull companion. And the boos that accompanied every mention of the name of his future President reminded me why he has been ill-served by the GOP's unprincipled use of him as a way of distancing themselves from the discredited good ol'boy in the White House.

I'd have to agree that McCain's valedictory address was the more powerful of the two speeches. I felt a shiver of unease when Obama began to borrow from the Gettysburg address before re-mixing his "Yes we can" refrain. The positive visual image of a little puppy dozing on a chair in the oval office was a welcome one though.

It has to be said that my father stopped understanding modern communications back in the 60s. When an ad doesn't state the benefits clearly and concisely, he shrugs his shoulders with visible irritation.

Maybe my generation of westerners really needs an America with a strong and credible brand, whose champions speak in the kind of fervent idiom that our own politicians un-learned a long time ago. Perhaps we too need the USA to be the 'greatest nation on Earth,' but in innocent, not cynical guise.

Unfortunately we have recent memories of fervour-lite in the form of Tony Blair. So much was anticipated, so little delivered. It may help Obama however that he's going to have to play defense from the get-go. Just avoiding economic catastrophe will be a significant achievement.

A last thought on the clearly very controversial question of whether Palin cost McCain the centre. Perhaps she is taking some of the blame that he himself might shoulder. For her role was clearly to 'shore up the base', Republican voters of the God-fearing sort who might not initially have warmed to the old maverick. He was more or less level with Obama in the polls back then, so all he had to do was reach out to the centre himself. But then came the Lehman Bros collapse and McCain's response was to shift his own discourse to the right and maybe it was that, and not that loose cannonette from Alaska, which ultimately doomed his campaign. The economy - and the real prospect of a complete meltdown in early October - undoubtedly created strong head winds for McCain-Palin, but the particular manner of his navigation through them undermined any sense that the Senator from Arizona's age was an advantage.

CNN exit polls showed that ageism played a much bigger role in this election than racism, but nobody really wants to talk about that now...

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