What is the significance of the recent Presidential election in the US? Barack Obama won the Presidency through a great effort by people in the US and around the world. Also, however, the election demonstrated the great weakness of the political party system in the US as there was little difference expressed on many of the issues in the run-up to the election. Instead of the election being a means for a broad ranging public discussion of the many problems facing the American people, and people around the world, the personality of the two candidates and their perceived capability became a basis for speculating on whether their election would be the basis for a hopeful outcome or not.
While some of the mainstream media have continued the hype of the election process by speculating on whether or not the use of the Internet by Obama’s supporters represented a paradigm change or not, other less well known media have begun exploring what is a realistic assessment of the potential for the Obama presidency to actually bring needed change in US domestic and foreign policy.
One interesting analysis of the election was in the English edition of the South Korean newspaper Hankyoreh, “Barack Obama ushers in new progressive era“. The article proposes that Obama’s election not only has removed the seemingly insurmountable barrier of race to the office of the presidency, but also it has taken a significant step to repudiate both the neo-conservative policy of the Bush administration and the neo-liberal policy of the Clinton years. The editorial proposes that there is a need for a new policy framework of neo-progressivism. The editors explain that a new page of history is being written.
While the article offers a helpful framework to use to analyze the election process, it fails to distinguish between the policy desired by many who supported Obama, and the policy goals he advocated in his various debates. It is true that there is a great desire of people for change, for what the article terms a neo-progressivism to replace the neo-liberal and neo-conservative ideologies and practices that have dominated US policy in much of the post World War II period. Fashioning such a new framework for policy, however, would require not only an active grassroots effort but also a means for that grassroots process to impact the decision-making processes of the Obama administration.
An interesting set of viewpoints was captured by a PressTV reporter who interviewed people in Berlin after the election. In the brief video report “Germans hope Obama redresses Bush’s damage“, the interviews capture the concern of those interviewed that the task facing the next president of the US is a difficult one and that it will require extraordinary efforts to achieve. PressTV is a 24 hour news program available on the Internet supported by Iran.
A discussion on the US radio program Democracy Now on Thursday Nov. 6, included Columbia University professor and Africa scholar Mahmood Mamdani and progressive media activists. They discussed policy failures including Sudan-Darfur, Israel–Palestine, US-Iraq, US–Mexico, and US-Pakistan, and the need for a fundamental change in US policy. Mamdani observed that there is significant economic and political crisis facing the US, which is a condition making change possible, but that Obama’s appointments for his future cabinet and staff are a cause for concern that there can be the needed change during his administration. Mamdani emphasized the need for progressive voices to organize so as to exert effective pressure on the new administration.
Given the great need for change in US policy, and yet the power of the dominant forces in both the Democratic and Republican parties to oppose needed change, the crucial role of an effective media and social movement need to be explored and utilized. The recent Candlelight demonstrations that went on for over a hundred days in South Korea along with extensive use of online video, cameras, mobile phones and the Internet provided an example of the power possible through the marriage of a social movement with the use of netizen grassroots media for discussion and debate. (1)
Is it possible to build a social movement and a netizen media that can provide the pressure that Mamdani proposes will be needed for the Obama administration to fulfill on the hope the campaign has unleased in people in the US and around the world? It would be good to see discussion and debate on how to meet this challenge.
(1) See for example a talk I gave on this significant development at a recent conference in Copenhagen,
“Candlelight 2008 and the 15th Anniversary of the ‘Net and Netizens’“.