Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Can Obama Save the Empire?

. Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Stephen Walt asks the question:

[I]t makes me wonder: would Obama agree with the above (meaning he is a reluctant prisoner of well-entrenched interests), or is he is part of the problem too?

The "above" in that sentence is below, by Sullivan:

Late empires are known for several things: a self-obsessed, self-serving governing class, small over-reaching wars that bankrupt the Treasury, debt that balloons until retreat from global power becomes not a choice but a necessity, and a polity unable to address reasonably any of these questions -- or how the increasing corruption of the media enables them all.

Obama is, in some ways, a test-case.

He was elected on a clear platform of reform and change; and yet the only real achievement Washington has allowed him so far is a massive stimulus package to prevent a Second Great Depression (and even on that emergency measure, no Republicans would support him). On that he succeeded. But that wasn't reform; it was a crash landing after one of the worst administrations in America's history.

Real reform -- tackling health care costs and access, finding a way to head off massive changes in the world's climate, ending torture as the lynchpin of the war on terror, getting out of Iraq, preventing an Israeli-led Third World War in the Middle East, and reforming entitlements and defense spending to prevent 21st century America from becoming 17th Century Spain: these are being resisted by those who have power and do not want to relinquish it -- except to their own families and cronies.

Nepotism is part of the problem; media corruption is also part; the total uselessness of the Democratic party and the nihilism of the Republicans doesn't help. But something is rotten in America at this moment in time; and those of us who supported Obama to try and change this decay and decline should use this fall to get off our butts and fight for change."

Personally, I don't things are all as bad that. For one thing, I don't know if it's really possible to make a convincing case that the media is more corrupt than it used to be, that the political class is more dysfunctional than it once was, that entrenched interests have more sway than in the past, etc. Think back through history... when exactly was this Golden Age that was free of corruption, inequality, and cynicism? Certainly not 20th century America. Nor 16th century Spain, for that matter.

I'd much sooner argue the opposite: these things have always been with us, are with us still, and always will be with us. If anything the government, media, and private elites are more accountable in the age of New Media than they were before. I'd sooner argue that domestic and international power inequalities are smaller now than ever. And I'd definitely argue that thinking of the present geopolitical economy in terms of empire is the wrong way to go about it.

But I won't take sides against an argument that says that better is not possible; it very clearly is. Nor will I argue that we shouldn't strive for that betterment. So I'm with Walt and Sullivan on substance even though I disagree on the framing.


Can Obama Save the Empire?
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