Friday, October 24, 2008

After the US Elections

If the media polls are to be believed, Barack Obama has already won the US presidency; the elections on November 4 will be mere confirmation of the fact. After all, how can Mr. Obama lose? He's been proclaimed, exalted, and anointed. His main opponent has largely run a plodding campaign. Even the circumstances, dire as they are, are working in his favor.

There are two things that interest me now, the first of which is: how long will his honeymoon in the public eye last?

There's no question that's what's propelled Mr. Obama to these heights is his fiery charisma. It's a charisma that shines in public oratory, that fires up the legions of supporters. It's a charisma that's crushed the formidable Clintons; it looks set to do the same to the beleaguered Mr. McCain.

But how far will this charisma serve in front of America and the world in the next four years? Oratory is fine when you're whipping up the crowds, not so much when you're breaking bad news or announcing hard policy (and there'll be a lot of that in the coming years.) This is the flip side to Mr. Obama's personality, a character of supreme overconfidence that borders on condescension. Will you be able to bear up to this? You better be, because you're going to see a lot of it over the next four years.

And there's the message of Change, so often repeated as to become a mantra. Has anyone asked what it actually means? A Change from the Republicans, a Change from Bush, that much is obvious. But beyond that, what? What specifics in the message of Change can American voters actually articulate? Certainly, George W. Bush's presidency has been the most disastrous run in recent history, but a simple reversal of policies is no guarantee for nirvana.

Rhetoric aside, it's hard to see how much Change the next president will actually be able to effect. There are systemic constraints so deeply embedded in the complex machinery of the world's political economy. Any changes will have to be made within the context of such a system. Will there be changes? Of course! After eight years of Bush, there need to be; but this imperative applies to the next president, whoever that may be. It will hardly be the Change -- whatever it is -- that Mr. Obama promises.

As it is, though, it seems that the world is in love with Mr. Obama. Which leads to the second question of interest: what if he loses?