Friday, 7 November 2008

And so victory was won…

Even over here the event of the week has been the election of the new American president. I’m aware that many of my readers will have voted for the other side and quite a few will be sick to death of the whole thing. It certainly seems to have been going on for ever.

Like most people in the UK I was happy to see Obama elected, partly on account of his personal qualities and partly to draw a line under the dreadful Bush years. I must also say that many of the much touted virtues of the Republican pair (being either a Vietnam War veteran or adept at shooting large furry mammals) did not cross the Atlantic with the same attraction that they have in the States. Yet I have to say on Wednesday morning I was not ecstatic. The fact is I remembered Blair’s equally stunning victory in 1997 over a similarly entrenched and dilapidated Conservative party. There was then a golden dawn of hope filled with an extraordinary euphoria; yet before long the style had evaporated away revealing a minimal substance and the result has been a bitter aftertaste. Now barely ten years on Blair is now one of the most despised figures on the British political scene. (Actually he is rarely here; it is not just prophets who are without honour in their own country.) So time will tell with Barak Obama, but the good book is wise: ‘Put not your trust in Princes’ (Psalm 146:3, AV).

Indeed I feel the first shadow has already fallen with the appointment of Rahm Emanuel as Chief of Staff. I am tempted to comment on the unease already emanating from those parts of the Middle East that had been most positive about Obama’s election, about Rahm Emanuel’s links with Zionism and the way he is being acclaimed in Israel as ‘their man in the White House’. It is certainly clear that he has strong loyalties towards the preservation and expansion of the State of Israel; you can read Wikipedia for all the details. I do not want to say much more on the subject. One problem is that even to make the slightest comment on such matters is to run the risk of being considered anti-Semitic. Of course, it is not his Jewishness that is the issue but his Zionism. Another problem is that it is to run the risk of encouraging the numerous lunatics (and there are many on the web) who blame Israel for all the world’s evils, from a ‘Holocaust that never happened’ to 9/11 itself. Excuse me if I distance myself from that lot. However, I do hope that when Rahm Emanuel’s duty to the United States conflicts with his duty to the State of Israel (as it will), it is the former, not the latter, that wins out.

Yet even if we lay this aside there are issues. If you read the commentators – and I have read many – Rahm Emanuel is variously described as ‘scary‘, ‘ferocious’, ‘profane’, ‘vicious’, ‘an attack dog’ and ‘out of a Mafia movie’. This all seems at odds with the image of a gentle, vaguely Christian, consensus politics that Barack Obama set out as his target in the campaign. Or did he? Or was that me reading into Obama what I wanted to see? Perhaps it is here that the real ability of a modern politician lies. They know – as we know – that in the information age you can’t really become all things to all people. But perhaps you can become something of a mirror or a projection screen onto which people throw the image that they want. Perhaps the master trick of the modern politicians is to make us, not them, the agent of deception.

To end let me reportedly the comment of a delightful colleague who is a saintly but slightly otherworldly Christian. On the morning of November 5 she came to get some coffee, and said with wide-eyed genuine surprise. ‘I’ve just seen a photo of this Obama fellow. And do you know? He’s black.’

Have a good week.