From the Editor’s Keyboard

The Obama Magic

4 September 2008 at 08:16 | 550 views

Commentary

By Daniel Tseghay, PV Special Correspondent, Vancouver, Canada.

Barack Obama has been described in some very unflattering ways. They have called him elitist. A supporter of black liberation theology. An overly intellectual pontificator. The Other. A celebrity. Out of touch with the average working-class American. Inexperienced and ill-prepared to lead. A secret Muslim. A man of oratorical gifts with little substance or concrete ideas. They have said all these things in a span of less than one year. But with his convention speech on August 28th, he effectively silenced these presumptive narrators of his story.

This was a less lyrical speech than past efforts, intent as he was in defining his specific plans and countering the meme that he is nothing but a rhetorician. He would shift tax breaks away from corporations and towards the poor and the middle-class. Well and good. He would develop a sorely needed health insurance system that would ensure affordable medical care for those that need it but cannot manage its costs.

He assured America that, unlike McCain, he does not support the privatization of Social Security. He laid out an intuitive criticism of the trickle-down economic theory McCain has often espoused. “For over two decades," said Obama, "he’s subscribed to that old, discredited Republican philosophy - give more and more to those with the most and hope that prosperity trickles down to everyone else. In Washington, they call this the Ownership Society, but what it really means is - you’re on your own. Out of work? Tough luck. No health care? The market will fix it. Born into poverty? Pull yourself up by your own bootstraps - even if you don’t have boots. You’re on your own.”

He criticized McCain for voting in favour of Bush policies about 90 percent of the time in the Senate; and of agreeing to go into Iraq when they should have stayed and invested more in the fight in Afghanistan. These plans and words of censure are of the times, and he articulated the mood well. The people were with him.

Now, naturally there were things he said I could not agree with. For one, he advocated energy independence. This is a shame in the light of this idea’s history and the specifics of his plan. The proposal of energy independence has been around since Nixon and it’s for good reason it hasn’t gotten off the ground. There are, as yet, no good replacements for foreign oil.

Obama still defends the creation of fuel from food, or biofuel of the corn-based variety. But biofuel is a nonstarter. For one, it contains much less energy per quantity than oil. It also takes much more energy to produce biofuel (the vast amounts of fresh water, and the cleared forests, let alone the seemingly limitless corn) than might be expected, making the energy “investment” greater than the energy gained. In the near future they may discover something as efficient as oil, but biofuel is not it, and Obama would do well to realize this sooner than later. Also, even assuming a good fuel alternative, it would take a lot of time and, yes, energy to replace the existing infrastructure. This would take even more foreign oil. So, the idea for now cannot be energy independence.

Nevertheless, this is all a good start. Obama has made his goals clear. Time and a healthy dose of pragmatism will flesh these ideas out and, hopefully, improve them.

With this speech Obama made the case that Democrats are as patriotic as Republicans and as prepared and capable of defending their country as any. He laid the claim that America is as much about the self-reliance Republicans praise so much as the collective responsibility they praise not enough. More than any Democrat of late, he has set an ambitious course. This moving speech is a dream beginning its realization.

Photo: Senator Barack Obama.

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