Greeks as the rest of the world follow 2008 US elections very closely. So, we asked Michael Albert to give us his perspective about 2008 US elections.
Question: As you know the American elections is an important matter for the whole world and Greeks and the rest of Europeans follow closely the developments. However, people in Europe feel that no matter who the next president will be, the US foreign policy will be the same. Do you agree with this pessimistic position? Or should the Europeans be optimistic this time? Is there going to be a change?
(You can watch the video or read the response below)
You mention that people in Greece and in other parts of the world pay close attention to American elections because what goes on in America affects them. I think that’s true and I think that self-management says something about that. The American election should be an election actually where the whole world votes. Because since we bully and we impose our will to people all over the world, we affect people all over the world dramatically, sometimes more than here, so people should have a say. Of course this is not in the near term going to happen, but that would be right. That’s a thought that cannot come to the mind of a typical American commentator. So, that’s the first point. The second point is will American foreign policy change depending upon whether McCain, I call him the bombardier, or Obama or Clinton wins. Will it make a difference and will it change from Bush? The bombardier might even be worse. Nobody knows but it is possible. It depends. The mistake that everybody makes -commentators, analysts and everybody else- is that they think that the main variable here is what’s in the mind of the candidate. That’s almost irrelevant. That is to say, first of all, we have no idea what’s in the mind of the candidate. The candidates routinely lie; they routinely say whatever people need to hear in order for them to win. So, to base your assessment of things on your picture of the will and the desire of the candidate is, I think, naive or even ignorant. You notice that this isn’t what the 50% who do not vote do. They are much smarter than that and a large part of people who vote are much smarter than that too and I will come back to that in a minute. So, it is very hard to see a distinction between the two Democrats on international relations, you can in what they are saying see very significant distinctions between what they are saying and what McCain is saying on international relations, but that does not tell us what will actually happen. What will tell us what will happen is more related in any event not to their views, but to the state of the country in any given time. Here the election matters.
Because if McCain wins, it says that the population is willing, at least the voting population, about half of it, at least the voting population that voted for McCain if he wins, about a quarter of the population, is willing to put up with more of the same or maybe even worse. And that will create an environment which we will probably get more of the same or even worse. But even if Obama or Clinton were to win, the context will be a broad public expectation of substantial changes, not the changes we want in the long run but short run changes, but I do think that there will be some. On the other hand, Iraq is important to the United States, way more pertinent than most of the people in the left understand. You can’t just lose in Iraq. Unless there is gigantic pressure to the contrary, you must try to maintain control over the east oil and they will try to do that no matter who wins. Will they get out? Maybe. Because there is tremendous resistance, there is tremendous opposition to the war that is growing. If it continues to grow through the election, it is possible that it will force them out, but it is not going to be because of the will of Obama or the will of Clinton. It will be because of the will of the American public. So, that’s a critical ingredient in this discussion.
In the United States, we have a two-party system. They are both elite parties. It’s really two wings in one party, the corporate party. So, in the Unites States, what we have is a party that is beholding to and serves the interests of the rich and powerful. The contest between cadidates is by and large about how best for the haves to administer and dominate the have-nots. There are differences in how you do that and those are often encapsulated in the differences between republicans and democrats. Those differences largely have to do with the difference between feeling that you can press harder to get more, or feeling that pressing too hard might risk what you have. And so the Democrats are a little bit more open to and more conducive to realizing that pressure is too high on the population and more has to be afforded to them and the Republicans are more prone, this is in general, to extracting what they can get. Another feature, another wrinkle is the rise of this religious fundamentalism in the United States, which was very much involved in Bush’s victory and maybe involved in McCain’s victory or defeat, because it might not support him. That’s very dangerous. That is different from the other stuff. That is, you know, like Muslim fundamentalism, it is an ideological orientation, which is vulgar in many dimensions and is not simply about profit, it has other dimensions and sometimes complicates modern American elections. But in general, American elections are basically debates between the haves about how to deal with the have-nots. And it can have implications. So, for instance, suppose you are in prison and it is going to be an election for the next warden, you know the prison warden, and two people are running. You might decide you are going to vote, because you discern that despite the fact that they are both lying like crazy, you find some way to discern what you think is the difference between them that would affect you, so you vote. You might also decide, I am not going to vote for one of these guys, these guys are about screwing me. Ok, so that’s the 50% who do not vote and among the 50% who do vote, we have people that are trying to make some reason to make the choice between the two guys, the two candidates. So, now how do they make that choice? Well, if they are highly educated, by and large the more education you have in the United States, the dumber you are. That’s true, in other words, the more education you have, the less you understand the world and the more confused and ridiculous beliefs you have. So, if you are highly educated you actually listen to the debates and you listen to what the candidates say and you make your choice based on their actual promises, which is just like listening to a congenital liar and acting on the basis of what they are telling you. This is what the so called smart people and educated people do. If you are not that smart and educated, which is to say if you still have a brain, you don’t do that. So, among the 50% who vote roughly speaking, about 30% take a different tactic. What is about these candidates that I can believe? And this is interesting. That’s why some issues are so powerful in the United States: abortion, gun control, the personalities of the candidates. These things are powerful because they are believable. That is to say the candidates’ personality is not going to change. It is what it is. So, if you make a choice based on that, you are not deceived. If you make a choice based on the gun control issue, the odds are very-very good that they are not going to change, that they are telling you the truth. On abortion, the odds are very good that they are telling you the truth. On foreign policy, it makes no sense to pay attention. There is no reason to believe what they are telling you. So, the so called ignorant folks who vote based on abortion and gun control and personality are actually making smarter choices, given the mess that we live in, if you accept that as a given. Then, there are the people who pour over their books or something and they think that can discern the difference between Obama and Clinton or for that matter even maybe the bombardier and whoever runs.
So, that’s roughly the way I feel about it. I think that it is a major thing not small that Obama and Clinton are running. I think that this is not small; it is a major thing about the country. The fact that some guy named Barak Hussein Obama has a chance of being president in the United States, is in some ways absolutely mind boggling, it is absolutely incredible. And if it’s him, you will see a campaign that is going to get incredibly ugly from McCain and then we’ll see what happens. And if it’s Clinton it will also get incredibly ugly, except that it will be for her gender instead of the race. But the fact that they are there, the fact that they have come as far as they have, not because they are so great, but because it says that people who are willing to cast ballots for a woman or for a black, is a big step in the United step, it is not small. It is a major verification of something that a lot of us knew but a lot of us did not know and it is good.
Question: What is your opinion about Obama? I would like also to ask you to elaborate more on what you wrote in your recent Znet article. More specifically you say: “Those who say they, or at least Obama, echoes JFK have a much much better claim to accuracy – but that accuracy doesn’t excite me. Kennedy was in substance a gigantic trojan horse horror for the planet and society, a kind of massive fraud: cute, clever, confident, and charasmatic, but system preserving in every other respect, and in many dimensions, system aggravating. You can hide a lot behind inspiring words and big smiles, it turns out. Saying Obama is cut from that cloth is not a testimonial, it is just saying he has better camouflage than Clinton.”
(You can watch the video or read the response below)
If you go back and look in Kennedy’s actual policies and its union breaking and all sorts of stuff you will find that Reagan was like Kennedy. What happened is a drift. Everybody thinks that the United States is drifting to the right. But in a sense the United States is drifting to the left. So, what was liberal at the time of Kennedy was nothing. If you look at the policies they are dismal, they are not great. You can make a case that his successor Lyndon Johnson had some good liberal policies, but not so much for Kennedy. So I think that it’s the facts, it’s the truth. We do not know what Obama will be like as a president because he is not the president. We cannot say for sure. But we do know that he would not be where he is, he would have been destroyed, he would have been peripheralized if those in power and with wealth didn’t think that he’d be fine, he’d be ok. It was Edwards that was the doubt not Obama. And Edwards not to mention the others, Edwards was surprising. He was a mainstream and large scale candidate who did seem to be sincerely populist, who did seem to be sincerely progressive. I do not know that for sure, but I think so. Which is the reason why he is not running. Which is why slowly the media could destroy him. Of course the media could destroy Barak Obama, particularly in the beginning when he was nothing and probably Clinton, although this would be harder, but it didn’t happen. And the reason it didn’t happen is because everybody with power and wealth knows that neither one of them are personally the threat. Now, there is a danger with Obama from their point of view. The danger is that he does seem to inspire this gigantic tumult like Kennedy. If that gigantic tumult becomes activists and militants and informed this is dangerous. They are betting that this is not what is going to happen. I do not know what is going to happen. We’ ll see.
So in other words, let’s say that he gets elected. And the election campaign is a harsh campaign and there is a gigantic support for him from 52% or 54% of the population but who are really inspired and energetic. And let’s say that the 50% who do not vote a lot of them start thinking to themselves “oh man maybe something is going to happen here”. OK, so he gets in, now what happens? Does that whole group of people start to pressure him? Or that whole group of people say “ok Barak is president lets be gentle and nice”. If they start to pressure him, if they move further, then something good’s happened. If the don’t, then it’s a disaster. In other words, you cant’ say. It depends upon people’s responses. If he gets in and if what happens as a result, people on the left put on kids’ gloves and they do not descend don’t protest, don’t build a movement then it’s a disaster. If he gets in and the inspiration and everything else that he unleashed with his words moves further, then this is terrific. In the 60s’ -I don’t know if this is true, but the whole impression was that on my own experience- that Kennedy’s words, and this is where the analogy, Kennedy’ words and speeches, actually did take my generation and gave us certain kind of hope and certain kind of idealism, which when it was dashed caused a great many of us to unleash the 60s. So, if that’s what happens great. If he inspires and if he uplifts and then -as I expect- he would just be another president, maybe a little bit to the left etc, but nothing major and people get angry and people decide wait a minute, we can win more, then great. If they go home, bad. Let me add one more thing to that, which is the depressing part of that. In the 60s’, when we became angry, it was because we were naive, that is to say that the movements that formed the whole tumble were largely a function of people discovering that society had lied to them. They were largely a function of people discovering injustice, discovering the war, discovering these horrors and they were horrified by them. And they were so horrified by them that we were embolden and angered and we became active. That can’t happen again. There is no such thing as that anymore. The reason is that there is nothing to be surprised by. There is no revelation that is going to come along that is going to cause people to say to themselves: “I have been lied to”. Everybody knows they have been lied to. Everybody is totally aware that everything is dismal. In the United States, some ridiculous percentage of the population thinks that Bush knocked down the twin towers. So what revelation is going to come along? It does not cause them to be leftists, it cause them to be defeated, to feel that there is no future. So, what I am saying is that it’s a problem. It means that if Barak Obama wins and does it with all this firing language and spirit and uplifting and then doesn’t deliver, I fear that the effect of that will not be positive. That the effect of that will be everybody saying “oh what was wrong with me? Why did I forget that I thought that nothing was possible? Clearly nothing is possible”. And you do not go to anger, you go to depression and cynicism. So, that tells something about what we have to do, the American left. What the American left has to do is guard against that. What we have to do is with every other effort that we have, not to support Obama or Clinton, but Support the movement that people with good will, being in position to demand more. To seek more rather than becoming despondent that not much is done. That said, I should also say maybe for the Greek audience that some things are going to be done, almost whoever wins, even the bombardier, but certainly with the Democrat nominee. Healthcare is going to happen in the United States. That’s a big deal. It has to happen. It has to happen, not only because the public cannot function without it anymore, but because the economy cannot function without. It must happen. And the fact that this is going to happen it has some momentum associated with it. It pushes on the whole process. And I anticipate that even without the movement in the next four years we will see a significant shift towards social programs, saner relations, more humane activity in the United States. That doesn’t mean that fundamental principles in foreign policy will change. That’s different. But sort of a social democratic drift not like Europe, but it is built in what is happening right now I think. And if movements can pressure, it then it can be much more than that.