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"...public opinion deserves to be respected as well as despised" G.W.F. Hegel, 'Philosophy of Right'

Obama's inauguration « Previous | |Next »
January 18, 2009

In an extract from his Down to the Crossroads: On the Trail of the 2008 US Election published in The Age Guy Rundle says:

In a capital city designed to both ape Rome and, with its weird monuments, its secret and occult measurements between buildings, to suggest a mysterious and hidden order to things, the inauguration ceremony has grown from a simple swearing-in ceremony, to the quasi-religious passage of a mortal man to some sort of divine status.In America's Civic Religion, published in 1967, the sociologist Robert Bellah noted that founding a society on the separation of church and state had simply created a process whereby the political system of the nation in question filled the spiritual vacuum with a sacralisation of political processes.

Well, that makes some sense of the inauguration spectacle surrounding the emperor god, or in Rundle's words the American God King , who is taken down the cheering avenues to the palace he will occupy for the next four or eight years. The old emperor has gone. Long live the emperor.

The Americans tend to see Obama's inauguration as opening a new book, not a new chapter in American, nay world, history. Robert Kuttner says in American Prospect:

As in 1933, the [economic] crisis is the direct result of free-market ideology and conservative misrule, which once again stand disgraced. This creates a once-in-a-century opportunity for Obama to redeem American progressivism as the nation's majority philosophy, with government playing a far more active role in the economy -- not just to produce a recovery but to restore a more egalitarian and secure society.

Their hope is that Obama and his people will use an activist government to spare American's a depression. It's a big ask. There's a lot of hope being carried by Obama

I see continuation where many see rupture--eg., Afghanistan where the Obama crowd talk in terms of victory. Or the ongoing decline of the US as an imperial power caught up in a financial and economic crisis. Or the continuing bailout of Wall Street (Citigroup, Bank of America) at the expense of Main Street in order to kick start the American economy. The new politics is the continuation of the old.

There are differences of course. The Obama administration will not continue the Bush administration policy of authorizing, ordering and practicing torture at Guantanamo. But it does look as the Obama administration will not launch investigations and prosecutions against the torture crowd in the Bush administration. Or those who spied on Americans without the warrants from 2001-2006, without legislation from Congress and when warrantless eavesdropping was a felony under FISA.

As Paul Krugman points out it’s probably in Obama's short-term political interests to forgive and forget. But at his inauguration he’s going to:

swear to “preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.” That’s not a conditional oath to be honored only when it’s convenient.And to protect and defend the Constitution, a president must do more than obey the Constitution himself; he must hold those who violate the Constitution accountable. So Mr. Obama should reconsider his apparent decision to let the previous administration get away with crime.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 10:04 AM | | Comments (7)


Most Americans are just happy to see the last of the Bushies. They've outstayed their welcome.

The free marketeers will continue to push their talking point that the US Government should limit public spending on kick starting the economy because President Franklin Roosevelt's "massive government intervention actually prolonged the Great Depression".

Barack Obama plans to add about $1 trillion to Bush's deficit with his stimulus plan. While Obama is unlikely to reduce what the government spends, he can reduce the deficit if he can duplicate what happened under Clinton: powerful growth that fueled an explosion in tax revenues.

this column in the Financial Times captures the mood you mention:

George W. Bush, who barely scraped into office but ran a presidency marked by executive hubris, imperial overreach and epic incompetence, leaves the stage on Tuesday to a national and global sigh of relief. The “decider” and self-styled “war president” who relied on his gut got many things terribly wrong, even if it is fair to say he did face some extraordinary challenges.

With his preternatural ebullience, fathomless lack of curiosity and disdain for empirical reality, Mr Bush compromised America’s reputation as a power that stands by the rule of law – giving real succour to an enemy he helped multiply.

After offering himself to voters as a conciliatory and compassionate conservative, he deliberately polarised US politics in search of a durable new Republican majority. After preaching humility in foreign policy, he preferred unilateralism and superficial muscularity.

And so it goes on. All in all the judgement is that George W. Bush did enormous damage to America’s standing in the world and its strength at home.

Obama raised America's standing in the world just by winning, but as Nan says about the American people, that's as much about the absence of Bush as the presence of Obama.

You couldn't realistically expect the new administration to investigate the old. There's a difference between the various offices and the individuals who temporarily hold them. Maintaining the prestige of the offices is more important than justice. In seeking to prosecute past baddies leaders also undermine public trust in their own positions.

Paul Krugman points out that if the US doesn't have:

an inquest into what happened during the Bush years — and nearly everyone has taken Mr. Obama’s remarks to mean that we won’t — this means that those who hold power are indeed above the law because they don’t face any consequences if they abuse their power.

How then do you prevent the Republican's political heirs not doing it all over again, given the chance?

What's to prevent the Democrats from doing it all over again?

Why hasn't the Rudd government launched any serious inquiries into the various misdeeds of the Howard government?

Probably because the higher the level of accountability the lower their own power.

There's also the electoral consequences to consider. If you aim to pinch your opposition's supporters you don't alienate them by prosecuting their heroes.