Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The mystery that is Sarah Palin, Obama looks for new pals in India, the end of the U.S., and never say never. (Oh, and national illusions)

I am, admittedly, just another web scribbler with no particular knowledge, let alone insight, into U.S. political affairs. But the rise of Sarah Palin and her conviction that she might well end up President of the United States in 2012 baffles me a great deal. To be blunt, she doesn’t strike me as being the sharpest blade in the box. I heard a report about her on a Radio 4 programme called Americana – a very good and very balance programme, by the way – in which a clip was played from her latest – well, what was it: an election video? – which was posted on You Tube. It was remarkable for it’s sentimental woolliness and its appeal to unspecified ‘American values’. (However, Palin is not alone in choosing to try to boost her support by stubbornly remaining exceptionally vague: how about Obama’s ‘Yes, we can’? Now what the bloody hell does that mean at the end of the day? Bugger all, as far as I am concerned, but it sounds good, which was all it was intended to do.)
My problem writing about Palin is that all I know of the woman is what I have read in the Economist and in other newspapers, and have seen and heard in one or two TV and radio reports broadcast during the Republican primaries two years ago. Having made it to be governor of Alaska, she can’t be totally dumb, but she didn’t strike me as being exceptionally bright, either. Her knowledge of foreign affairs seems to be almost non-existent, and in none of the TV or radio reports did I see or hear her do anything but utter vague national sentiments. There was not a word on economics or domestic policies. Though as someone remarked recently, presidential candidates tend to campaign in poetry but govern in prose, and the man who eventually won last time wasn’t above gushing many woolly nothings to drum up the votes.
But as far as I know, America’s President doesn’t necessarily have to be overly bright. Bush Jnr was no dumbo, but he was no Einstein, either, and in the past there have been several Presidents who seem to have been nothing more than makeweights, with the real power lying in the hands of their promoters. (I remember years ago hearing, before I even really understand these things, the gibe that Eisenhower’s presidency showed the U.S. that it didn’t necessarily need a President.)
Of course, Palin might strike some of the right-of-centre powerbrokers who, it seems put up that money and make a candidate electable as just the ticket they need, and it is quite feasible that she will get a fair degree of support come the next round of Repulican primaries. But there will also, of course, be other Republican politicians who fancy a shot at the top job.
. . .

I mention all this because last night I heard another report on the radio which was rather interesting in its implications. It was The World Tonight’s account of Obama’s trip to India and what various people, Indian and American academics, politicians and analysts, thought might be going on. Quite apart from the obvious commercial imperative of drumming up more custom for Yankee business, one suggestion made was that the U.S. is despairing of Pakistan its ally in the region as a basketcase, and would like to switch to championing India. Furthermore, India and China have long been regional rivals and with their burgeoning economic importance that rivalry will grow ever more intense. America, the assembly of wise men said, would like to side with India in that particular rivalry, which preference it would be well-advised to make clear sooner rather than later. But, intriguingly, there was also the suggestion that an era where once the then Soviet Union and the U.S. were the world’s superpowers, followed by a decade when the U.S. was the world’s only superpower might be drawing to a close and that the world’s future superpowers could well be China and India. The U.S. is, of course, immensely rich and not on the point of going bust. But what both China and India have which, arguably the U.S. no longer has is a hunger. We here in the West already have. They, over there in India and China, still want. It might be summed up, crudely, in that for us obesity is more of a threat to our lives than hunger. And it was far more recently that people were dying of hunger in India and China than in the Western world.
Recently, I read the observation that once in a system, it is very difficult, in fact, almost impossible, to imagine life outside that system. The observation was made in a review of a book about the Soviet Union, but it would seem to hold true in other scenarios. For us who have grown up under the shadow of Uncle Sam – remember the cliché ‘When America sneezes, the rest of the world catches cold? – it is almost impossible to imagine a weakened, not-so-relevant U.S. Of course, if things do take a downward turn for the U.S., I shall long be pushing up the daisies before it becomes apparent, but it would be stupid to assume the States will go from strength to strength until the end of time, which seems to be the assumption of many. (And, of course, ‘the end of time’ might well come a lot sooner than we expect if the world’s assorted apocalypsarians are to believed – once it was going to be overpopulation which would do for us, now it is global warming which will see us off. Apparently. If you believe to doom merchants. I’m afraid I take all prophesies of imminent doom with more than a pinch of salt.) But given that the U.S. has only been leading economic power for around 130 years, and given that the whole shooting match seemed in danger of coming close to meltdown recently, any suggestion that the world might well witness a U.S. which doesn’t lead the world might not be as fanciful as it might at first seem.
Just look at other ‘empires’ which were all once seemingly all-powerful, but which all eventually hit the buffers: the Roman empire, the Persian empire, the Moghul empire, Genghis Khan’s empire, the empire of Timur the Lame aka Tamburlaine, the Byzantine empire (arguably the second half of the Roman empire, but also arguably not), the various Chinese empires, and, closer to home, the British empire (RIP). When each of these was at its height, anyone suggesting it would not last forever would have been ridiculed.
Could it ever be possible that the U.S. might break up? Well, it would be a fool who would claim that it couldn’t, but it would be in several hundred years from now, and it would be hard to imagine quite how. But never say never.
. . .

Speaking of ‘sentimental American values’, it would be wholly unfair to single out that nation. We Brits have our own share of nonsensical national beliefs, as do the French, and, undoubtedly, every other nation in the world. You will often hear the completely spurious claim, often in the Letters pages of the Daily Mail, that the British ‘are a seafaring nation’. The implication is that all of us (and as we are by and large quite welcoming of ‘foreigners’, despite what the liberal-left likes to claim, that would include assorted East Asians, assorted Eastern Europeans, assorted West Indians and a huge number of Irish) have salt water running through our veins and like nothing better than putting to sea every weekend. The French, I gather, likes to see themselves as a nation of intellectuals who will initiate arcane debate on some obscure subject or other at the drop of a hat, and then, of course, break off to eat well and drink a fine wine. I’m not too sure how the Germans see themselves, but the Italians like to consider themselves the world’s lovers, even though, by most modern estimations, over half of them are homosexual and the half that isn’t is far too tied to their mothers’ apron strings to be of much use in the sack.

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