by James M. Wall
You have to love those British newspapers. The London Sun led its story on Barack Obama’s “giant leap towards becoming the first black President in the history of the United States” with the headline: US Goes Barack to the Future, creatively linking American pop culture with politics. The Sun continued with these Obama words:
“Tonight we mark the end of one historic journey with the beginning of another. This is our time. Our time to turn the page on the policies of the past. Tonight I can stand before you and say that I will be the Democratic nominee for President of the United States.”
For two decades, the US has had either a Bush or Clinton in the White House. They are the past; Barack is the future. The effort to give Hillary the second spot on Obama’s ticket will go nowhere. Clinton, who made history by coming closer to the nomination than any woman in US history, will not run as vice president. This will not damage the Democratic ticket in November.
In the matrix of American politics, Clinton’s strong base among women has two choices for president. Clinton enthusiasts will not turn to John McCain. Once they get over their disappointment, they will start thinking of two words: Supreme and Court. As many as four new justices will be nominated over the next eight years. Clinton does not need to be on the ticket to make that case to her supporters on behalf of Obama.
Obama enthusiasts were disappointed by the harsh Zionist militancy of his speech to AIPAC, but few were surprised. This was the first speech of a campaign rooted in the “audacity of hope”. There was no hope offered in that speech to the Palestinian people, nor to those Americans of conscience, Christian, Jewish and Muslim, who know and live with the Palestinian narrative that has led to a military occupation.
The AIPAC address had none of the joy or hope of Obama’s victory speech which he gave in Minneapolis Tuesday night. To AIPAC members Obama handed out raw meat to true believers. How much red meat did he ladle out to his enthusiastic audience? Dana Milbank, of the Washington Post, hit Obama’s performance with scarcism, playing on the Obama change theme:
Now, here’s a change we can believe in. A mere 12 hours after claiming the Democratic presidential nomination, Barack Obama appeared before the American Israel Public Affairs Committee yesterday — and changed himself into an Israel hard-liner.
He declared that the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps‘ Quds Force has “rightly been labeled a terrorist organization.” He used terms such as “false prophets of extremism” and “corrupt” while discussing Palestinians. And he promised that “Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel, and it must remain undivided.”
So much for a change candidate seeking to defeat a third Bush term. I asked several Obama supporters how they could defend the Zionist rhetoric he uttered without any of his careful nuances. And how did they react to the absence from Obama’s speech of even a few crumbs from the Palestinian narrative?
Their consensus response: “Give him time”. The voting public is just now discovering a candidate the London Sun describes as “the real American idol”. “Stay calm, he knows the story and he will, in time, tell it.” Well, maybe. But it will be a difficult task to shift from the Bush hardline to a Obama change policy, launched before an AIPAC crowd that has tasted the raw meat.
American media has been slow to educate the voting public on Middle East policy, religion and culture. But there is help available: The British press. Denominational and congregational church web sites could perform a valuable service by introducing its members to British media outlets. Most of the better media outlets are just a mouse click away.
For example, the London Guardian’s Ian Black reported that Obama’s AIPAC address began by stating the obvious with Obama repeating the standard pro-Israel positions that “Israel’s security is ‘sacrosanct’ and ‘non-negotiable’ and that the bond between it and the US is ‘unbreakable”. But Black also suggests that:
“Arabs may take some small comfort from [Obama’s] pledge that Palestine – where George Bush did nothing but damage – will be a priority from the first days of his presidency (not left as an afterthought until the end).”
That was the only break from present US policy that Black could find. Obama followed the Bush-Rice line when he defined Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, “simply as a terrorist organisation with no place at the negotiating table”. Black notes that this leaves no space for “pragmatic engagement that some Europeans and even Israelis want to help. . . evolve.”
Obama also “buys into the badly faltering Annapolis formula: isolate Hamas, (presumably maintaining the Gaza siege) showcase the West Bank and ask Israel to take “appropriate” steps but only if they are “consistent with its security” – that crucial (and likely crippling) qualification.”
In his careful and sensitive Philadelphia speech on race, Obama embraced the two narratives that define black and white relationships in this country. He clearly understands the two narratives; he has lived them both. At Philadelphia he pledged to transcend those narratives without denying their reality. In his AIPAC speech, Obama embraced only the Jewish narrative, ignoring the Palestinian narrative. He offered only one passing note of hope that his administration would seek an early, not a last minute, solution to the conflict.
To be fair to him, Barack Obama needs time to define himself to the voting public and he feels this requires a rhetoric that builds on preexisting world views. But Obama dare not wait too long before demonstrating that he also knows and feels the Palestinian narrative as well as he knows and feels the Israeli narrative. The audacity of hope demands nothing less.