Letter from Paris to Our US Friends: The Thing about Democracy Is ...


Response to the article "Oliver Stone: Don't Betray Us, Barack -- End the Empire," by Oliver Stone and Peter Kuznick


Barack Obama quote



Thing about democracy is, that people don't take part in it much.


As far as I know:

  • the voting rate in the US is extremely low compared to other democracies
  • the power of the executive branch is anything but absolute
  • there is a legislative branch, and man, is it often a friggin’ thorn
  • Congress is made up of representatives of the “people” who sent them there
  • the really heavy trend all. Over. The world, whatever the political regime, is for the state—whose basic function is to regulate, redistribute, maintain positive balances—is now simply working for the wealthiest 1 percent by enacting sweet legislation for them, in exchange for, I guess, feelings of power, cushy retirement, all kinds of personal financial perks, who knows? working for those bastards who have so much financial power and are so freaking unethical that the odds for the rest of us are staggering
  • the only people mobilizing in any sense of the word (I think in the US it's called canvassing, getting involved, convincing, etc.) are the despicable right-wingers, getting people to vote and create, in the strong sense of the word, the legislative body by sending their representative to Congress


and, just so as not to forget:

  • the voting rate in the US is extremely low compared to other democracies


There is something to be said about “participatory democracy.” Also a lot for consensus-building, even though it's complicated. From here, the recent US intervention in Libya was mostly seen as the right thing to do, and even necessary (of course they all—NATO and Co.—immediately botched up in the wake of the first “mission”), whereas its war on Afghanistan is unspeakable, not to mention the nightmarish occupation of Iraq, and, going downhill, Gitmo, not surprising from a country that still applies the death penalty, but still, those are deep-sea moral depths.


In the rest of the world, we sometimes feel that we should all be allowed to vote for the US president, so great is the real, concrete power the US has over the daily living of everybody all over the world. If we had done so, Obama's landslide victory might very well have put to shame the score of Mexican President López Portillo, elected in 1976 with nearly 100% of the universal suffrage. In Chile, “9/11” still refers to the day in 1973 when the CIA put Pinochet in power by means of war, and, appalling and heart-breaking, the deaths and torture and disappearances in the wake of that! Not a Chilean family was left unaffected, most of them tragically. Okay, 3,000 people dead in the first few weeks, not in a few hours, but that then became their regime for 16 years, something like the Patriot Act to the thousandth degree for a generation of kids! By the way, in my view Oliver Stone did a great job of seeing, and showing, the world from a different angle in South of the Border, it was very refreshing.


Failing this democratic right to vote for the US president (democracy is still state-bound along Westphalian sovereignty lines), we were grateful to the US people (we can still distinguish them from their heavy-booted government) for having overcome their centuries of deeply rooted racism and elected as their president a guy half white and half African, guess you could call him a second-generation African (not the descendant of a slave, that would seem to be too much to ask of Americans, I'm guessing), and with a Muslim-sounding name. Wow. Transcendent. Hats off, guys! Why in France, just the idea of a woman president, well, you can practically smell the contempt for it sometimes.


This brings me to where, to me, Obama's deepest betrayal rests. He had really applied, with talent and on a high bar for the most part, participatory practices, I think you call it community organizing. That was part of what had worked the magic, from a pragmatic point of view. You know, well-documented and proven practices. That's how he got the vote, I believe. And then, it was as if he had simply stopped listening, had no more time for practicing or not enough imagination to implement such practices now that he was president, or was overpowered and overwhelmed by the reality of consensus building with the shitty, excuse me, Congress the same lovely people have voted in. It seems Obama is not an agile negotiator, not agile enough in any case, so he basically caves a helluva lot more than he should, which is sad and truly disappointing.


But then, where has that people gone, the transcendent one? We can only do what is within our reach, surely, but if there is something within our reach to do, then why aren't we doing it? Or is there just no hope and nothing to be done? Sometimes I wonder. Just for a while.


I agree with Oliver Stone and Peter Kuznick, though, that Obama still has the power to turn things around. He might need some help. I sincerely don't know, but the situation is serious enough to give that thought some consideration.


On the up side, I also believe in the power of words, and whatever Obama's failings, just the fact that he upholds high standards of discourse (he is The President, after all—here in France, we have a stupid-wise-guy act for a president, pandering to finance, and destroying rights and institutions that have been fought and struggled for since World War II by the people, while setting a disgusting behavioral example), and the fact that I have heard him use the word “responsibility” in every speech that I have listened to (we don't follow as closely as you do in the States, of course, but in my particular case, I was convinced out of immeasurable skepticism over his candidacy by his race speech, which I viewed and listened to on the Internet), those two facts are steps in the right direction, especially for today's kids, tomorrow's adults. There was nothing good about the Bush years, zilch, they were disastrous, cynical and horrifying from every point of view, they did enormous damage. Here, with this guy, there is a little something for the future.


Part of that is in our hands, though, by whatever means possible within our reach.


Le Club est l'espace de libre expression des abonnés de Mediapart. Ses contenus n'engagent pas la rédaction.