No cute French-language betises from me this time. This time, I’m serious.
A sweet and obliging majority of the French folk I know have been surpassingly positive and excited about the election of Barack Obama. Juste comme il faut. There seems to be a rapid and well-informed understanding of how much this changes the global atmosphere and how much more concrete change might follow. I have, however, noticed that there is a remnant, a crust or crouton of old-style French lefties or new-style anarchist-types (always recognisable by the sincerity of their hairstyles) who seem to revel in bibulously denouncing me for naiveté (the only true crime for Parisians). They seem to judge as politically immature my openly expressed hope or confidence that Barack Obama might represent a doctrinal and ideological improvement in a country that has just experienced eight years of the Bush-Cheney junta .
They ignorantly tell me that Obama is the tool of lobbyists and large-scale donors like all the other US candidates for high office (completely overlooking how community-based his record-breaking fund-raising approach actually was). They tell me that campaign promises to close Guantanamo Bay Detention Camp or to begin US withdrawal from Iraq will be comfortably broken – completely ignoring his multiple public reaffirmations of these goals (various press conferences, 60 Minutes, Meet the Press – the list goes on – all eminently viewable on YouTube). They say he’s not even black, the fuckers.
I am familiar with and tolerant of the eternal human prompt to be unpleasable, to be malcontent. Those who resist or criticise in times of darkness or repression can get stuck in the groove of their dissent, their innate dissatisfaction. It is understandable but lamentable. If you struggle your entire adult life for a certain change or breakthrough and then that certain change or breakthrough comes to pass, what the fuck are you meant to do with the rest of your time and the rest of yourself? Predicting disillusionment can assuage the violence of that process and predicting disillusionment can be wise course too (as well as the eternally conservative one).
I remember keenly the absurd flights of hope I felt on the election nights of Blair and Clinton. I remember how that milk went sour. They were (Blair so much more than Clinton) absolute lessons in political disappointment. But it must be remembered what they followed. Reagan/Bush and Thatcher/Major. Those French citizens who have markedly negative feelings about the regime of President Sarkozy have only a dim glimpse of the agony and shame of living under Thatcher and Reagan. That they were followed by figures who could be confidently suspected of once having read a book was an almost gravity-defying shift of emphasis.
And we do not need to reminisce to feel the violent jolt of moving from the asinine and pernicious to something significantly more evolved. President Bush is still President Bush. The know-nothing president is about to be followed by the reading and writing president. You only need to see the excitement and dizziness of the washington press corps at having to deal with someone who speaks in complete sentences again. Torture, pre-emptive war and financial peculation of the grossest kind is being replaced by someone who has at least demonstrated that he is capable of a different discourse.
If that is not cause for a certain amount of hope then I don’t know what the word hope is for.
But I concede something to the nay-sayers and sceptics. Yes, I have a bad case of Obama-love. I find myself thinking of him at odd times, certain snatches of music remind me of him, perhaps I could even wish that we had met when we were younger and fresher men. But I am wary of the absurdity of my misty-eyed investment in this man. And I suggest to myself a simple cure – a gauge to measure his progress or sincerity - the Obama stopwatch.
One cannot underestimate the importance of his several post-election reiterations of campaign promises. He will close Guantanamo and he will begin pulling out of Iraq. These are massive promises, game-changers, to use his own favoured phrase. They will do much to change the world in which we all live, to shift the cultural and political laws of gravity. And in the case of the closing of Guantanamo, there is a very simple process to measure his intent and his performance. The detention and treatment of soi-disant prisoners at Guantanamo were created by Executive Order on the part of George Bush. They were government policy created by signing a piece of paper. Congress and the Senate did not need to be involved. Which in turn means that they can be rescinded or annulled by Executive Order. Obama just has to sign some pieces of paper. He can do it in the limousine on the way back from the inauguration ceremony. Which means, for me at any rate, a clock will start at 12.01 on the 20th January 2009. I will be sitting there, drumming my fingers against the table . . . waiting. How long will it take?
And in the counting of those hours, days, weeks or months (I can’t bring myself to write years), I will know how risible my hope was. It will have a number. It will be hard to ignore.
(Et pendant ce temps là, le président Bush et le vice-président Cheney sont devenus complètement fous. La parole publique du gouvernement a, de façon totalement grotesque, perdu toute limite. Au cours de leur dernier mois au pouvoir, ces deux-là semblent avoir totalement lâché l'affaire. Cheney admet à la télévision avoir autorisé la torture. Bush tourne des vidéos de Noël dans lesquelles ils parlent à des chiens-chiens. Voici les derniers jours de l'empire romain. Vous avez suivi, vous autres ? Il y a là-dedans des trucs tellement drôles que je me surprends à croire que c'est moi qui les ai écrits, dans un moment de paresse coupable. Dès demain, nous vous en dirons plus sur les surprises de Noël de la Maison Blanche. En attendant Obama.)