Monday, November 3, 2008

Why Am I’m Afraid that I’m Hoping for Obama?

By Geoffrey Whitehall

With war raging, America divided, economic confidence shaken, ecological health declining and apathy increasing it is difficult not to join the disenchanted. In these bleak times, Barack Obama asks us all to have the audacity to hope. Interestingly, this hope does not originate in radical alternatives, local initiatives or global promises. Instead, this hope is located squarely within the redemption of the status quo. This audacity reminds me of the end of American action movies. Where, after carnal damage has been done in the name of freedom, justice or love, the flag of American redemption is raised. After carnage is done, innocents killed, villages destroyed, the final images coax us to have the audacity to believe again in the greatness of a united America returned to its original promise.

We stand at the end of such a lived movie. The Bush doctrine of preemption was drawn up as a policy of revenge in order to clear the way for the reassertion of American strength, standing and supremacy. Preemption, in fact, has escaped the war rooms and become the dominant logic of governance, whereby risks are dealt with before they have emerged as dangers. It is not uncommon to hear that the proliferation of preemptive government was facilitated by a simultaneous production of fear. When people are afraid, they are more willing to accept gross violations of what they previously considered normal. Curbing civil liberties, limiting access to information, bending accepted ethical standards have become commonplace in preemption’s post-911 world. Is Obama our Flag?

In this way Obama would be a national flag. Promising to heal where McCain further divides America. America is redeemed and returned to its proper course when its democratic promise is re-engaged. A democracy at war cleans house through shinny democratic machines that glitter. Yet, Obama is also a global flag. After eight years of dwindling standing in the international community, America can be redeemed (not just with a Democratic candidate) with a historic, global and universal candidate. Is a preemptive doctrine ushered in on a wave of fear but normalized on a cushion of hope?

Fear and hope, after all, are not opposites. They employ each other in order to exist. Hope is not the antidote to fear. Fear teaches that we have something to hope for and hope reminds us how to live in fearful times. The anxiety that has been lived over the last eight years is not about to end. Instead, America rolls on unaware of the clichés that pull at its heart-strings, wake it from deep slumbers, and dare it to be exceptional. The one is not historic, but history is repeating itself. Hope isn’t the end of the process; it is only the beginning of the same old story. We hope Obama proves us all wrong and we project onto him all that we wish; yet, we fear that we always already know the answer.

What is good for Great Powers has never been good for the rest of the world; as such, it has become increasingly confusing as to why we should hope for another flag to be raised and the credits to continue to roll.

Biog: Dr. Geoffrey Whitehall is based at Acadia University, Nova Scotia, Canada. His areas of teaching and research include critical international politics and contemporary cultural, social and political thought. His articles have appeared in Borderlands, Theory & Event and Millennium: Journal of International Studies. His current research focuses on aesthetic practices in Asia/Pacific politics and the antigenic shifts of sovereignty in the Avian Flu emergency. His web site can be located at

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