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Obama, the Election and the Left

This is a guest post by David Pat

If all goes well, Barack Obama will become the 44th president of the United States tomorrow. The Guardian can barely contain itself. Champagne corks are primed in a thousand bistros around London, and worldwide a million liberals dream of the collective expiation of guilt. His will this be the new face (and I use that word carefully) of the US.

President Bush talked a lot. And he talked a lot of crap. It was hard seeing the world’s great issues filtered through the protective glaze of his stupidity. The totem of eight years of Republican misrule, he was a dream target for the (often justified) global anger toward the US. Now, finally, it’s over.

My question is simple: How will this affect the Left? Put more simply: if McCain loses, and I hope he does; if the chickens of the civil rights movement finally come home to roost; if this educated, articulate, Northern college professor beats the folksy, Midwestern, warmonger; if this Liberal’s wet dream wins, will they alter the lyrics and give America a chance?

Like many on Harry’s Place, the events of recent years forced a reappraisal of political beliefs that I had long held to be self-evident – that the left cared about democracy, fought tyranny and opposed intolerance. My views haven’t changed: I utterly reject the idea of a clash of civilizations; of religions, of races. Palestinian teenagers may have Hamas, but they also have hormones. But equally, I reject the stoning of gays; I reject the subjugation of women; and I reject the institutionalized rollback of enlightenment values.

And in doing this, I reject, alas, many of the modern bedfellows of the left. You see, I never veered from the left; it veered from me.

Now here comes a cliché: 9/11 changed everything. On 9/12 over 3,000 fewer people woke up, for a start. But its worst effects were worse than that: 9/11 transcended its own violence – it forced liberal elites trying to understand it to accommodate a new discourse.

As has been written by many far more esteemed than me, what took place in the following years was a schism within the left. Islamic fundamentalism became a litmus test dividing those who opposed it as a manifestation of fascism (or fascism with an Islamic face to quote Christopher Hitchens paraphrasing Michael Foot quoting someone else), and those who viewed it as anti-imperialist; the latest thrust of Third Worldism, if you like.

With the discrediting of Soviet communism, much of the left’s political ideology evaporated with the frost of the Prague Spring and was never adequately replaced. What filled the vacuum was a curious kind of ‘negative’ political philosophy, mere hatred of America became an ideology in itself – ‘mine enemy’s enemy’ reigned supreme.

In the ensuing debates the reluctance to condemn Islamic fundamentalism from some quarters amounted almost to apology. I can still remember my heart sink as I watched footage of The Stop The War coalition walking arm in arm down the street with Hizb ut- Tahrir. These same people would go on to defend the Taliban and attack the Danish cartoonists. Moral equivalence was the order of the day, fundamentalist Islam was deemed no worse than US foreign policy and Tariq Ali could morph Osama bin Laden into George W Bush on the cover of one of his books, an obscene analogy made worse by being just plain wrong.

For many, Washington became the sum of all fears, and they sided with anything that opposed it. Islamic fundamentalism became, in some extreme cases, almost a guilty pleasure. What happened to the left, my left? In the 40s we had George Orwell, now we have George Galloway.

Let me be clear: the US has its flaws; it has pursued some reprehensible foreign policy – its actions in South America perhaps being the worst example. But to imply that it is no better than many Middle Eastern regimes is nonsense. As has been rightly pointed out, there are no mass graves in Alabama.

A friend once told me I worried too much about all this. You do hear people defending Islamism, he said, but these remarks are as irrelevant as they are vacuous. I do not think defenses of Islamic fundamentalism are irrelevant, although they are certainly vacuous. They illustrate a strong trend within the left to defend the indefensible for the sole reason that whatever opposes the US must be good. And in so doing they abandon the central building blocks of leftist thought – opposition to racism, torture, state murder – and the trade unionists and feminists and secularists to the industrial torture chambers of the Middle East.

While Bush was in power anti-US charges were easy and convenient. When we wake up tomorrow we may have the best US President that, short of the West Wing, we are going to get. Let’s give him, and the world, a chance.