Friday, August 29, 2008

Reasons to like the US of A

After over a decade an a half living in the US I have learned to appreciate some of the good aspects of its political process. One of my favorite parts, for all the posturing and corniness that some times happen there, is the political conventions. So this week I have been following the Democratic Convention, the one that usually spoke to my Liberal tendencies. Had I been a US citizen I would have probably always voted Democrat except perhaps at Clinton 2, where for some strange reason I found Bob Dole compelling enough (not to mention that I never liked Clinton, conformed by his messing up of the health care reform to his wimpy and undignified back down at the "Don't ask, don't tell" fiasco).

This year I was particularity interested as I have failed to warm up to Obama. I suppose that after ten years back in Venezuela, and 10 years of the cheapest and most vulgar populism, anything that looks too good to be true lights up all my warning lights. I am not sure I would vote for Obama yet, but tonight he went a long way to convince me that he might be more than what I thought him to be. Still, my issues are not quite resolved as I do not like Biden, even though I must admit he makes a sensible ticket. This is good in a way because it will allow me to follow the Republican convention. The only times I followed both conventions were in 1980 and 1988. In 1980 because I was fresh and learning (though I had no TV then) and in 1988 because I lived in Boston then and I watched in horror Dukakis making all the mistakes that cost him his bid. In 1996 I only watched the Republican one, the other years watching the Democratic ones (though of course I never ignored completely the other side).

But my political views are not the point here, I just brought them up to establish how fascinated I was always by this brilliant exercise in democracy, so unique to the States, in spite of the fact that all mystery is usually removed before the convention starts. And that is what makes this exercise so fabulous, the work of reconciliation, the desire to build a real common political platform out of the bitter rivalries of the primary. This convention was no exception and contained some of the best speeches I ever heard in any US convention. Hillary, my favorite, rose to the occasion. For the first time I liked a Bill Clinton speech. Biden was acceptable to compelling and Obama did a great job, seeking blood, in the purest partisan but ever so democratic form. Democratic conventions are always much more fun to watch, there is no way around, there is no way the GOP can ever create such a party atmosphere. As far as I am concerned, from this week, I think that Obama has this thing wrapped up.

But of course there is much more than meet the eye here, because such a great and sometimes gratuitous exercise is only possible in a country with a great tradition of open debate, the McCarthy and Patriot Acts notwithstanding. Conventions are the summary. What I saw this week is difficult to think of it in Europe. Only recently France seems to be approaching this as the Socialists dared launch a true primary last time (the Right is much more reluctant, but it does put up a decent TV show at least). But in general European politics are much more ideological than the US ones, much too parliamentarian and sectarian to dare hold such a venting off arena. People keep forgetting one thing: for all the attempts at an ideological US body politics, from the Daily Kos crowd to the Bible thumping right, the GOP and the Dems still remain a coalition of interests much more than an ideological construct. A few weeks before general elections they must settle their issues and reach a basic compromise, otherwise they are doomed (McGovern anyone? or Bush Senior 2, if you prefer?). Sometimes I am sure that this is the success of US democracy who in spite of being a presidential system has managed to survive terrible catastrophes over more than two centuries.

The best line of this convention was from Bill Clinton, no doubt. I do not know whether he really penned it but it goes down in political history as the right thing to say at the right time, an amazing sense of what must be done.
"People have always been more impressed by the power of our example, than by the example of our power."
I, for one, do subscribe to that fully. If you doubt it look at Europe today, rebuilt under the Marshall Plan with a full belief in democratic values that came with the marines, no matter how many might hate that idea. What about Japan? Even a baseball power now! Or what about FDR managing to avoid extremism in spite of one of the worst recession of modern times? True, the power of the US in its century has been awesome but it would have been of little effect if it was not accompanied by example. And perhaps if Iraq is not the success that some hoped for is simply due because the US forgot to lead by example, from torturing prisoners to behaving like a colonial power. True, it is unfair to simplify the Iraq problem to a simple value question as I just did: it is too much of a complex issue, starting from the failure of Bush Senior to remove Saddam when no one would have cried for him. Was not the first Gulf War the perfect moment to break with common opinion and lead by example even if the UN did not allow for it?

But since this is a Venezuelan blog, that Clinton quote allows me to tie this post to the topic that occupies so much of our time.

Tonight as I was waiting for the convention coverage to start in earnest, I was watching Alo Ciudadano when a cadena came up. The reason was to receive a few Argentina businessmen, true leaches to come around to see what they can grab in Venezuela while the going is still good for them. Don't they know how their colleagues got robbed with SIDOR? Just there I know that this cadena was just yet another excuse for feeble propaganda; and we got it, but in real bad taste. Even though it was totally off topic as the cadena was supposed to be a "conversatorio" between Chavez and these Argentinean businessmen, it was mostly a Chavez monologue as any Argentine who was allowed a microphone knew better than talk for more than a couple of minutes: there is only one mic star here, and it is Hugo.

And what did El Surpremo spoke about? He wasted our time hallucinating about Bolivar and San Martin meeting at Guayaquil, rewriting history further. He launched yet another long tirade against the 2002 "coup", modifying again his own version of events. He insulted those who do not agree with him, using his current favorite word, "pitiyanki" (Yankee lover?) and other assorted choice words. Indeed, I suppose that after what I wrote above I certainly can be accused of pitiyankismo....

But then as I listened to the DNC I returned in mind to that cadena. How small is Chavez compared to all of these great politicians, who make flawless speeches sating their point forcefully without needing to insult their opponent (the Biden speech for example, where he stressed his personal friendship with McCain). And how powerful is their ability to compromise even as they cannot offer a genuine reconciliation. Chavez is simply unable to listen, to compromise, to forgive, to reconcile. It is beyond his understanding, and the few glimpses we might seem to find in him of such virtues are always tainted by secret agendas and incomplete pardons, almost as if he were to forgive some just as to be allowed to be even harsher on most.

It is not that I have any faith in US politicians, I know better. But tonight I was painfully shown the gap in between our democratic cultures. For all its fault the US system is able to produce politicians we are willing to listen to, who are actually saying something, who are able to let us know how stupid we are not to follow them without us feeling stupid as we hear their words. With Venezuelan politicians, chavistas in particular, we always know that we are scum. And with some opposition pols we are also scum, even thought it is not as blatant. In fact, some of the chavista officials reserve some of their worst insults to their own followers, a truly amazing phenomenon, almost as if leadership was acquired there through a nefarious pecking order from hell.

We are so primitive, so vulgar, and we seem to cultivate such characteristics. Perhaps after all we do deserve the fate that has befallen on us.

Meanwhile I am left to observe with sheer envy the US once again coming together at a time of crisis, producing history for us. Tonight for the first time an African American, and a first generation one at that, has been nominated to become the next president of the Country. And if it was not him, it would have been the first woman, equally historical a moment. Tonight we all sensed what is at stake, we all sensed that even if Obama does not make it next November, he has set the agenda of the country and McCain would not be able to escape it. The only real prospect is how fast the page will turn. Obama was not redundant in talking of integration, he talked of gay rights instead. The social revolution that started in the 60ies might not be complete yet, but with him it is advanced enough that is time to start a new one. The US will never cease to amaze us with its regeneration power. Meanwhile under Chavez we have fallen back prey to the worst ghosts of our past. Chavez dares to blame someone else, the US preferably, for his obscurantism and his true reactionary nature. And we have been following for ten years already, with no regeneration perspective in sight. We are so far from greatness.

-The end-

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