Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Obama - what is he about? 

Obama-mania is spilling over the edge of many cups. What to make of him? Well for a LibDem an interesting fact is that he made his first political impact in community politics initiatives in Roseland, part of Chicago’s South Side, working for grass-roots projects and fighting a corrupt political machine run by his own party.

I came across this interesting note from a book published before his current candidacy. Observing him in 2003 –even before his election to the US Senate- the Canadian thinker John Ralston Saul said: (Saul 2005. p273)

Obama already had a calm, clear idea of how community worked and how it was the big picture that had to adjust. As he moved onto the national scene he continued carefully pointing out that
“instead of having a set of policies that are equipping people for the globalisation of the economy we have policies that are accelerating the most destructive trends of the global economy.”

Obama, said Saul, was rephrasing Adam Smith:

“This disposition to admire and almost to worship the rich and powerful and to despise or at least to neglect persons of poor and mean disposition….. is, at the same time, the great and most universal cause of the corruption of our moral sentiments"

This is discussed in the context of what Saul calls ‘Positive Nationalism’ which includes according to Saul:

The desire of people to organise their lives around the reality of where they live … a healthy democracy will be community generated… The Western model has for some time turned around managerial ideas of power, and these require centralisation… If we look at our own histories we discover that the changes that have made the biggest differences have most often been local..

If people who know each other well serve the welfare of their fellow citizens they may learn something unexpected about each other, perhaps how different they are. If people who do not know each other well perhaps because they come from different cultures, serve the welfare of their fellow citizens, they may well discover how similar their values are…

Saul may be reading his own agenda into Obama of course, but it is an interesting glimpse of one interpretation of this man and where he may have come from before the Presidential campaign masks went up.

John Ralston Saul “The Collapse of Globalism and the Re-Invention of the World” Atlantic Books, 2005 (in the chapter on Positive Nationalism.)

Adam Smith quote from ‘The Theory of Moral Sentiments’ p 61 in the 6th edition of 1790

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