Tuesday, October 28, 2008


"The European reaction to Obama is a European delusion ... This whole election campaign deals with soaring rhetoric, hope, change, all sorts of things, but not with issues."

Noam Chomsky

Here's a video interview on this theme.


soren buhl said...

Always trust Chomsky for the odd comfort of a structural view on things. (Homeowners look for comfort where we can find it.)
With regard to "european delusions" a couple of things springs to mind: first, that the presidental campaign is making it obvious how limited the European understanding of US politics really is. We just don’t have a clue about what goes on out there in Virginia or Texas, and thus cling to Obama for, well, hope. Secondly, only European postmodernists are delusional from Chomskys point of view, because we tend to believe that politics begins and ends with communication.
The funny, yet scary, side of this? In Europe the conservatives and reactionaries are even better than the liberals when it comes to making strategic use of political rhetorics. In this light, I find it a sympathetic trait in McCain that he is so obviously struggling in mass-mediated politics. European conservatives are more difficult to rule out.

Kirby Olson said...

I don't know if you can characterize the "European" reaction to Obama as a monolithic thing. Sarkozy for instance has said that Obama is arrogant, and puerile, especially in regards to his would-be actions in Iraq. There has been an amazing coalition in Iraq now for five years. Obama will simply go in and say, no more of this, I know better than everyone, and wham bam, act unilaterally, for example.

Chomsky has something of that same arrogance.

Ralph Nader has it.

Bush was on the other hand a team player who built patient coalitions, and worked toward peace.

Blessed are the peacemakers.

Thomas Basbøll said...

Kirby, you really ARE surreal!

Thomas Basbøll said...

Soren: I think Obama has a deeper, richer sense of rhetoric. Rhetoric as a way of establishing common ground that was not there before the speech act. The right still sees rhetoric as a console of buttons you press to get preconditioned audiences to flock to their assigned areas.

That's probably why they have such a hard time understanding the idea of meeting world leaders "without preconditions".

soren buhl said...

I think you are probably underestimating the right. There is no difference in sophistication of the means, only of messages.

Thomas Basbøll said...

I should clarify: it's not so much a failure of intelligence or sophistication. It's an ideological barrier to the exercise of intelligence.

I think the right is committed intellectually to a particular understanding of communication, a particular rhetorical philosophy, you might say.

The left is ideologically committed to another kind of rhetoric.

It is too simplistic, of course, to simply swallow, hook, line and sinker, Obama's rhetoric of unification over McCain's rhetoric of division. But I don't think it's completely misplaced.

Republicans speak to a "silent majority" (Nixon's phrase). Democrats are forced to speak to a vocal but motley crew of so-called "liberals" who don't always have a reason to work together.

That is, they have different ways of constructing their constituencies. This time around, the Democrats are have greater success in bringing the elements of the left together (in the middle) than the Republicans are having bringing elements of the right forward (to the middle).

In general, they may be equally talented. But this year one side is, apparently, brilliant.

I want to stress my basic point: McCain (and the right to which he is now increasingly wedding himself) does not believe in bringing a diversity of people together (for a diversity of reasons). He wants to talk to one homogeneous group, hoping that it will be big enough. Obama wants to see how big a group he can construct on a much more open platform. Straight talk is not going to do it, but a sophisticated rhetoric seems to be.

Thomas Basbøll said...

the democrats are having TROUBLE bringing them forward