Friday, December 11, 2009

One more red nightmare 

While I agree with much of what the President said in Oslo, I am cautious about believing that I really know what he meant. As John Stewart has been prone to point out lately, if one removes the byline this could just as easily been a speech given by the President in 2004, a President, incidentally, that both Senator and candidate Obama frequently and vehemently repudiated. Like many Obama speeches, though, there were significant places that required the audience to "fill in the blank," and therein lies the details.

While going on at length about the sometimes necessity of fighting, he was rather vague about the actual principles upon which this necessity might hinge. Judging from his administration's unwillingness to even engage diplomatically on the side of freedom and democracy in either Honduras or Iran (and actually officially siding against it in the case of the former), it seems fair to conjecture that this is not a principle upon which this President would rather fight than switch. Amongst the specifics he does mention, though, we find "human rights" and "economic injustice."

While it is difficult for anyone to find fault with the first in general, this very universal acknowledgement and acceptance has, in the last couple of decades, meant the co-opting of this rather nebulous phrase by almost anyone or any group advocating for anything. Some, for example, believe the causes of government guaranteed universal housing, food and health care fall under the banner of "human rights." Based upon his domestic legislative priorities, one might feel comfortable assuming the President falls more into this camp than any other. Considering that the President has often expressed confidence in the UN, perhaps we should explore some of what they believe are human rights, as set forth in their Universal Declaration of Human Rights: (emphasis added, comments in italics) More disturbing for me, though, is his stated commitment to some idea of "economic injustice." While I might consider it unjust for a government to excessively tax its citizens or impose unreasonable restrictions on their freedom to engage in private, mutually beneficial economic agreements with other citizens, I somehow have a hunch this wasn't exactly what he was thinking about as he penned these words. In fact, if one were to Google "economic injustice," the entire first page concerns the advocacy of government-sponsored efforts to redistribute wealth to redress economic disparity between citizens. Characteristic of this sentiment is the 2005 essay by Jason Miller on a site called Metaphoria, which agonizes that "[s]tarting with Iraq, President Bush has dedicated himself to exporting economic injustice." Obviously it is far better to have oppressive despotism fueling uniform squalor (except for those favored by the ruling elite) than to have an environment of greater personal freedom that might allow some to achieve greater economic success than others. Again, judging from previous words and actions I can't help but believe that President Obama is espousing a support of this more conventional understanding of the phrase.

All of which leads to some interesting questions, if only one were to ask. If, as he said, the President believes "that a nation's hostility towards human rights and economic injustice cannot be allowed to thrive," and if we accept the concepts of "human rights" and "economic injustice" as outlined above, then how does that belief square against both the laws and capitalistic economic model of the very country he leads? Would one be justified in concluding that this has everything to do with his pledge to fundamentally remake the country? Or will we be encouraged by our "betters" to, once again, ignore the man behind the curtain and pay attention to the smoke and mirrors he presents instead?

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