Monday, November 10, 2008

Bottom Line

Brief transmission from Zurich:

This short entry will not do justice to what I have been actually experiencing here in Switzerland Post-Obama victory, but suffice it to say that arriving here the day after the election was overwhelming. With over 500 attendees at the IETM conference, 300 of which attended my morning keynote alone, not to mention the hotel clerks, baristas, bartenders, and restauranteurs, I was flooded with the most excellent vibes I can ever remember receiving as an American abroad. I'm sure there was at least some modicum of pleasantness during my visits when Clinton was Prez, but this is different. This is people coming up to me and not addressing me by my name but simply shaking my hand and then uttering the only word on their mind, "Obama" -- and the conversation taking off from there. These people, strangers all, men and women, telling me that they stayed up until 7 AM Wednesday morning waiting for the international networks to call the election for Obama and then patiently awaiting his victory speech with groggy sleeplessness but excited anticipation and then crying, all of them said they were crying, in Zurich, Brussels, Amsterdam, Athens, London, Manchester, Berlin, Toronto, etc., "everything feels lighter," "for the first time in my life I felt here is someone who I can actually relate to" and -- yes -- "hopefully things will start to get better."

Even an always skeptical cultural critic I know, a true Euro-centric cynic who did not hide his anti-Americanism over the last eight years, said that after a decade of not even wanting to visit America (at the cost of not seeing some good friends as often as he would like), now, 48 hours after the election, he could not help but think that America was the place to be, and that if he could, he would move there immediately.

This overwhelming positive energy has been 100% universal since my arrival in Europe the day after the election.

It's no surprise, of course.

But the thing that seems most obvious to me looking back at the US from the perspective of contemporary Europe is that perhaps even more important than a "Democrat" victory or even a center-left victory (no, the US is not still center-right, the conservative intellectuals wish they could run with that ball), to me and my posse, this is a victory of intellectualism over anti-intellectualism. My greatest "fear" (if I can call it that -- it was really more of a concern) was not the lying Muslim meme being spread via email nor the potential of a "Bradley effect" proving the polls wrong again, it was this persistent attempt to dumb down the electorate while equating the phrase "domestic terrorist(s)" with "radical professors" as performed by the Phyllis Schlafly clone Sarah Palin that most disturbed me. It was Obama as Adlai Stevenson with a terrorist twist that had me slightly bent out of shape.

In a nutshell, the issue for me was a victory for creative brainpower and poetic rhetoric as scripted by the candidate himself as politician, preacher, poet, and performance artist (all of the roles Obama played during the election cycle). But others saw it differently. On the plane to Zurich, I was surrounded by members of and they were on fire with excitement and ready to turn their energy into initiating progressive policy on women's issues like never before. They were also taking credit for the hard work they put in to getting out the women's vote in Colorado where Obama crushed McCain. Their energy was so contagious that an Asian man, a fellow passenger, told them how great he too felt about the victory and could share in their celebration. He reminded us all of a headline in the Guardian after the 2004 election: "How Could 30 million people be so stupid?" (That's not the exact headline but you get the picture) For them, the victory was produced by women, progressive women who helped tilt things back to the center-left.

The botton line: this time the brains won.

More on the subject here.

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Blogger Mr Nice said...

So let's see, is there something called americacentrism?

8:33 PM  
Blogger Professor VJ said...

Yes, there must be, but I have not heard it. Perhaps it would be something created by a European who suffers from America-envy? But then there is this lingering issue of anti-Americanism which even Americans have expressed themselves (that's what the First Amendment is supposed to allow for). Will so-called American-centrism be the lead actor in the epic drama of the next decade or century? Probably not. For the near future, my guess is the story will take place in Asia, and particularly China and Russia. As I tell my best students who I teach in the US and Europe, if you want to study overseas, go to Asia. But they rarely do.

12:39 PM  

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