I wonder if, like me, you watched the audience in front of President Obama as he addressed Parliament the other day. All of them were staring up adoringly, as if watching a political colossus – rather than a shallow, idea-free politician who has used his Presidency unwisely…..and to little effect.
An American friend much younger than me said – when I first spotted Obama’s star quality in 2007 – “this guy can charm the ass off a Goddamned elephant”, and he was right. Barack Obama had and has star quality thanks to his looks, build, immaculate dress-sense, and amazing gift for oratory. But I have always seen him as the black Blair – perfect in form, and devoid of content. He told us towards the end of his stay that we were the best and closest of America’s allies. He said the same thing to the French last year. And tonight (Saturday) he has said the same thing to the Poles.
Somebody else was trying to tell me earlier this year that US Presidents had been forever thus, naming JFK as “the example par excellence”. I am not a Kennedy revisionist: I don’t think it matters that JFK was hopeless as a Congressional persuader, and had the sort of sexual appetite to make Strauss-Kahn look like a monk. He gave people hope – and had the guts to back it up with something solid. He got elected through his father’s contacts and money, but told Joe Kennedy he wouldn’t pay any ‘debts’ (in the form of favours) the old man owed bosses and gangsters in key areas like Chicago. These two things almost certainly got him killed, but for my generation, JFK was, truly, an inspiration.
Barack Obama is simply a politician’s politician - a minnow compared to Kennedy.
Just as advertising men are suckers for their own craft, so too are politicians. Our political class will never learn that first of all, US politicos are nothing like ordinary Americans…who are, outside corporate life, much nicer; and second – with specific reference to Obama – US diplomacy is riddled with mendacity and double-cross.
We fall for this ‘unique bond’ drivel about the Special Relationship every time; but on this occasion it was all the more pernicious for having been ‘moved on’ by the message controllers beforehand: the word ‘essential’ instead of ‘special’ (as yet another idiotic description of something mythical) was mentioned 37 times in 18 minutes on the BBCNews station live coverage…further proof again, I’m afraid, that the arm-biter at the top of that organisation has no spine – and precious little insight.
There never was any beef in Obama’s sandwich; and this is one of two things he shares with Cameron. The other is a completely unfeeling cynicism about the truth. Dave’s dealings with Newscorp, and his obvious bias towards all things Murdoch, are the same in essence as Obama’s use of the Bin Laden raid: devious, constantly searching for personal advantage, and peppered with carefully manufactured lies.
All that said, for the British, President Obama is a relatively benign influence, in that he doesn’t care a fig about us. Also I see no sign at all of any pathological need to retain power in the way that I always did with Dick Nixon. But some dubious, authoritarian people are going to come along over the next few years, and it’s becoming increasingly obvious to me that not only would a large proportion of the UK electorate welcome them with open arms – purely because they say, “I have the answer” – an awful lot of lobby fodder and Whitehall pond life would also be more than delighted to help make the New Order work.
It’s an obvious thing to say I know, but people of our age-group are dying off. Sure, a larger minority than usual are going to live into their late eighties and nineties, but few if any will have the energy, interest, credibility, bravery or memory by then to explain why The Strong One is nearly always a very bad idea. Our teachers were far too busy organising Under Twelve Progressive Rockers Against Heightism to bother teaching them much in the way of modern history – let alone the lessons that accrue from it. To be blunt, kids today know Hitler killed a lot of people in the Holocaust, but they have almost no idea how easily Adolf came to power, and how he created a totalitarian State without bending a single law in the Weimar Constitution. In Britain, we don’t even have a Constitution. I think it is a condemnation of contemporary culture that we need one – but boy, do we ever need one.
“A majority would never support such a person,” people tell me all the time; but this too betrays their ignorance. The highest vote in a proper multi-Party election the Nazis ever got in Germany was 32.7%. If you control a huge army of thugs, build a shiny new infrastructure, solve inflation, and get rid of an unpopular minority, that two-thirds who never supported you soon come around to your way of thinking. Reverse a heinous Treaty and get most of the Reich’s land back, and you’re the hero-Fuhrer. Start humiliating your enemies, and you’re a God. So people disappear during the night – who cares? Life is good….don’t make trouble.
“The internet has made such total control impossible,” is another denialist assertion – but the facts support the opposite view. Yesterday, Iran announced it will build its own internet and shut out all others. China already does this. Google and Verizon have already ensured that strata of ‘performance quality’ will soon be introduced onto the Web. The opportunity for censorship in that context is almost too obvious to point out. The Russians are miles ahead in the race to perfect ways of blagging into and if necessary jamming all forms of internet communication. Every last ISP selling telecoms online already works in cooperation with GCHQ. This isn’t conspiracy paranoia – read Jacqui Smith’s last statement to the House before her husband’s porn penchant brought her down: having first denied that such action in concert was under construction, she later reversed her position entirely.
Far from making totalitarianism impossible, digital technology has made Orwell’s nightmare an easily attainable reality. The East German Stasi kept a whole nation under surveillance without any of this technology; the British State could get it up and running tomorrow – literally. Every site we visit, every email we write is already watched 24/7 by marketing and business. How else do you think that the site ads you see on your browser just happen to reflect the things you’re interested in?
Had such a situation arisen in, say, 1960 – when the Cold War was at its height, people remembered the Gestapo, and Orwell’s 1984 was a famous book being made into TV plays and films – the outcry would have been universal, the demand for the whole edifice to be deconstructed irresistible. In 2011, the response is, “Yeh – whatever”.
I get mail and comment-threads all the time suggesting that New Labour in particular deliberately connived at this situation, but I can’t accept that: we have arrived at this dangerous point (with the coming econo-fiscal disaster an obvious catalyst) because middle-class Labour’s high-IQ/high ignorance/high five idiots were too stupid to grasp the obvious consequences of generous welfare + risible education – and too intolerant to accept that they just might be badly misguided in their patronising views about ‘ordinary hard-working families’. I think there is some anecdotal evidence to support the idea that by keeping immigration up and maintaining dependence poverty, Labour’s more evil strategists really did see themselves as ‘defending and building share’ of the votes market. But the movement as a whole is far too dull, argumentative and pedestrian to accept (let alone put into action) such a clever conspiracy. We are where we are in this hole because of near-ubiquitous incompetence, not planned social engineering.
This doesn’t mean, of course, that The Strong One couldn’t come from Labour’s ranks. Harriet Harman is the most obvious candidate, if only because she has form when it comes to (a) openly saying she’d change any law at any time to get a post-dated conviction (b) targeting hate-sectors like bankers and white, older males, and (c) being so clearly bigoted and at least part way round the twist in her gender views. But Hattie herself knows she is unelectable – hence her support for Ed Miliband, as the great hope for becoming a sort of surrogate mother, hatching mad schemes and ‘equality’ quotients on Harmperson’s behalf.
To give Ed the only due he’ll ever get from me, he isn’t The Strong One. He’s more what you’d call The Wrong One. But James Purnell (former Labour Welfare reformer) occasionally shows a disturbing combination of belief, limitless ambition, radical ideas and ruthlessness.
The point is – looking at Boris Johnson and others on the Tory side, and even Speaker John Bercow – there are plenty of power freaks in the Commons who would make no bones about their strength in a crisis…..and show no mercy to liberal democracy. The only thing that could stop such a person would be discernment of the threat by voters, the media and the elite. On the basis of Obama’s rapturous reception this week, I am forced to conclude that none of the members of that triumvirate could offer even the semblance of such judgment.