Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Reaction from South Korea

This is from the Hankyoreh, south Korea's largest liberal/progressive newspaper.

Barack Obama ushers in new progressive era

Eight years of neoconservative policies fade with historic election of the United States’ first African American president

The history of the United States is now divided between pre-Obama and post-Obama.

The seemingly insurmountable barrier of race and the impregnable fortress of neo-conservatism that has controlled U.S. society for the past 30 years have come tumbling down in the face of Barack Hussein Obama. The first African American president produced in 232 years of history and the American voters have ushered in a new age of “neo-progressivism.”

For 30 years, it has been neo-conservative hegemony that has controlled the United States and the world. The election of Ronald Reagan in 1980, sweeping 44 of the nation’s 50 states, was a signal flare for the neo-conservative age. While there was a hiatus in the form of the Clinton era, the two consecutive elections of George W. Bush, who presented a platform of economic policy for the rich and the arrogant foreign policy of a superpower, had many experts declaring the death of progressivism and the eternal triumph of conservatism. The U.S. Democratic Party was mocked as a sterile party unable to rise again. But on Tuesday, American voters lined up for hours in front of voting booths in the darkness of the early morning to make it clear that they want a new future.

Currently in San Francisco as a researcher at the Asia-Pacific Research Center of Stanford University in the United States, People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy policy planning committee chair Kim Ki-sik said in a phone interview Tuesday with The Hankyoreh that “the Obama wave has surged in California throughout year. In front of houses and on cars, Obama flags have been waving. There has been an abundance of enthusiasm for making changes through Obama, not mobilized, but voluntary.” Kim also said, “Even if you talk to students at Stanford, which is known as an upper-class school, they all support Obama.”

Neo-conservatism has been the twin of the “neo-liberalist” economy, which went bust in the Wall Street financial crisis. The conservative moment, which has joined with Christian fundamentalism since the late 1960s to seize power in U.S. society, has been the unshaking root supporting these two systems.

Paul Krugman wrote in his book “The Conscience of a Liberal” of how neo-conservatism and neo-liberalism have gotten rid of all government intervention to curb inequality and attempted to turn back time to the period before the New Deal. Grover Norquist, a major figure in neo-conservatism, also declared that he wanted to bring the United States back to the time “up until Teddy Roosevelt, when the socialists took over. The income tax, the death tax, regulation, all that.” With the election of George W. Bush, the conservative movement seized power. Bush was elected president twice, conservatives controlled both houses of the U.S. Congress, and the fear from the 9/11 terrorist attacks was used to declare that the United States had the right to ignore the United Nations and international society and invade nations from Bush’s “axis of evil.”

It did not seem that a progressive age would ever come again. But neo-conservatism has imploded from incompetence, and neo-liberalism from greed. Under George W. Bush’s presidency, the U.S. national debt is approaching US$10 trillion. The surplus left by Bill Clinton has turned into a deficit of close to US$500 billion. In the eight years of the Bush administration, 5 million people have fallen into the poverty class, and the number of Americans without health insurance has increased by 7 million. The average income for CEOs has increased from 30 times the salary of ordinary workers in 1970 to over 300 times that salary today. The Bush administration has threatened the world by applying a Cold War doctrine with a dualistic structure of good and evil to 21st century society.

Just as Franklin D. Roosevelt opened up a “progressive age” in the 1930s after the Great Depression shattered the Gilded Age of the law of the jungle, Obama too has greeted the dawn of a “new progressive age” with the Wall Street financial crisis symbolizing the failure of neo-liberalism.

Obama, who campaigned for the poor in Chicago and opposed the Iraq War, made it clear in his election campaign that he would pursue a taxation policy with a distribution that lowers taxes for the poor and collects more from the rich. In his victory speech on Tuesday, he cited the New Deal and spoke of the progress of history. He also professed a new foreign policy of tolerance, saying that he would meet with enemies as well as friends to conduct dialogue. The world now has high hopes for a “less arrogant America.” An editorial in Great Britain’s Guardian newspaper declared, “Obama is America’s hope and our hope.”

It may not seem real yet, but today we witnessed a moment of history being rewritten.

Please direct questions or comments to [englishhani@hani.co.kr]

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