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The world turns its weary eyes to Obama

Bill Bonner believes the American public have voted for Obama as a diversion from the real world – a fantasy, something to entertain them.

Mr. Obama became the president-elect of all Americans last week. No man's coffee tasted better on Wednesday morning than it had done on Tuesday... no woman's perfume smelled sweeter. But all over the world, people felt better about themselves, as if the human race had achieved something important. At least a McCain victory would have caused the press to hold its tongue. Instead, commentators drew all the wrong conclusions and made fools of themselves.

Some thought it meant America's redemption from the sin of the slave trade. Others saw a historic transformation that they couldn't put in words and shouldn't have tried.

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"They did it. They really did it," wrote The Guardian, "...the American people yesterday stood in the eye of history and made an emphatic choice for change..."

It's the "End of the National Nightmare," said Time magazine.

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Amid the effervescence came the French. Obama's victory "arouses a wild yet reasonable hope", claimed Bernard-Henri Levi in the Financial Times. Mr. Obama's election will affect us in "at least three concrete ways", he continued. A decisive turning point in dealing with the 'racial question' in the US; hope for an America that began doubting its "famous mission"; and with Obama representing the USA, "anti-Americanism... will have a harder time surviving and it will be forced to revisit its sales pitch".

Nobody knows what America's "famous mission" is certainly not the Americans themselves. And if those are his "concrete" ways, we're glad Mr. Levi is not building bridges. Of course, there was nothing concrete about it. Just the contrary the Obama victory is all in the ether.

They shouldn't let French philosophers comment on American politics; they take it too seriously. Besides, you never know what they are talking about anyway. But Le Monde saw it clearer. Not only was it happy to see America finally rinse out the stain of racism, they were glad to see it give capitalism the flush too. Obama will be "reviving the role of regulation in the US; [devising] tax policies to smooth out increasingly wide socio-economic divides; planning a health-care system appropriate to the country's wealth", said the paper.

All the commentators misunderstand Obama's triumph. They see in it a yearning for truth and a stretch for progress. It is nothing of the sort. The last thing voters want is the truth; they will reject it if it is put in front of them. Instead, what they want is diversion from the real world in short, a fantasy. Something to entertain them. Something to buoy them up. And they want it most earnestly when the weight of reality threatens to drown them.

You'll recall from last week, the last period of Great Calamity 1914-1945, with its wars, epidemics, Dust Bowls, hyperinflation, Great Depression, mass murders, bankruptcy and revolutions. It was in the middle of this period that Americans elected Franklin Roosevelt, who told them they had "nothing to fear but fear itself". It was all in their heads! It was a whopper but it was the whopper they wanted to hear.

And then, on this side of the Atlantic, Britain chose Winston Churchill as prime minister, in May 1940. Churchill crossed his fingers and put his hand behind his back immediately, claiming Britain was not fighting to save its overseas empire, but to "save the whole world". He promptly kicked out any official who was "exercising a disturbing or depressing influence", that is, any who dared to tell the truth about Britain's disastrous military situation. Weeks later, in France, after suffering the most humiliating defeat in their history, the French recalled an old man to power, Philippe Petain. The hero of Verdun made the French feel they had salvaged their dignity, if not their honour. At the time, France's fantasy seemed on more solid ground than Britain's... which just goes to show how unreliable history can be. Sometimes make-believe becomes real; usually, it doesn't.

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Back in the USA, the Bush administration worked hard to make people fearful with its torture chambers and preposterous "threat levels", failing miserably to provoke terrorists to blow up even a trash truck. But now, the mob sweats and for good reason. Fear has replaced greed. Losses in equities worldwide top $25trn. In US housing alone, some $4trn has disappeared. That's why Obama won; it has nothing to do with national redemption or Sarah Palin. When the world was safe and plush, the mob wanted to feel the frisson of danger. What the public wants now is safety: a movie with a happy ending, not a horror flick. Obama appeared the calmer, more intelligent, candidate. Voters could imagine him as the "black Roosevelt", giving soothing fireside chats and telling them the lies they most wanted to hear.

And so, in the national narrative, one cockamamie bamboozle takes the place of the one that went before. Americans were supposed to be fearful; now they are supposed to be confident. They were supposed to be racists; now they are supposed to be colour-blind. They were supposed to protect the whole world's freedom; now they give up their own last liberties hoping to hold onto their last dime.

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