Obama and Diplomacy

Now that he is the presumptive Democratic nominee, Barack Obama is going to face increasing criticism that he is naïve on foreign policy. His willingness to talk with “enemy states” defies the prevailing political realist view that nation-states should act to maximize their own power and self-interest. The doctrine of political realism makes no room for a politics that is oriented toward changing relationships among parties in a way that furthers the larger good. It cannot conceive of anything even like a larger good, except perhaps for some kind of balance of power that allows one’s own state to retain the upper hand. In short, the politics of political realism is a politics of bellicosity and power-as-stick.

If indeed Obama is rejecting this kind of politics, is he being naïve? Only if political realism is truly effective. But the fact is that it is not. Throughout the world over the past two generations, at the domestic and international levels, productive change has resulted from a politics geared toward creating better relationships between parties. Ethnic divisions heal better when the parties find common ground, not when one party vanquishes the other. International relations improve after years of dialogue at all levels, from governmental, to unofficial (like the old Dartmouth conferences), to people-to-people exchanges. The lesson is that power-with is much more formidable than power-over. If we want to be truly realistic about making the world a safer place, and maintaining a respected role as an international leader, we need to reject political-realist bellicosity in favor of a politics of relationship building.

Barack’s Mother

What an impressive woman Barack Obama’s mother — Stanley Ann Dunham Soetoro — was, much more than just “the white woman from Kansas.”  From today’s New York Times:

Kansas was merely a way station in her childhood, wheeling westward in the slipstream of her furniture-salesman father. In Hawaii, she married an African student at age 18. Then she married an Indonesian, moved to Jakarta, became an anthropologist, wrote an 800-page dissertation on peasant blacksmithing in Java, worked for the Ford Foundation, championed women’s work and helped bring microcredit to the world’s poor.

She died at 53 from ovarian cancer, but what a difference she made in her short but intense life, a difference that may carry on in the values she instilled in her two children, one who just might become President.

20th debate

I’m watching the debate tonight in Ohio between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. I’ve actually cringed for Hillary. Such bad, even embarrassing responses: complaining that she’s being “picked on” first and picking fights over insubstantial matters. This is clearly last-gasp maneuvering. You can almost see it in her face — this is all over.

The issue that still gets me is health care. They spent the first 17 minutes debating it. But neither seems at all interested in discussing the merits or demerits of a single-payer plan. By that I mean that all people would pay into one plan — getting us lots of economy of scale — and that this plan would then pay for your trip to your own local doctor. I know single payer is controversial. But it’s worth debating. And I’m missing a debate on that now.