November 21st, 2008

Barack Obama

Old Analyses of New Paradigms

One of the things I do on the Internet, and have done for years, is manage the Larry Niven Mailing List, "larryniven-l @larryniven-l.org." We don't restrict our discussions to the works of Niven. We're Sci-Fi geeks, and we talk about all sorts of subjects, including, of course, Star Trek. And every time Trek is discussed, some of the economically-conservative folks on the list spout off about how Star Trek's "United Federation of Planets" is communist. It isn't. It's been explicitly stated that it isn't. In fact, the economics of the Federation is a science-fictional projection, just like "Warp Drive" and "Phasers" and "Vulcans." Gene Roddenberry said in numerous interviews that a new economic model has evolved by Star Trek's time, making it unnecessary for people to slave away at a job, making it possible for everyone to have what they need to live and live well, and freeing people to devote themselves to improving their own lives and society instead of just keeping a roof over their head and food on their table. You can't define Star Trek's economics as Communist, Capitalist, or an Anarcho-Syndicalist Commune. It's something new that we can't imagine now, and any attempt to judge it by the standards of some known economic model are doomed to failure.

I've been thinking about this a lot watching news coverage of Barack Obama's transition. The Punditocracy has again and again criticized various moments in the transition as bungles, stumbles, or amatuerish errors. They started with Conservative Republican Butthead Joe Scarbrough (*Special note to  tariana: he's not a butthead because he's a Conservative Republican. He's a butt-head because he's a butthead, and I have no doubt he'd agree with the characterization.</span>) who called Rahm Emanuel's on-camera discussion of the pros and cons of accepting the post of White House Chief of Staff a gigantic and amateurish bungle two days after the election, and continues with expressions of bafflement over the public discussion of the negotiations with Senator and President Clinton over vetting and conflicts of interest as they work out how to make her Secretary of State.

The Press apparently covered an entire campaign based on the premise that this is not your father's politics, without ever realizing that this is not your father's politics. It is, rather, a vastly more open, honest, transparent kind of politics, where as much as possible does happen in the public view.

I lived from 1981 to 1986 in Germany, and more than once, during the beginnings of the Iran Contra scandal, I was asked by puzzled Europeans, "What is this American insistance on doing your dirty laundry in public?" I would always answer, "We do our dirty laundry in public because, afterwards, everyone can see that it's clean." 

There's not going to be much room for anybody to say that some sneaky back-room crap went into these appointments, because we're seeing all of it. 

It's not a bungle. It's a new kind of politics, and the old kind of analysis just won't cover it.