Monday, June 16, 2008

Is Barack Obama Flirting with the Banality of Evil?

If I am going to try to examine a candidate for President of the United States through the lens of Hannah Arendt's concept of the "banality of evil," then I feel obliged to begin by being clear about my terms. The best way to do this is to return, once again, to Tony Judt's reflection on that concept:

But if we wish to grasp the true significance of evil—what Hannah Arendt intended by calling it "banal"—then we must remember that what is truly awful about the destruction of the Jews [in the Holocaust] is not that it mattered so much but that it mattered so little.

Alongside this text, I wish to consider a comment by Uri Avnery on Barack Obama's "performance" at AIPAC, as reported in the Truthdig comment by Tony Wicher:

AFTER MONTHS of a tough and bitter race, a merciless struggle, Barack Obama has defeated his formidable opponent, Hillary Clinton. He has wrought a miracle: for the first time in history a black person has become a credible candidate for the presidency of the most powerful country in the world.

And what was the first thing he did after his astounding victory? He ran to the conference of the Israel lobby, AIPAC, and made a speech that broke all records for obsequiousness and fawning.

That is shocking enough. Even more shocking is the fact that nobody was shocked.

In other words "nobody was shocked" because everyone has become so benumbed by political-business-as-usual that, in the grand scheme of maneuvering for electoral votes, that speech "mattered so little." The United States has become the new model of Arendt’s banality. Claiming that our current President is responsible for our achieving that status is not the whole story. The rest was told by Walt Kelly: "We have met the enemy, and they is us."

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