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UMaine Today Magazine


Horizon of the Possible
[-
Back to Election 2008-]

Michael Howard, Professor of Philosophy

Michael Howard
Michael Howard

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We are approaching
what could be the most significant shift in the American political landscape since the 1960s, and not just because Barack Obama is likely to be our next president. Although, remarkably, he will be the first African-American president, and has consistently opposed the Iraq war, one must also acknowledge his hawkish stance toward Iran, his pledge to continue the embargo against Cuba, his commitment to an excessive military budget, and an unwillingness to commit to universal single-payer healthcare. For all the talk of change he is still a cautious politician—and if that is what it takes for him to defeat the much more conservative John McCain, so be it. Nor am I hopeful simply because we may have a Congress, for the first time in decades, with a sufficient Democratic majority to pass into law some progressive legislation.
 
What I am most hopeful for is that in such a political environment, it becomes possible to move the horizon of the possible, to begin to put on the agenda and get a hearing for the most urgent issues of our time, which must include:

  • weaning ourselves from fossil fuels—more quickly and thoroughly than is currently being proposed—to try to avert catastrophic consequences from climate change

  • finding a solution to poverty domestically and globally

  • reversing the growing inequality in the U.S. and the world

  • altering our long bipartisan policy of global military dominance, using our declining strength to usher in a world governed by law and justice

  • reforming the media and our electoral process so that ordinary people count as much in the process of opinion formation and decision as people with power and wealth

These problems are interrelated and require bold solutions and courageous leadership. There is no effective solution to climate change without fair sharing globally of the burdens of a transition to a sustainable economy. Giving up the use of military force requires a willingness to negotiate and give up privileges, and to make real commitments to the abolition of poverty and the reduction of inequality that generates conflict. There are powerful forces opposed to such change, and they have a disproportionate influence over the media and politics. Obama and other elected Democrats will not give us the change that the world needs unless we organize ourselves and demand it. This requires that we take initiatives in civil society, bypassing governments where possible, educating and mobilizing for political action where necessary, through the mainstream media and outside of them.

We cannot expect leadership from the politicians alone, who veer toward the center. People need to redefine the center by mobilizing for the common good against the resistance of corporate media and entrenched interests in both parties, or change will be more talk than substance.

The people mobilized during the New Deal, and later in the social movements of the 1960s — union organizers, community activists, freedom marchers, anti-war protesters, artists and writers — did not achieve everything they sought, but remarkable changes occurred because of their efforts to reach beyond the horizon. We are standing on the threshold of such a time.

 

UMaine Today Magazine
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