When Tony Blair became the British Prime Minister back in May 1997 there was a genuine -- if entirely unwarranted -- belief that a caring, principled government, antithetical to the Thatcherite/monetarist dark days of yore, would summon a bright, new dawn. But, as some ancient, neglected, bearded Victorian once said, "the executive of the modern state is but a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie" -- and caring and principled never, ever come in to it; bombing often does.

Similar enthusiasm to that which Blair cooked-up has greeted Obama. There is no reason here to rehearse the understandable reasons for the frenzy and joy that has been unleashed by the election of America's first Black President -- and, you know, who isn't glad to see the back of Bush? -- but, just a few weeks in, and we've already seen a Torture Ban that Doesn't Ban Torture and Obama-sanctioned airstrikes that have killed 22 in Pakistan. The status quo remains thoroughly entrenched, and business as usual means the Obama years, like the Blair years, will be bleak for the poor and the powerless -- and full of bombs.

Chomsky's new book of interviews What We Say Goes: Conversations on U.S. Power in a Changing World is as useful, thought-provoking and insightful as ever, and out next week. Also noteworthy is the recent re-release of Mark Achbar and Peter Wintonick's film on Chomsky's politics, Manufacturing Consent - Noam Chomsky And The Media, which includes an excellent bonus disc of interviews including: a 1969 episode of Firing Line with William Buckley, Jr; a 16-minute WGBH interview with Chomsky and John Silber; a half-hour debate with Michel Foucault; a 41-minute interview with the film makers; and an hour and a half 2005 Harvard University debate between Chomsky and Alan Dershowitz.

Someone else who fought against bombs:

Long before her fame as a writer began to take hold, Grace Paley was already involved in political activism. From early immersion in supper time family political squabbles, to high school political engagement, later expressed in local politics, Grace became a constant presence in protests against nuclear proliferation, the war in Vietnam, U.S. military encroachment in Central America and was a central figure in the peace movement until her death. (More at Grace Paley: Collected Shorts.)

Readers Comments

  1. Mark, thank you so much for posting this. We all miss Grace terribly!

  2. And thank you for that sobering, if painful, comparison between Blair and Obama.

  3. Tom Wednesday 04 February 2009

    Thanks, Mark.

    It's important to acknowledge that while “the status quo remains thoroughly entrenched” (from a particular Victorian perspective), the process of governance – and hence the relation of rulers and ruled etc., – deserves a little more attention to its details.

    Paradoxically, I think it's useful to look away from the Monumental (unprecedented) aspects of “The Change” (first Black President / first non-White President, first Educated President, first President to play the Intellectual card, etc.) which has the consequence that we fixate upon the euphoria while missing the substance and genuine difficulty of politics.
    Turning away from the Monumental aspects allows us to see the finer points of the Obama administration. On one significant point, the recasting of diplomacy with Iran, for example, as opposed to Bush's thuggery, has the potential to usher in a fundamental shift in international relations.

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