Juan Cole at Informed Comment writes today about Barack Obama’s big shoes to fill.  This kind of talk excites and terrifies me, but I’m also easily excitable and easily terrified.  I have been deeply disappointed with Obama’s silence on Gaza, concerned that, as so many have pointed out to the Obama die-hards I know, he’s still a politician.  And a good politician, at that.  Which is often scarier, because the guy knows how to do the job of a politician.

The story he tells about the Kings visiting Ghana for the official handover of power from the British high commissioner to the Ghanaian government is very powerful, especially when told from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s own speaking about the experience.  Like many, I am concerned about the U.S.’s imperialist tendencies abroad, especially those which have flourished in the wake of 9/11 under the Bush administration.  But I think there are two kinds of imperialism that are prevalent today.  It’s not just the overt imperialism of the past — even though the U.S. continues to fight overt and covert wars of empire in the Middle East and South America.  The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the continued existence of the School of the Americas are all testaments to that.

The other imperialism that is prevalent today is an imperialism of economy.  While Barack Obama can do a wide variety of things to end or curtail the kinds of military imperialism practiced by the U.S., flouting imperialism of economy is a bit more complex.

Let me be clear here: I don’t mean, by imperialism of economy, just that the U.S. has a great deal more control over what happens in the world economy, because this is really no longer all that true.  Rather, I mean that the capitalist ethic of consumption and material wealth as a measure of success and happiness.  How you administrate a breakdown in that kind of imperialism is beyond me.

Don’t think that I don’t remain hopeful.  I’m very excited to see what the next four years brings.  I think Obama will at least bring a fresh face and fresh eyes to the White House, which sometimes is the best we can hope for.  At this point in our history, just getting that is a big step.  At the very least I’m thrilled that a man of color has been elected president, and I’m glad that I will be represented abroad by someone who conducts himself with a certain level of grace and dignity.