Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Cassandra complex

One of the most common complaints among progressives is that we seem to never get credit for having been right about important issues. This complaint has had a breath of new life in the wake of Barack Obama’s appointments of Iraq War hawks to his national security team. People like Salon.com columnist Glenn Greenwald are asking, where are the cabinet positions for those who opposed the invasion of Iraq in the first place?

I’ve had the personal experience of this phenomenon myself, as I’ve written earlier. Before the war started, I was writing about the lack of evidence for Iraqi WMDs, and how intelligence was being manipulated. With few exceptions, this was not a story getting much play in the corporate media, which had been beating the war drums from the beginning. I watched in horror as the inevitable unfolded. The only surprise for me, when it turned out there were no WMDs, was that none had been planted after the fact.

The phenomenon of having your predictions disregarded has sometimes been referred to as the “Cassandra complex.” The name is derived from a character in the Iliad. Cassandra was the sister of the Trojan hero, Hector, and was so beautiful that she attracted the favor of the god, Apollo, who granted her the gift of prophecy. When Cassandra demurred from his attentions, Apollo turned the gift into a curse. Cassandra was still able to see the future, but no one would believe her warnings, and she could do nothing to change the unfolding of events. A curse, indeed.

What prompts today’s post is a rare example of progressives getting credit for being right. I’m reading the new book by Andrew Bacevich, “The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism.” Bacevich is a retired Army colonel, and professor of history and international relations at Boston University. He’s also a longtime opponent of the Iraq War who’s had the tragic experience of losing his own son as a casualty in that conflict, and a clear-eyed realist about American imperialism.

Last night I read this passage:

“Many Americans remember the 1960s as the Freedom Decade—and with good cause. Although the modern civil rights movement predates that decade, it was then that the campaign for racial equality achieved its greatest breakthroughs, beginning in 1963 with the March on Washington and Martin Luther King’s ‘I Have a Dream’ speech. Women and gays followed suit. The founding of the National Organization for Women in 1966 signaled the reinvigoration of the fight for women’s rights. In 1969, the Stonewall Uprising in New York City launched the gay rights movement.

“Political credit for this achievement lies squarely with the Left…Pick the group: blacks, Jews, women, Asians, Hispanics, working stiffs, gays, the handicapped—in every case, the impetus for providing equal access to the rights guaranteed by the Constitution originated among pinks, lefties, liberals, and bleeding-heart fellow travelers. When it came to ensuring that every American should get a fair shake, the contribution of modern conservatism has been essentially nil.”

It would be nice to think that some of Obama’s new national security team would be taking Bacevich’s views about the rot at the heart of American foreign policy into account. Too bad he’s a fellow Cassandra.

1 comment:

Jordan said...

" [central authority]... decline is the result of the delegitimation of the state structures by their populations, itself the result of their disillusionment with the ability of the sovereign states to fulfill the liberal dream of gradual improvement in their real economic and social situation through gradual reformism. The consequence has been growing withdrawal of acceptance of state authority by the populations of the states. But this leads to disorder, and people react to disorder fearfully and by organizing self-defense groups of all sorts. And it is such groups that have been fueling the civil wars."
This is an excerpt from Wallerstein from 1999 in explaining how any civil war starts. Mainly analysing ex-Yugoslavia civil war, where i come from.
I noticed this was happening in US by Bush's inability to govern, first in Iraq then Katrina, then states indebtness. Now first clear signs are two governors refusal of federal aide from Obama and continous glorifications of governors from Republicans.
Now everything lays on Obama to return that moral authority to Federal govt. He has to repair economy and do the right things constantly in order to keep authority. He has to recover equality more then enything else. Recently Obama has started organising local groups trough Change.gov to synchronise his actions in Government with local tendencies. But these groups could turn around (Wallerstein above) if something goes wrong with his actions on Federal level. Obama is a great hope and a possible great danger that Bush layed down foundation for.
Only thing that gives me hope is Obama's awarness of seccesionist tendencies, when he called for 50 states campaign and governors meeting. It shows great intelect and perfect insigts in long period trends. Awarness itself doesn't guaranties succes, nor any known action, mostly luck. But, return of equality whether class equality or State aide equality, can lower anxieties we all feel. And we have to resist Republican propaganda.