Will Obama Face the American Reality?

As I write (19.32 PT) the networks have noted that there’s no path to 270 electoral votes for the McCain campaign; once the counting moves a little farther along Obama will show the required number of electors to win the US election. For the half a million or more waiting in Grant Park, Chicago to celebrate the victory, one more speech about change and hope probably awaits.

Tomorrow begins the education in reality. And so the question turns to: will the new American President actually deal in reality?

Fantasy land, for instance, assumes that the current drop in the price of oil and petrol are a return to “normalcy”. Reality recognizes that global petroleum supplies are strained, and becoming more so, as producing countries use more and more of their own production, as production is absorbed in greater quantities in more places in the world, and that therefore the future is far more like Atlanta and region experienced this fall — shortages, a failure to deliver product, no oil at any price — and that therefore a country whose entire economy is based on cheap road-based transport, many miles of commuting daily (by car, and especially for running the errands of modern life), big box shopping, etc. just cannot be sustained as is.

Fantasy land believes in alternative fuels, even though the EROEI (energy recovered on energy input) for, say, ethanol, is at best 1:1. A century ago, one barrel of oil produced 100 new ones. Today, in the US oil fields, one barrel of oil produces one barrel of oil, and slightly less than one barrel-equivalent of alternatives. Reality says our great petroleum-based society must be reconfigured, with new infrastructure, and far more locality of production.

Fantasy land believes that financial capitalism and ever-increasing growth will be resumed just as soon as the looting of the US Treasury and the treasuries of many other countries bears fruit and bails out the financial sector. Reality says those days are gone, and we must not only earn our way forward, we must pay off the accumulated debts of the past while we do it. (For Canadians, who saw Chrétien and Martin “balance the books” through tax increases and the destruction of provincial finances, the pain of the 1990s will be as a pin-prick compared to the national car crash complicated by cancer that is America.)

Fantasy land believes that “we owe our debt to ourselves”. Reality recognizes that it is owed to others — who are getting nasty about redeeming it. Fantasy land says there’s no problem financing ten times as much debt per month as the amount to be financed a year ago. Reality knows that the end of this game is very near, and that deficits cannot be run. To have universal medical care, 500+ overseas bases and at least one fleet must be retired — the US can no longer have guns and butter.

As with another pioneer from Illinois, Obama will face challenges no less potentially fatal to the American Union as were Lincoln’s travails as the Confederate States seceeded, with the Civil War to follow. Let us hope these are not personally fatal, as Lincoln found them to be.

A President — and a Congress — that deals in reality in the United States would be a most welcome change not only for America, but for the world. Happy Election Day, my American friends. May you rediscover your Republic and forgo your Imperium, burying it as the last dregs of the twentieth century that it is, carried over by Bush-Cheney even as the calendar changed.

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