01 October 09
To avoid being mistaken for a white sellout, I chose my friends carefully. The more politically active black students. The foreign students. The Chicanos. The Marxist professors and structural feminists and punk-rock performance poets." - Barack Obama, Dreams of My Father
You can hardly blame Obama. Most folks are prisoners of their upbringing. They cannot escape the mind-set that took shape in their youth. Breaking through the bounds of early instruction/indoctrination requires a plucky character. Even then, intellectual integrity doesn't always overcome the expediency of exploiting superficial truisms and old associations for ulterior motives and political ends.
It's hard to judge precisely into which subcategory Obama fits. Does he simply lack the knack to unfetter himself from what was inculcated into him, or does he by now merely use platitudes and affiliations to further personal vested interests?
But whether it's conformity or cynicism (or a convenient combination of both), the bottom line is that Obama seems to expect all global arena players to abide by Harvard conventions - to broad-mindedly tolerate adversarial viewpoints, to submit a priori that no cause is unavoidably more just than any other, and to effectively prefer ostensible Third-World underdogs with a peeve.
My country, Obama was taught at Harvard, isn't necessarily more right, democracy isn't necessarily democratic or superior, and belligerents can be soothed with sufficient sympathy, flattery and concessions. Obama's tour de force at Cairo University epitomized the ethos of post-hippie-era Harvard.
EVERY BIT as crucially formative was the enlightenment gained by Neville Chamberlain's foreign secretary, Lord Halifax (Edward Frederick Lindley Wood), at aristocratic Christ Church, Oxford. Halifax would go on to become one of the prime architects of appeasement. After hobnobbing with Hitler, Goering and Goebbels in 1937, Halifax noted in his diary that "although there was much in the Nazi system that profoundly offended British opinion, I was not blind to what he [Hitler] had done for Germany, and to the achievement from his point of view of keeping communism out of his country." Hitler's feat involved banning the Communist Party and banishing its leaders and accused members to concentration camps.
Halifax signaled Hitler that German designs on Austria, chunks of Czechoslovakia and Poland weren't altogether illegitimate in British eyes, so long as German territorial expansion was "peaceful." And Halifax, of course, proclaimed unwavering faith in Hitler's professions of peace. Old attitudes die hard. Once reputations are staked on policies, no matter how misconstrued, it's not easy to acknowledge error.
Only after the Axis bully began misbehaving with particular impudence following 1938's Munich pact did Halifax finally figure out that this wasn't quite cricket. But to his credit Halifax did agonize, even if belatedly, and he did draw some extremely cogent conclusions. "I often think how much easier the world would have been to manage," he mused, "if Herr Hitler and Signor Mussolini had been at Oxford."