Can we?

The election of Barack Obama as the next president of the United States has been enthusiastically welcomed around the world and is loaded with symbolism. After a campaign focused on hope, change and the power of determination, the 47-year-old son of an African immigrant mobilized his country’s youth and minorities, all those who took little part in politics, drew them out into the streets and into the polling booths. In transatlantic terms, he brought politics back onto center stage as a collective possibility, with a slogan emphasizing the first person plural: «Yes, we can!» He sent a message to Europe, a far more complex and disparate place, which is skeptical, worn out and lacking in any convincing unifying vision. He showed up the lack of European leaders with any vision, historical perspective or emotional intelligence, as well as the fatigue of the left, which has been Europe’s driving force for two centuries. Apparently still reeling from the shock of 1989, Europe’s left is still fluctuating between the Third International and compliance with controversial modernism. During its power-sharing, social democracy has been marked by corruption, arrogance and a cynical abandonment of the welfare state. It has lost its traditions and its contact with new arenas of competition. At the same time, the European left has been marked by a hypocritical self-righteousness. It has rejected anything that smacks of the state, nation or society in general, leaving all that to the extreme right. Instead of talking about social emancipation, it has talked about the deregulation of markets. While Greeks have been moved by the sight of Obama praising his country, none of our leaders have dared to use similar rhetoric. They are either afraid to do so, or believe that «Yes, we can» only applies to the empire, not to its protectorates.