Power, Privilege, and Climate Change: A Tale of Two Presidents

From Common Dreams:  http://www.commondreams.org/view/2013/02/09-0

by Joseph Nevins
Published on Saturday, February 9, 2013 by Common Dreams

As I watched a video of Barack Obama delivering his second inaugural address last month, and listened to his call to “respond to the threat of climate change” lest we “betray our children and future generations,” I could not help but think of another president.

Indeed, the very holding of the event at which Obama spoke is one indication why it is not to the occupant of the White House that those concerned global warming should look for inspiration, but to someone else. After all, there is something disconcerting about hearing about the need to fight climate change—to reduce the gargantuan greenhouse gas-related footprint of the United States in other words—at a huge event that was both unnecessary and expensive. Obama was already president of the United States, so why another inauguration?

No doubt, the answer illustrates how the nation-state relies to a significant degree on performances to reproduce itself. This is especially the case in countries such as the United States where the benefits that the state actually delivers to its citizenry are increasingly meaningless in terms of everyday wellbeing. In a country in which more than 20 percent of its children live below the official poverty line, for example, approximately half of discretionary U.S. government spending is dedicated to its enormous, global military apparatus and what is called “homeland security.” (Under a Nobel Peace Prize-winning president, U.S. military spending rivals that of all the rest of the world’s countries combined.)

But the event is also a manifestation of U.S. wealth and power. As one historian stated in endorsing Obama’s decision to hold the inauguration, to “let it roll,” a U.S. president “is part of the most elite club in the world,” and a second-term president “the most elite within the most-elite club.”

Such elitism is costly: while the final price tag of the inauguration won’t be known for months, it will certainly be many tens of millions of dollars. According to The Economist, security alone for what it called “the three days of revelry” totaled around $100 million.

Continue reading at:  http://www.commondreams.org/view/2013/02/09-0

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