Eugene Jarecki, Danny Glover Are Cautiously Optimistic About Barack Obama

“The first thing is, we don’t all live here,” director Andrew Jarecki explained while introducing a short talk by his brother Eugene to the small crowd gathered in his mother Gloria‘s Upper East Side apartment on Wednesday night. The celebration was in honor of Eugene’s recently released The American Way of War, a book about the American military-industrial complex (he also directed a documentary, 2005’s Why We Fight, on the subject). In addition to talking about the contents of the book, Eugene also discussed the ascent of Barack Obama.

“This history of how we got here doesn’t belong to one party or another,” Eugene said. “Honestly, Eisenhower was a Republican and it was the Democrats in his day who were trying to make him more militaristic and spend the bigger defense budget. Today it might be Barack Obama who wants to pull it back, and it might be the Republicans or the Democrats who stop him. What matters to those in Congress is where their money comes from. Where their money comes from is ultimately where their power comes from, and he’s up against all that. The only thing that we can do to help him is that the public step up to the commitments we made during the campaign and continue that in an unrelenting way. I don’t think people really register how important that really is. Without that, there is no engine for change–he’s just sort of a screen that we’re going to project our desires on. He gives me a really good feeling as a person, but that doesn’t really matter.”

During a brief question and answer session, the actor Danny Glover observed, “We’re going to have to make a new step despite ourselves. This movement that we seek, this movement–a campaign is not a movement. This sense of movement that’s happening around the world, it’s about time we caught up with that. I mean, Latin America has two women presidents, there are people of color as presidents all around the world.”

After the talk, we asked Eugene whether he thought Mr. Obama seemed committed to living up to his promise of change so far.

“There are already elements of policy that are not consistent with what peoples’ hopes are. Here you have Barack Obama, who captured the hearts of the nation in many ways by being one of the lonely voices that stood up to the Iraq War. To see him during the campaign start to talk about increasing military spending at a time of economic crisis, to hear him talk about increasing troop presence in Afghanistan–a country that has seen decades of war–and at this point, honestly begs the question, ‘Why Afghanistan?’ Why not places that might be more directly related to terror planning against America,” he said. 

“It’s too soon to judge. He’s just starting,” he added. “You can’t speculate about the content of a man’s soul. It’s like a black hole, you can’t see what’s there, but you can see the asteroids and all that stuff shooting out from the side. The Obama camp, such as it is, is putting out energy so far that strikes many as a bit centrist, a bit from the Clinton years. It’s a bit bellicose–saber-rattling toward Iran, saber-rattling toward Osama bin Laden. What’s the point of that at this early stage?”

So, was it safe to say he wasn’t in favor of Hillary Clinton‘s potential appointment to the State Department?

“I don’t look at this in the evaluation of individuals because again, I don’t know how to speculate on the content of a person’s soul. I only know that if the Obama camp is going to send us a signal, as a society, that they are truly reflecting the systemic change and overhaul that the American people want … Well, I don’t think anyone from a past administration or past Washington politics strikes one as that. Then again, it’s perfectly understandable that some members of his administration will be part of an old guard, because you’ve gotta get certain things done. But how far do you push that pragmatic argument before you have to make that argument for everyone in the administration? Then it isn’t going to look a lot like change. It will be a balancing act and, if Hillary is one side toward sobriety and pragmatism and all that, and on the other side is someone much more challenging to our sense of the status quo, then that will be a healthy balancing act.”

Later, Andrew, who is best known for his documentary Capturing the Friedmans–one of his subjects, Jesse Friedman, was in attendance–told us he is working on a feature starring Frank Langella, Ryan Gosling, and Kirsten Dunst (who was also there).

Finally, we spoke with Jehane Noujaim, who directed 2004’s Control Room, a documentary about the the coverage of the Iraq war on the Arab news station Al Jazeera. We asked her whether she had any thoughts about Mr. Obama’s attitude toward the Middle East: “I have no idea how he’s going to deal with the Middle East. I think he has said things like we have to engage people and we have to use diplomacy, words like that give me hope. Willingness to have conversation and engage with people that you don’t necessarily agree with, I think that’s a positive, but I really have no idea.”

Eugene Jarecki, Danny Glover Are Cautiously Optimistic About Barack Obama