The legendary Godfrey Hodgson, author of essential books and reports on the United States, a journalist with The Observer and then The Sunday Times Insight Team when they were in their prime, and in later life the head of the Reuters Institute in Oxford, has died, aged 86. Full obituaries can be found in the newspapers, The Guardian’s is here.
This is just a note to acknowledge the remarkable series of articles, a masterclass of analysis and observation, that he wrote for openDemocracy.
The first was a month after 9/11 when he reflected on a theme that he had written about at length: that the US thought of itself as “the exceptional country”. Americans thought they had created a model for the world and believed it was only a matter of time before the rest of us, everywhere, would come to see this. Perhaps, Hodgson suggested, more in hope than expectation, the shock of the terrorist assault would finally make America realise it was not the exception after all.
The most striking contribution Hodgson made, however, was not in any single article or essay, like this. From April 2004 to November 2011, he wrote 80 articles on American politics, sometimes monthly. These track the decline of the Bush presidency: with brilliant characterisations of George W. Bush’s flaccid character, class background and corruptions; the pathetic grovelling of Tony Blair seeking American influence; and the rise and victory of Obama, which is coolly observed.
Masterly overview of Obama’s presidency
With a sure, sympathetic eye, and superb foresight, Hodgson feared for the coming frustration of Obama’s presidency: a plea in Obama’s second month of office not to waste the financial crisis; a swift recognition of the “reality gap” opening up before the inexperienced president; an assessment after six months that there was “too much emphasis on personality”, while handing management of the economic crisis to friends of Wall Street would prove catastrophic; a masterly overview in November 2009, where he quotes Lyndon Johnson that the nature of the presidency means, “You have got one year”, and sets out how Obama has lost it.
With respect to the Republicans, in 2010 he grasped that with the ‘Mad Hatter’ rise of Tea Party, the mid-term elections were “a clash about the moral nature of American society”, one that would “decide the fate of Barack Obama’s vision of national renewal”. He was not optimistic. Indeed, the Democrats lost control of Congress and Obama was broken politically, with all the consequences that followed.
In the same article Hodgson offered an explanation, before the fact, of what was to come, a sure sign of his feel and understanding for the coming disaster: