Recently, film maker Spike Lee commented extensively on President Obama’s presidency. He made some very potent observations on where we are racially in America. How does one assess the Obama presidency? Is he a liberal extremist, as portrayed by the Right, or is he a moderate or, even a conservative – as compared to mainstream Democratic ideology? To be certain, he came into office riding a national wave of “hope and change.” The adulation he received was widespread and the euphoria intoxicating! America had elected its first African-American President. We had entered a “post-racial era” at last. Even abroad, the World largely welcomed the breath of fresh air emanating from America. He found himself greeted with enthusiastic optimism. The colonialist Neo-Con Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld “Sword of Damocles” had been lifted.
The reality is much different. Now disgraced former senator and 2004 Democratic Vice-Presidential Nominee, John Edwards, put forward an image of “two Americas,” back when he was a serious candidate for the presidency in 2008. Of course he spoke largely in terms of America’s economic divide. If fact, there are two “two Americas.” One economic and one racial. They are, however, closely related and overlapping. On one hand there are more Black millionaires and billionaires than ever. On the other hand, there are more Blacks in prison, as well. And Black poverty still widespread and unemployment alarming. There are more White millionaires and billionaires than ever and there are more middle-class and poor White Americans in poverty, or on the verge of it, since the Great Depression.
President Obama’s lasting legacy has yet to be written but, since we are in the midst of his campaign for a second term we must look at his recent accomplishments and failures through several different lenses. This is a progressive, liberal site…so most of its subscribers and readers will naturally view Obama through a softer lens. Then there is the lens of Sarah Palin’s “lame-stream media,” unobjective and biased (which it’s not). Finally, there is Fox News…the propaganda ministry of the Republican Party and the Far-Right. So Obama’s legacy – as it stands now – is all a matter of perspective and ideological bias.
Is he Barack “Hussein” Obama, a fire-breathing, radical Muslim socialist? Is he just plain Barack Obama, a moderate pragmatist? Or, is he actually Barry Obama, rather conservative in ideology and governance, as some might claim – due to his willingness to compromise with those further to the right? Or, is he any combination of the above? One thing is certain; he came into office with a huge electoral victory and an impressive popular vote majority. A mandate to govern? Depends on who you ask. He fashioned a broad coalition and ran a very skilful campaign. Governing, however, is not so easy. He accomplished a great deal with the aid of Democratic majorities in Congress. I won’t list them all here. You can read the box score elsewhere. That didn’t last very long, however. With the passing of both Robert Byrd and Ted Kennedy, the filibuster became de rigueur in the Senate.
Should he have spent so much time and political capital on healthcare, or…should he have focused solely on improving the economy and bringing down unemployment through some much-bolder, massive New Deal type public works (infrastructure, etc.) agenda? As an older (65) unabashed Liberal, who often heard first-hand accounts of the utter misery of the Great Depression, the abject poverty and despair experienced by tens of millions of Americans…I wanted both. Mick Jagger said it best: “You can’t always get what you want.” As a one-time Republican myself… I confess…, if given only one choice, I would have gone with the economy, because my earlier, more-conservative fiscal views on the national debt, etc. told me that America’s economic power and prosperity were in serious jeopardy and weakened our national defense (I’m also a veteran). I would have left healthcare for a second term. I was wrong. I supported Hillary Clinton over Obama. I was wrong.
Getting back to Spike Lee’s observations, the American electorate (statistically a minority group) is largely uninformed and unsophisticated about economic theory and political ideology. I have a Facebook friend in California in her early fifties, who asked me the other day to explain exactly the difference between Democrat and Republican and between liberal and conservative. I found myself dumbfounded. For further evidence of this lack of understanding of basic civics, just watch any of Jay Leno’s “Jaywalking” segments. You’ll see him interview college students who actually think Ben Franklin was a president (after all, he’s on the c-note), others who think we fought the British in the Civil War or can’t name a single Supreme Court Justice…let alone tell you how many there are. Lee’s point is that once elected, many Americans simply thought Obama was the “Black Jesus.” Mass, collective euphoria can do that folks. They bought into the “hope and changey thing” that Sarah Palin began to mock around the 2010 mid-term elections, when 42 million fewer voters turned out than in 2008. That’s only 37.8% of the voting age population! Even in 2008 it was only 56.8%. Thus, any president is actually a minority one.
Never mind that the Bush economic collapse of 2008 was much worse than we first expected (by all accepted economic indexes). Never mind that Bush/Cheney (or was it really Cheney/Bush?) drove the bus into the ditch and started an unnecessary war (Iraq). In came Obama, our new Black Superman to the rescue. How foolish and naïve we were. Economies may crumble overnight (1929 & 2008 being prime examples), but they don’t just bounce right back the next year, two years or even the next decade. They rebound gradually and despite what the Republicans would have us believe, they start from the ground up through good, pragmatic governance…not from wealth at the top, “trickling down.” The real “job creators” are the consumers, demanding goods and services and having the money to spend on them. The stimulus should have been bigger and bolder but it just wasn’t politically fashionable to further increase the National Debt.
But back to healthcare for a moment. Healthcare cost is one of the greatest drags on our economy, both nationally and on the single family. We have let the industrialized world pass us by, in taking care of our people. The Affordable Care Act is a good first start in correcting that, even if it doesn’t yet offer a “public option.” So Obama was right to go there first. He achieved something that has eluded many past presidents. As to my earlier question on just what Obama is, I think he’s a very pragmatic, shrewd politician. He couldn’t risk going all-in on a “Medicare for All” approach, for fear of having the Right scream “socialism” and erode his modest mandate to govern by deconstructing the weaker elements of his coalition (Reagan Democrats, etc.) who had taken a chance on him. So, being pragmatic, he compromised and accepted the Mitt Romney/Heritage Foundation model, “the individual mandate” approach. One designed to eliminate “freeloading,” an often used right-wing dog-whistle battle-cry. You know, like “welfare queens” and lifetime unemployment insurance benefits. Rather than socialized medicine it was actually a gift to the healthcare industry. What company would not want more customers? They screamed “socialism” nevertheless.
What happened politically, however, goes to the title of this article. I know…I took a while to get there, didn’t I? Instead of embracing the fact that Obama actually compromised and went with their idea, they (meaning the Republican Party) were hell-bent on regaining power. Even at the cost of abandoning their own ideas and further wrecking the economy. Through their deep-pocket corporate sponsors and propaganda ministry (Fox News) they created a movement, the Tea Party! You can argue all you want about it being a “grass-roots” movement. Bullshit. “Communism,” “Socialism,” ”Facism,” along with racist signs and slogans peppered Tea Part rallies. The organization and promotion came, not from the ground up as claimed, but from the top down. Pull back the curtain please.
While originally motivated only by a lust for power at any cost, the Republican hierarchy let the racist genie out of bottle and are now powerless to either put the cork back in or pretend to control their creation. It now controls them. “What ye sow, so shall ye reap.” That doesn’t mean, however, that they won’t still orchestrate this anti-tax, anti-Obama ”keep the government’s hands off my Medicare” rabble” Nor does it mean they won’t patronize whenever possible. Anyone happen to notice the Black couple conspicuously positioned in camera view, right behind the podium at the Paul Ryan Veep rollout? How many other faces of color did you notice in that crowd…any? Planting the seed that they’re a party of inclusion…give me a break! Great optics though, just like Dubya, constantly seen with uniformed troops and flags, flags…oh, so many American flags everywhere and all the time.
We are seeing it play out now in this campaign. “Class Warfare” they scream, “welfare checks without work” they lie, “Muslim infiltration” they claim. Every low-grade dog-whistle, racist message being employed, right from the Joseph Goebbels propaganda playbook, to bring down our first African-American president. “If you tell a lie long and loud enough people will start to believe it.” Yes, John Edwards was largely correct…there are two Americas. Not just economically, however. There is still the America of “Hope and Change.” An America that, on the left and in the middle, is moving “post-racial,” even if not quite there yet. But there is also an America on the right (and the far-right) that is not even “post-racist” and they have now taken over the Republican Party. I’m not saying that the Republican Convention will be a KKK Rally complete with white sheets, pointed hoods and a traditional cross burning. It’s actually more insidious than that. When it’s peopled by convention delegates, some of whom were recently sporting Tea Party Rally signs portraying the president as Hitler or Stalin or a monkey or with a noose around his neck…what other conclusions can we reach that don’t beg or justify such comparisons?
So now, the Republican Party, once the party of Abraham Lincoln, the Great Emancipator, has come to moral bankruptcy and eventual (I hope) ruin. It began economically with the excesses of the Gilded Age, the 1929 Wall Street Crash and the Great Depression, followed by discredited Reaganomics, deregulation and an incompetent Bush. Socially and racially it began with hatred of the Civil Rights Movement and now, new laws threatening the Voting Rights Act; all facilitated by the “Southern Strategy” begun in 1968 with Kevin Phillips’ blueprint, “The Emerging Republican Majority” (a must read for electoral demographics fans). With the rise of the Tea Party, the once proud party of Lincoln has sold its very soul to the devil. May it rest in eternal damnation! And thank you Spike Lee.
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