This is an invitation for anyone with a constructive commentary on President Obama and his administration to add it to this Blog.

The President

The President
Obama looks ahead

Monday, August 15, 2011

Obama's America

Michael White

The trials of the first Black President

Barack Obama’s administration can be viewed from three main perspectives, what he thinks of himself; what he does; what others think of him. Four things about the man himself stand out and define his presidency: his nature and upbringing, his trust and confidence in human nature; his propensity to conciliation rather than confrontation and total failure to believe, accept or acknowledge that there is prejudice of the vilest kind operating against him in “post-racial” America.

Obama’s predisposition for compromise and his aversion to confrontation, which under normal circumstances would be hailed as most desirable Christian traits, have placed him often in the unenviable position of seeming weak and indecisive.

From the outset Obama made an irreversible commitment to changing “the way Washington does business”; this was his dominant rallying call. Yet, this was somewhat na├»ve, and really underestimated the strength of his opposition’s determination to block and frustrate every one of his initiatives. Changing a culture assumes a willingness or even inclination of the culture to change; this is true whether you are talking about a family, a corporation, a parliament, or a country. A man cannot single handedly change a culture, especially one diametrically opposed to his very existence. He did not anticipate the strength of the Republican pushback.

Thus, the first and most persistent obstacle Obama was to confront throughout his first term, was a devilish opposition in Congress which, as an article of faith, made the decision to “just say no to everything” he proposed, however valuable or critical to the country’s growth and the peoples’ prosperity. It really is difficult to imagine a group of “tribal leaders” in even the most backward and primitive of nations who would deliberately choose to sabotage their country’s economy and cause the prolonged suffering of many of its people just to ensure that the leader fails and is not returned to office. There is the smell here of the miscreants in Somalia, preventing humanitarian aid from getting to starving multitudes.

Obama’s presidency started off confronted with distractions relating to falsehoods propagated by opponents, notably birtherism, his not being a real American, not being Christian (and thus lying about his own spirituality), that he is a Socialist, a Muslin; and a man who, in Sarah Palin’s eternally stupid phrase, has a tendency to “pal around with terrorists.”

Obama has not, even now, come to grips with the “hate” motivation of his opponents even after they have depicted him in the most derogatory terms and with the most vindictive images, such as a savage with a bone through his nose. He could not imagine and, less, come to grips with, the sheer personal venom directed at him from all the Republican leaders and commentators in and out of Congress.

Forgotten or minimized in all the talk across America about the country’s problems is the central fact that many leaders in the Republican Party, have vowed to make Obama a one-term President and are determined that his Presidency should fail!! Think about it, the people who are to work with the President to make things such as employment happen, are vowed that they will not help him in any way to achieve this goal. This must be the first President that has had to deal with such a resolution. A lot of the conversation among the pundits about what Obama should or should not do, ignores this reality. Why? Why is it so difficult to grasp that this presents a major constraint to action?

It is also difficult to comprehend the failure of commentators in America to grasp the disproportionate impact of wealthy vested interests in using their media advantage to influence national thought and policy. These vested interests with their vast resources, have unabashedly manipulated, controlled and directed the story through media advertisements in the great debates such as health care, the President’s citizenship, and corporate fiscal policy. This is of course a total perversion of democracy.

The first fight that Obama was drawn into, which he lost, was his identification with Reverend Wright. This fight started before his inauguration but it was the first test case raised by his opponents. He resolved it by disconnecting from the Church where he and his family nurtured their faith. Of course, a man’s faith, whether he is president or not, is an intensely personal affair. Yet his resolution foretold the pattern of his response to sustained pressure.

Obama tackled Health Care early in his administration because he was passionate about bringing to every other citizen the same health care benefits Congress enjoys; he also needed a key area of national life in which to make a great and lasting impact. That focus ensured that dealing purposefully with other important issues like jobs, while at the same time navigating through a recalcitrant Congress, took a back seat, never mind his justifiable argument that fixing health care was essential to fixing overall economic growth. And the problem is that his health care thrust was predictably met by the promised opposition; so despite his success, it was twisted by the Republicans to make him look ineffective. Nevertheless his success in passing this legislation showed a hard-nosed determination, an aspect of his persona that he is not often willing to display.

In the spirit of reconciliation, Obama made a calculated decision at the outset of his administration, not to seek to punish anyone who was in any way responsible for the financial meltdown under his predecessor’s administration. Part of that was because, for personal humanitarian reasons, he wanted to avoid imposing any unnecessary embarrassment on George Bush; part of it was to keep to his maxim of starting Government with a clean slate, that is, changing the way Washington does business. This writer would like to have heard the Obama-Holder debate about this decision. Sounds noble, but somewhat counterintuitive, since to start afresh, someone has to be held accountable for the damage that has been done, if only for the purpose of ensuring any recompense that may be necessary.

Thus, not only were the Banks and Wall Street not held to account after wantonly squandering the national wealth and jeopardizing the livelihoods and lifestyles of millions of citizens, but were even more emboldened to continue to profiteer at the expense of the economy and the unemployed poor. How could such a policy ever be justified? It is paradoxical, although easy to understand in the political context, that these same baled-out organizations are now the ones in league with the Republicans in keeping anything positive from happening in the Obama Economy.

Not wanting ever to appear racially motivated, Obama has run from, or kept a safe distance from race issues; perhaps the one exception was the one that led to the famous beer summit; he seemed to have learned from this particular experience that he would not be forgiven for even the appearance of taking a side in a racial dispute. He was, of course, correct in this judgement. After all, he is the first black president and for this, in the minds of his detractors, he should be grateful.

Inheriting an economy on the brink of ruin with massive debt and unemployment, Obama was forced to ensure as his main initial priority, that the whole financial structure of the country did not collapse. He also saw the need to bolster the major American corporations, providers of millions of secure jobs, at risk of going under. At the time when this was, and still is, opposed by the Republicans, his action in restoring the auto industry, was a stellar achievement.

From hindsight, the choice for priority focus should have been immediately getting people back to work. The jobs debate and jobs bill to which he is now “pivoting”, should have been Job One, and his economic advisers should have insisted on this. But one gets the feeling that this was not their area of expertise or dominant interest.

Not that creating jobs was not given some priority. The “stimulus” in principle was a good idea, but it clearly was not focused enough and sufficiently based on the real opportunities for economic growth or stimulation in the economy. It incorporated, as a concession to opposition voices, too much tax relief and too little financial investment in potential growth sectors, like construction and rehabilitation of civil works. The auto-industry model should have been applied to other sectors, with the focus on small business growth and expansion, from the very start of the administration.

In many public pronouncements Obama has repeatedly emphasized the importance he attaches to job creation; yet, after every critical issue he deals with, there is an outcry, particularly from media commentators, for him to introduce a jobs plan! As if he has never thought of it and they, the commentators, are the ones concerned about jobs and solutions. This is just amazing.

The underlying assumption behind the behaviour of the Republicans in Congress is that the American electorate is dumb and stupid. Everybody knows or should know by now that there are bills pending in the House that if passed would immediately result in significant job creation. John Boehner on vacation, leaves the indolence of the golf course just long enough to make a statement with the usual aggression, asking Obama: “Mr. President where are the jobs?” All Boehner has to do is forego a session of golf, dry his tears and convene the House for one day and pass, for instance, the transportation bill that would result in considerable road building works and jobs. Even intelligent commentators and analysts like Chris Matthews, fall into the trap of Boehner’s deceit, repeatedly asking why the President does not build roads and bridges to put people to work. If a reflective sympathiser like Matthews can be deceived by this, what hope is there for the ordinary man and woman?

Obama receives hefty doses of criticism from friends and foes. I have observed that there is a temperamental difference between Republicans and Democrats; in general Democrats come across as far less willing to lie their way through a problem or to start a lie and to stand resolutely by it through thick and thin. In a way it matches the President’s own temperament as the lead Democrat. There is another palpable difference, Republican commentators and strategists never, on any matter, trivial or substantive, speak against their own; democratic sympathisers are frequently, presumably in the interest of fair play and justice, far more critical when their man even appears to go wrong.

America has a system of “Government by catch-phrase”. One of the most paradoxical is: “He now owns the economy”. That is a conclusion the pundits and parties unceremoniously force on the new President after a certain imaginary period of about 1 to 2 years in office. How does a man after two years, own an eight year old emaciated economy, especially when half of the Government can decide to, and have the ability to deliberately block every initiative the President proposes?!

Republicans framed Obama’s presidency around the ‘Big Government’ argument: Government is too big in America and too intrusive in people’s lives. And that at a time when the country is in a state of near collapse and requiring all the Government intervention it could get. So even with Obama’s single handed salvaging of America’s most prestigious industry, the auto industry, he is at the same time, having to defend himself against the big government argument. He gets almost no credit for saving the one industry that most characterizes and symbolizes the success of American capitalism, an industry whose roots go long and deep into the American economy.

The American system of Government can work when it is based on integrity, honesty and reason; when the fundamental values of fair play and justice are in place and honoured. The assumption must be that everyone is acting from the best of possible motives and that actions will be taken that are in the public good. Otherwise it cannot work; when the checks far outweigh the balances you have stalemate and dysfunction.

So now that it is necessary to invest in infrastructure projects to get Americans back to work Obama is virtually immobilized by the box in which he has allowed others to place him. Following his initial efforts to stabilize a drowning economy, Obama was drawn into a deficit and debt debate which diverted attention from what he knows is the real malaise in the society: unemployment and the lack of productivity.

Friends as well as enemies have criticised Obama for being too timid; too intellectual, too professorial, better as a professor in a classroom than a manager in a global enterprise. It was so important for him to have captured the illusive Bin Laden. In his mind he must have thought that the success of the mission should settle the issue once and for all, and in a way it did, for a while; he should have known, however, that whatever victory he accomplished in the military arena, his enemies would immediately pivot the conversation, as they did successfully, to another assumed weakness. He should perhaps have been as bullish on the economy as he was on the wars that others started.

Obama’s Afghanistan war commitment was initially justified. It was predicated on the conviction that the threat from Al Qaeda emanated from that country and that for the security of the United States, that safe haven should be permanently disrupted. Prior evidence had suggested that this is where the main leaders of the terrorist organization, including Bin Laden were holed up. But he lost an opportunity on the capture of Bin Laden in a most unlikely arena, to pivot (that word again!) away from his commitment to intensifying the war in Afghanistan. Instead he initiated a mystifyingly slow draw down of troops; mostly I believe for fear of reigniting the tired debate about his weakness in use of American military strength. But to be fair, it may be that his calculation is that maintaining a strong presence in Afghanistan is the surest way of maintaining vigilance against terrorist organizations in that part of the world which includes Pakistan.

Americans like the notion of their military prowess and global ascendancy; they dislike the news of causalities of war. Going to Afghanistan to protect American security is good; staying in Afghanistan amid news of soldiers being killed is anathema. A President, any President has to, in the public mind, reconcile the irreconcilables. But since he can’t, he has to deal with the clamour which periodically erupts at the end of each battlefield tragedy, to end the war and bring the troops home. (By the way, the terrorists are exactly the opposite; when their troops die they are emboldened to become more vocal, committed and aggressive).

Similarly, he has been far too slow to pull out completely from Iraq; strangely those members of the opposition who are eternally hawkish about the war- all wars - give him the encouragement and moral support he needs to stay engaged in the Afghanistan war; so he chooses to be happy at their side rather than the side of his friends; it’s mostly about his conciliatory temperament, and making Washington work.

Another common American system catch-phrase is: “there is enough blame to go around”, used continuously by actors on the political stage who refuse to admit their culpability for their wrong choices. The truth is that in much of the great disputes one party is dead wrong and the other right. The Tea party’s insistence on no taxes and reduced spending by Government was the single predominant cause of the debt ceiling debacle and the near economic catastrophe. The blame is not to be diluted by being spread around; it is to be placed squarely on the backs of the culpable Tea Party Republicans led by Cantor!!

In conclusion I want to raise one more issue. It has to be brought into question whether Obama selected the appropriate advisors and lieutenants. Leaders select, organize and reorganize teams. It is important in selecting a team to choose sound advisers on whose judgement you can depend, from the start to the successful conclusion of the project. Obama in two years has lost several of his key advisers. Why did they have to bail before the job was done? Too much dependence on advisers with too little knowledge will inevitably lead you down the wrong paths.


Michael White

Arriving at the Waterloo Station

Those who naively thought that racism had quietly died when Obama was elected President of the United States had lost all sense of reality. There is a common saying in America which every young boy has heard a thousand times, that it is possible for anyone to become the President. To most white men, that is a reference to one of them, not to a black boy from….Hawaii (read Kenya!!)

Men like Eric Cantor, John Boehner, Mitch “Midget” McConnell, Joe “ You Lie” Wilson, Jim “Waterloo” DeMint, John “macaque” Allen, John “That One” McCain, Dick “ Karl Marx” Armey, Newt “Con Man” Gingrich, Haley Barbour, and Mitt Romney, could never accept that a Barack Obama would be the one for whom this prediction would materialize; to them the 2008 election was an unpardonable aberration, and an attack on the Constitution and on their divine rights that a black man would precede them as President. How presumptuous of him! They are seething with rage and the outlet for it is their recurrent “no” vote and their mean-spirited accusations and denunciations of the President.

Can you imagine if a black man would succeed in cleaning up the mess in America that a white President left behind? Can you not feel the pain of humiliation that implies? Also, can you not imagine how difficult it would be to dislodge the party of that President if he succeeded? If that should happen how then could, for instance, Boehner, McConnell or Cantor or the other pretender to the throne Tim Pawlenty, all with few or no chances by virtue of age, ever inherit their birthright and become President as their fathers promised? No way! This presumptuous (I think they say “uppity”) black man has to be brought to ruin- meet his Waterloo- at all costs. Hence, the “no” to every measure proposed by his administration or “regime”.

In the much touted 2008 US elections an estimated 136 million Americans voted. A little over 65,182,692 votes went to Obama, and 57,212,032 to McCain. Obama gained a cool 52.5% of the popular vote against John McCain’s 46.2%. This was a remarkable result on a number of levels as a diversity of Americans -blacks, whites, young and old -voted into office the first black American president, the most powerful man in the world. This was touted not only in America, but worldwide as a radical transformation of American politics, the beginning of a new era in American society and of, believe it or not, a post racial society.
A whole lot of “post-racial” white Americans defied American history by voting with the majority; without them Obama could not have won. What I am saying in this piece has to be viewed in this context, or it is just unhealthy, alarmist racist commentary. I have known personally too many right-thinking, decent and progressive (small “p”) white Americans over the years to fall into that trap.

What we must note is that of those who voted, pretty close to half voted against Obama. Buried in that number, amongst the many reasonable white men and women who voted for the right reasons, were all the haters, the diehard racists and bigots to whom it was and continued to be anathema to defile the people’s house with a “man of colour.” These latter did not overtly demonstrate their anger and discontent at the time; they bided their time in the shadows until circumstances provided the opening they knew they would soon precipitate to wear their hearts on their sleeves. They went underground; they stooped to conquer in due course, humouring their misguided compatriots.

The peers, heirs and successors of the KKK are out of hiding and are as virulent and purposeful as ever!!!

Of course, these good folks have long replaced their hoods with the even more ludicrous tea bags dangling from their hats, and instead of flaming crosses, they today sport inflaming placards, but it is all the same thing; now we have the sons and daughters who stood as innocents on the backs of their fathers and in the arms of their mothers as Wallace brought out the fire hoses to stop little black boys and girls from attending a white school, or as the beatings and lynchings of black men proceeded before their innocent eyes but very conscious impressionable minds.

Thanks to the maverick-iness of John McCain, the underground movement of bigots were provided with the anti hero they were waiting for, Sarah Palin, as their rallying point. They flocked to her as bees to a flower; she was the perfect image to put up against a black man in redeeming American “values” and “virtue”. The misguided and manifestly unintelligent Sarah Palin was able to read the tea leaves and play the American bigots like a violin. We are made to understand by the crazy part of America, that this woman, God forbid, may yet succeed President Obama as the leader of the free world!!

Beck and Palin, the messiahs of the bigoted subset organize a rally to commemorate the famous Civil Rights march on Washington, rightly anticipating a full crowd of their anti-Obama supporters. It’s like an old time southern Rally. The Rally speeches, like those of the predecessor Klan jamborees, are cloaked in Godliness- clearly a god who is decisively on the side of racism, prejudice, lies, ill-speaking, hatred, anger, jealousy and animosity.

Grandmaster Beck, Pretender Palin and the passionate Pastor who lauded his leader at the Rally should all have begun their sermons with the invocation “LET US PREY”…on the ignorance, the fear and the pathological hatred of the majority of their audience.

Who could miss the outstanding sprinkling of black faces glowing in the darkness of this Beckian masquerade? No surprise here. From the early slave traders, to Jim Jones to David Koresh to Glen Beck, crusading, crafty, devious, demented, pernicious white men have always been able to cajole a selection of misguided black people to join with them in working against their own interests and their own kind. It is a gift.

Then there are these black luminaries who are really like crabs at the bottom of the barrel, who mistakenly think they can regain some traction for their failed personal aspirations, among white people, by bringing Obama down: the likes of Alan Keyes, Larry Elder, Ron Christie. Ah, Ron Christie, what a piece of work; a sad failed architect of the Bush-Cheyney fiasco now determined to rewrite history to look kindly on him and cover his tracks. These types are blind to the fact that, like Michael Steel, they are laughed at and loathed behind their backs by those they seek honor from. They see themselves curiously, as somehow not included in the disgust of the haters.

Back to the famous Beckian-Palin Rally. Let us say that the bigots were a mere 10% of those who voted against Obama; that would be some 5.7 million people. Then let us say that only a modest 10% of these attended the Beck rally as a demonstration of their solidarity and hatred of Mr. President, that would be a mere 500,000. Let us be conservative and say it was only 5% who attended, that would take us to our 250,000 which Beck claims to have been in attendance. Why would such an attendance surprise anyone? I can see all the haters gladly wanting to be part of the re-honoring of America! They would be as motivated as Klansmen to come out to the party. These people and their personalities are accurately represented in the film “ Mississippi Burning.” Beck and Palin would do well to organize a public viewing of this remarkable motion picture for their fans, who would then have an opportunity to look at themselves!

Constantly during his infamous rally and dramatic plea, with the usual crocodile tears flowing, the latter day saint Beck brazenly invokes God, apparently egged on by a devoted bunch of men and women of the cloth too blind or self-deluded to see through that rascal’s manipulation, overt racism and hatred of the first black president. God is, however, not mocked. They should be careful of the wrath they may be calling down on themselves and on the church in America with their hypocrisy and their false religiosity.

When is the new black truth revolution going to start in earnest in America? When are the voices going to be combined in a mass movement with the likes of honest and fearless white men and women like President Carter, Ed Schutz, Joan Walsh and Keith Olbermann? Where is the genius David Plouffe anyway? Where is the super silent majority of Blacks, Hispanics, Jews and other people of hope who couldn’t wait to shout their approval on election day?

Why are the positions of manifestly racist clowns like Boehner, Cantor, McConnell and Armey still so dominant in the American dialogue? Were the folks who genuinely tried to move away from America’s dark racial “whites only” past, lulled into a false hope and security by the apparent Obama victory? Now would be a good time to wake up from this sleep of forgetfulness and get some heads out of the oilly coastal sand.

Don’t get me wrong. I have issues with President Obama. There are times when he seems to me more interested in political victory than in doing what God raised him up to do. I know I am not on the same ground as some of my liberal friends on some matters of faith, but how can a Christian be neutral on or even support the scourge of abortion? Why can’t he take a principled stand on promoting the word of God in schools and public places? Why can’t he say unequivocally that gay marriage is against God’s law for man? What is he afraid of? If God is for him who can be against him? Who does he take counsel from on matters of the Spirit? Why does he allow a miscreant like Beck to seem more spiritual than he is?

I have noted a weakness, an achilles heel in President Obama; he is afraid of the condemnation of his loyal opposition; from time to time he rises above this fear and launches a veild counter offensive. But in general he is over-respectful of Republicans to the point of weakness. His administration hurriedly brings down Shirley Sherrod without due process or cause, but comes out in strong defense of the lame headed Republican Alan Simpson, who is adamantly against the fair and just positions. Periodically he or his spokesmen take unfair shots at the members of his party that support him most consistently. It is unbecoming.

The President took an extraordinarily long time to recognize the obvious truth of what the brave Ed Schultz has been shouting to him for months: that the Republicans are playing a game and never had any intention of cooperating with him in any way. He played the bi-pattisan card to its limits with disastrous results.

His blindness to John McCain’s patent chicanery is to this observer one of his greatest blunders. I think Obama with his very big heart believed that he could trust John McCain, who he never failed to applaud as a true American hero. John McCain is one of the most dishonest, self serving and untrustworthy politicians in the United States, and I believe President Obama still has not, even at this late stage, seen through McCain’s duplicity. It is not an accident that McCain was the one who unleashed the hero of the bigots Sarah Palin on an unsuspecting American public. Things have a way of working together, though not always for good.

Obama kept silent through the intense left-right debate over the public option, resulting in a disappointing compromise Health Bill which eventually lost him a lot of popular support. He has this unimpressive tendency of remaining out of the fray and letting things drift till a watered down version of things prevails. It makes him look spineless, which we know he is not.

His behaviour as President can be seen in several national issues as weak and indecisive, while he tries to play it as keeping a campaign pledge not to do politics as usual. But despite all his effort to be faithful to the pledge, one of the most sustained and effective attacks upon him by the right is that he has not kept his election promise to be bi-partisan. It’s a game and he should be smart enough to beat his adversaries at it.

In September 2009 that sage among US Presidents, Jimmy Carter, spoke the truth loud and clear to his country when he reiterated his belief that racism is an issue for President Obama in trying to lead the country.

In the former President’s words:"When a radical fringe element of demonstrators and others begin to attack the president of the United States as an animal or as a reincarnation of Adolf Hitler or when they wave signs in the air that said we should have buried Obama with Kennedy, those kinds of things are beyond the bounds," the past President told his audience at Emory University."I think people who are guilty of that kind of personal attack against Obama have been influenced to a major degree by a belief that he should not be president because he happens to be African American.” He continued: "It's a racist attitude, and my hope is and my expectation is that in the future both Democratic leaders and Republican leaders will take the initiative in condemning that kind of unprecedented attack on the president of the United States."

The former President's comments were made soon after his statement that racial politics played a role in South Carolina Rep. Joe Wilson's unruly outburst during Obama's speech to Congress and in some of the opposition the President has faced since taking office.

My amazement is that so few people seem to know or want to articulate the obvious truth of this. Carter was one of the brave and honest ones and he got bashed left, right and centre.

What is sad is that President Obama openly declared that he did not support what Carter so accurately presented. Was he again catering to the hostile, fearsome Republicans? It would have been better for him to have kept his tongue than to defend Carter’s critics, and in the process put the gentleman Carter in a position of him seeming to be wrong for speaking the rather obvious truth!

Carter knows of what he speaks, being a white man raised in the South. "I live in the South, and I've seen the South come a long way, and I've seen the rest of the country that shares the South's attitude toward minority groups at that time, particularly African-Americans….I think an overwhelming portion of the intensely demonstrated animosity toward President Barack Obama is based on the fact that he is a black man, that he's African-American," Carter told "NBC Nightly News." How can anyone deny that?

Of Course, after this regrettable turn of events Carter has kept a respectful silence to Obama's loss. Did he lose one of his best and most perceptive and erudite advocates?

The great educator comedian Bill Cosby later put the matter in clear perspective with this statement:"During President Obama's speech on the status of health care reform, some members of Congress engaged in a public display of disrespect…. While one representative hurled the now infamous 'you lie' insult at the president, others made their lack of interest known by exhibiting rude behavior such as deliberately yawning and sending text messages." Cosby as usual is so correct!

James Baldwin, long, long ago, told us about another country. This is it, America in a disguise that cannot last; not when it is telling the rest of the world that it’s system is best and should be imitated globally, not when it takes up arms and puts its youth “in harms way” to plant and enforce that system in countries far away.