The du­bi­ous legacy of Barack Obama

Jamaica Gleaner - - ARTS & EDUCATION -

Ti­tle: Hope­less: Barack Obama and the Pol­i­tics of Il­lu­sion Ed­i­tors: Jef­frey St Clair & Joshua Frank Pub­lisher: AK Press, USA

SUP­PORT­ERS OF the 44th pres­i­dent of the United States will cringe at the ti­tle, Hope­less: Barack Obama and the Pol­i­tics of Il­lu­sion. It is a ti­tle that sug­gests in­ep­ti­tude and fail­ure. Sadly, it ig­nores the crip­pled econ­omy that he in­her­ited. Un­der his watch, the United States re­cov­ered hand­somely – the bulk of its armed forces stretched thin on two battle fronts re­turned home, and, of course, Osama bin Laden was neu­tralised. And there is more.

Obama’s sig­na­ture do­mes­tic pol­icy achieve­ment, the Af­ford­able Care Act (Oba­macare) sur­vived a Supreme Court chal­lenge; he re-es­tab­lished diplo­matic re­la­tions with Cuba; signed the Paris Ac­cord on cli­mate change; im­ple­mented the Dodd-Frank re­forms that pro­tect con­sumers from fi­nan­cial-in­dus­try abuses; and ne­go­ti­ated a deal with the Is­lamic State of Iran that cur­tailed its nuclear am­bi­tions.

But as com­pelling as these achieve­ments and poli­cies ap­pear, they may not be enough to award a pass­ing grade to the pres­i­dent.

Hope­less is a com­pi­la­tion of ar­ti­cles that traces the me­te­oric rise of Obama from his ac­tivist years as an Illi­nois se­na­tor to the na­tion’s high­est of­fice. His nat­u­ral star power was en­abled by a slick cam­paigned oiled with hard cash. Some $52 mil­lion “was spent on me­dia, con­sul­tants, im­age mar­ket­ing, re­search, and tele­mar­ket­ing,” ac­cord­ing to Pam Martens’ “Obama’s Money Car­tel.”

Obama once called for re­duc­ing the in­flu­ence of money in pol­i­tics, a call that is for­ever drowned by the drum­beat of Wall Street.

In ‘Obama’s Sell­out on Taxes’, by Michael Hud­son, this tru­ism jumps at you. He writes: “Obama has only done what politi­cians do: He has de­liv­ered up his con­stituency to his cam­paign back­ers — the same Wall Street donors who back Repub­li­cans.”

Notable is that the many con­trib­u­tors of this study can­not be dis­counted as con­ser­va­tive hacks will­ing to dis­credit ev­ery pro­gres­sive pol­icy. In fact, many are crest­fallen lib­er­als. There is no at­tempt here to dis­miss or ig­nore Obama’s mag­netic ap­peal and in­fi­nite po­ten­tial. Praise, though, is parsed and para­dox­i­cally de­liv­ered, as in Franklin C. Cpin­ney’s ‘The Afghan War Ques­tion’. On the one hand, Obama is lauded for his or­a­tor­i­cal gift and in­tel­li­gence, but later dis­par­aged for his “lack of moral courage”.

Through­out, there is a stub­born ar­gu­ment that the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion is un­will­ing or in­ca­pable of pro­ject­ing power.

From a hem-and-haw for­eign pol­icy that puz­zles al­lies and em­bold­ens ad­ver­saries, the US has sur­ren­dered its geopo­lit­i­cal clout, ac­cord­ing to many of the writ­ers.

Some ed­i­to­ri­als are more provoca­tive than oth­ers. In ‘The Novo­caine Pres­i­dency’ Kevin Alexan­der Gray ar­gues that the lot of blacks has de­val­ued un­der Obama. “Many blacks, re­gard­less of class, see them­selves and their as­pi­ra­tions in Obama and the threats against his life only strengthen that sup­port.” He ar­gues that the pa­tience of blacks has en­abled Obama “to get away with not say­ing or do­ing any­thing that would favour black in­ter­est, and do­ing things against their in­ter­est, like bail­ing out Wall Street fat cats while ev­ery­day peo­ple are cast adrift.”

Gray goes on to cite stag­ger­ing sta­tis­tics on black un­em­ploy­ment. “[A]s wealth, poverty, ed­u­ca­tion, and health dis­par­i­ties be­tween blacks and whites grow wider”, [and] “as the num­ber of black home­less, job­less, and in­car­cer­ated in­creases, there is a host of ques­tions blacks need to find an­swers to and act on ... . What is the change they need, and who leads the fight?”

He ends with a chill­ing pro­nounce­ment: “[I]f Obama is not part of the solution, he’s is part of the prob­lem. Right now, he’s the lat­ter. And he bet­ter look out if the novo­caine wears off.”

In Wa­ja­hat Ali’s Obama’s Im­mi­gra­tion Re­forms: Nei­ther Hu­mane nor Thought­ful, the pres­i­dent is as­sailed for the de­plorable con­di­tions at im­mi­gra­tion cen­tres. He at­tributes this to out­sourc­ing “core pub­lic func­tions to pri­vate ac­tors ... with­out an en­force­able sys­tem of reg­u­la­tions ... . ” Ali ar­gues that “as a result of the cur­rent im­mi­gra­tion pol­icy, over­pop­u­lated, re­mote de­ten­tion cen­tres house im­mi­grants who are de­nied mean­ing­ful contact with their lawyers, ac­cess to le­gal re­sources to fight their case, proper med­i­cal care, and contact with fam­ily mem­bers”.

In­ter­est­ingly, Ali blames the mas­sive in­flux of im­mi­grants from Cen­tral Amer­ica on the Hon­duras coup d’etat that was or­ches­trated by the Obama Ad­min­is­tra­tion. The dis­rup­tive US in­ter­fer­ence is ex­am­ined in the in­trigu­ing ‘The Hon­duran Coup: A US Con­nec­tion’ by Conn Hal­li­nan.

Hope­less is study in political lead­er­ship, geopol­i­tics, geo-economics, and pub­lic pol­icy. We con­clude that the job of US pres­i­dent is con­strained by party pol­i­tics, spe­cial in­ter­ests, and lob­by­ists. In­deed, what con­sti­tutes a great pres­i­dent is some­times de­ter­mined by prov­i­dence and the un­pre­dictable forces of history.

It is within this con­text that Obama’s wins must be weighed against his losses. We have al­ready noted his vic­to­ries. But his de­trac­tors call at­ten­tion to the fol­low­ing: a con­tro­ver­sial agree­ment with Iran; a be­lea­guered health-care plan that has weighed downed the mid­dles class; a bank­rupt im­mi­gra­tion pol­icy; a pro­nounce­ment that cli­mate change is an ex­is­ten­tial threat to civil­i­sa­tion (and not ter­ror­ism); a ‘red line’ bluff in Syria where 500,000 peo­ple have died and an­other 3,000,000 dis­placed; a record num­ber of de­por­tees in 2013; and a trou­bling silence on violence wreck­ing black com­mu­ni­ties. When the dust clears, Obama’s sup­port­ers can only hope that history will be kind. Rat­ings: Highly rec­om­mended

Send feed­back to glenvil­ or fol­low him on Twit­ter @glenvil­leashby.

Glenville Ashby


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