The Lost Opportunities of Barack Obama
It was just three short years ago when much of the United States, and the rest of the world, thrilled to the idea of the ‘audacity of hope’ and ‘change we can believe in.’ After eight disastrous years of President George Bush, years of escalating poverty, war, fear and the hatred of the United States by much of the world, it seemed that a new day was about to dawn.
The man to usher in this Utopia was a young, African-American senator, a man who could galvanize a crowd with his moving, inspiring speeches. He promised a new beginning for the United States; voters, young and old, male and female, of all religious and ethnic groups, responded to his message.
Now, a year before the next presidential election, the hope and change that were promised are no more than tarnished political sound bites, the clever rhetoric of yet another politician in statesman’s clothing.
One can look at the continuation of two wars, the stalled economy, and the inequality of the tax structure that places the burden on the dwindling middle-class that can ill afford it, while the wealthy reduce their taxes through various advantages and loopholes.
This week, Palestine will apply to become the 194th member country in the United Nations. The achievement of this goal would be profound. Palestine would then be in a position of power, not equal with Israel, but having a voice far louder than it has ever had before. Just a year ago, Mr. Obama said he looked forward to Palestine’s membership in the U.N. within the next year. That, of course, was before Israel slapped the U.S. in the face once again, and expanded settlements on disputed territory, thus shutting down the already long-pointless negotiations. Palestine, with no leverage to force Israel to negotiate seriously, decided to go to the U.N.
This may appear to be part of the ‘Arab Spring,’ this time of uprisings against, and the overthrows of, repressive governments in the Middle East. Mr. Obama has hailed these revolutions as the democratic actions that they are: popular movements of people finally fed up with the horrific actions of their oppressors. And now, one would think, a true U.S. statesman would welcome and encourage Palestine’s bid for membership in the U.N. A nation that has been occupied for generations, whose citizens suffer cruelly at the hands of their oppressors, is seeking relief for its people. Isn’t the U.S. the world’s brightest beacon of human rights?
It is, if conditions are right. If the lobbyists and organizations that line the campaign coffers of the U.S.’s elected officials approve; if it will not alienate some vocal constituency; if it will produce photo ops that can be used in a future election, then the U.S. will always endorse any democratic movement for human rights.
Unfortunately, these conditions are not often met. South American countries that elect leftist presidents; Middle Eastern countries that elect leaders hostile to U.S.’s pets: these democratic movements must not be tolerated. Capitalist democracy that supports the needs of the rich over anyone else (thus following the U.S. model), and that doesn’t offend Israel, will always be endorsed. Any other version of democracy isn’t really, in the eyes of the U.S., democracy at all.
Can anyone imagine a United States where its leaders did what was right, rather than what was politically expedient? Where the safety nets for the poor were strengthened, even if it meant that the local CEO had to keep his or her Mercedes for two years, instead of just one? Where there was something more important than individual power? Where ego took a back seat to service?
It is difficult to visualize such a United States. Many people believed, however naively, that the U.S. was on the verge of such an actuality as the inauguration of Mr. Obama approached, back in January of 2009. That seems, today, so long ago. While Mr. Obama cannot be blamed for all of the problems that continue to plague the country, he must take responsibility for many of them. For the first two years of his term, his party controlled both houses of Congress. During that time, his major achievement was a watered-down national health care policy, better, certainly, than what the U.S. had before, but a far cry from what other countries, such as Canada (where this writer resides), have. But costly, wasteful and useless wars were not ended; the infamous prison at Guantanamo Bay was not closed, although its population was reduced. The tax cuts that Mr. Bush gave to the wealthy were not removed, further sinking the country into economic ruin.
The hapless Mr. Obama seems to be like the prize-fighter who just doesn’t know how to use his strength. When the Republicans shriek ‘class warfare’ about a modest proposal to tax the wealthy at the same rate as the middle-class, Mr. Obama says barely a word in protest. When Israel spits in the face of the U.S., expanding settlements in disputed territory against the expressed wishes of the U.S., Mr. Obama still continues to say, with a straight face, that a negotiated settlement between the Israelis and Palestinians is the only way to peace.
The Palestinian’s latest effort for justice will, in all likelihood, be rebuffed at the Security Council, where the U.S. has vowed to veto it. But it will be accepted by the General Assembly, which will not provide the same advantages as recognition by the Security Council, but will still be a game-changer for the Middle East. The U.S., of course, will once again be on the wrong side of justice and human rights. But the powerful lobbyists will be pleased, and in twenty-first century America, that is one of the only constituencies that counts. The other important constituency can be found at your local country club, enjoying its various amenities.
Robert Fantina is author of ‘Desertion and the American Soldier: 1776–2006