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April 6, 2009 | by  | in Features |
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The Great Black American Hope

When host of The Daily Show Jon Stewart quipped that “The Spirit of Reform of the Public Finance System” was the name of then-presidential candidate Barack Obama’s new yacht, a tepid response shortly followed. For three minutes, the Emmy winning satirist had lobbed spitballs at the then-Democratic nominee for the Presidency’s apparent flip-flop on receiving public campaign funds. The response from his usually jovial and fanboyish crowd was muted and guarded, as if they had just seen Stewart hand out pork rinds at a bar mitzvah.

The comedian cocked a brow and shifted tone: “You’re allowed to laugh at him,” he said. The audience’s nervous giggle of a response made it clear they weren’t entirely sure they were allowed. After all, this is no mere politician being poked and teased; this is no John Kerry, Tom Vilsack, or Hillary “I CAN STILL WIN” Clinton. This is the effortlessly charming, charismatic, erudite junior senator from Illinois cum Presidential nominee, and (perhaps!) the first African American to lace a pair of kicks and shoot some ball on the grounds of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. This is Barack Hussein Obama Jonny’s tossing cream pies at—the political dynamo for the MTV generation. Does he realise who he’s making fun of?

Obama mania gulped a demographic that American politicians had been chasing with a knife and fork for years—decades even—with minor success. In the 2004 presidential elections, 54 per cent of voters aged between 18 and 29 voted for Democrat candidate John Kerry. In 2008, 66 per cent of them voted for the guy with big ears and a funny name. Democratic phone banks across the breadth of America sported a younger, more enthused look. The demographic so disenchanted and disregarded by the Bush Administration took stock in a candidate who exuded charm and a requisite humility so easy to fall in love with. He was also assisted by the fact the opposition had nominated the political equivalent of a regenerated corpse, with Marge from Fargo riding shotgun, oh dontcha know; two figures so demonstrably unlikeable they managed to turn “Prisoner of War” and “Soccer Mom” into dirty words.

He spoke their language, he appeared to understand their hopes and dreams, he talked to them as if they were adults; a visage so palpably absent for the eight years previous that it just about seemed like a perverse joke. This is, after all, the same America that gave the world Jimmy Dean’s Chocolate Chip Pancake and Sausage on a Stick, fifteen thousand variations of Law & Order, and staggeringly re-elected a man in 2004 who went on to sport a 30 per cent approval rating three years later. This is the same America who dangled the balls of jingoism and cried “TERR-RIST” to anyone who spoke with the slightest tick of a Southeast Asian accent. This was the same America who palled around with the tenets of segregation less than 50 years previous. If the election of Barack Hussein Obama to the presidency of the United States still amazed you, in the wake of 20th and 21st Century Americartoonism, then the land of the free and the home of the brave will always catch you by surprise.

Cycling Lane

Obama surfed his unicorn of hope and change over the American heartland and straight into the White House. The power of rhetoric is amazing, and Obama mobilised a nation to cast their vote for him based on the resonance of his words and integrity of his convictions—oh, and the fact he wasn’t an unbranded range animal (a Maverick™, my friends).

Obama’s unbridled power of oratory—unheard of in New Zealand political circles—marked the end of eight long years of monosyllabic platitudes, phrases and talking points. This change in the cycle of American politics was welcomed not just by Americans, but the rest of the world.

Historians and Political Scientists, AKA the people who take pleasure in pissing all over your parade, have developed frameworks that have defined the role of the American president, and constrained their actions to historical inevitabilities. Patterns emerge and similarities between presidents start to correlate. Distinguished Presidential Scholar Erwin Hargrove adapted the framework of Political Historian Arthur Schlesinger to form a theory of presidential cycles. Each and every man who has sat at the Resolute Desk has fallen into one of the following cycles: preparation, achievement and consolidation.

JFK, for example, was a preparation president. Preparation presidents are the executive construction workers who lay the foundations for those who follow. In terms of err, uh, President, err uh, Kennedy, consider the escalation of the Vietnam conflict, and the movement on Civil Rights. LBJ was an achievement president; he brought about the Great Society reforms and Civil Rights legislation through both houses of Congress (see page 30 for more on these doohackies), but also oversaw negative achievement in the napalmed jungles of ‘Nam. Dirty ol’ Nixon fell distinctly into the consolidation cycle, in that although a Republican, he didn’t undo any of LBJ’s changes. He simply followed them through to their logical and un-crook-like conclusion. The cycle then repeated itself with Carter as preparation for Regan’s achievement and G. H. W. Bush’s consolidation.

Here is where things start getting tricky for Obama. If you hadn’t worked it out already, the next cycle unbelievably puts George Dubya Bush as an achievement President. Huh? As shown by LBJ, you can have negative achievement. So after eight years of back pedalling, is it the new president’s destiny to keep this political exercycle warm for President Palin in 2016, or have the spanners of hope and change begun to loosen the theoretical frameworks?

What Has He Done?

Fox News hound dog and conservative chuckle factory Glenn Beck released a parody of the Soviet Union national anthem during the 2008 election that went a little something like this:

“All hail the Messiah Obama! Obama! The path to the new socialist motherlaaand!”

Obamaites, tetchy that their superhero had been childishly referred to as a liberal commie pink-eyed yella-bellied musl—well, not by this guy at least, but the socialist sting still pierced through—would not abide such gormless satire.

YouTubers—the idiot savants of Web 2.0—rained down merry hell upon the video’s comment section: “U DONT FU#$KIN GET IT OBAMA IS CHANGE HE ISS NO COMMIE U GAY F#$K!!!!” offered the always articulate ‘tequila _sunrise33’.

Obama’s sceptics, perhaps not as cheap as Beck or as abrasive as tequila_sunrise33, were cautious and a little uneasy about the new President’s plans. America was in the opening stanza of an economic poem few thought they would ever read: a painful and awkward narrative with a cadence bitter, sore and lingering. The new president had inherited the flood of chaos from an administration that sported an unfortunate tendency to double back whenever things needed to move forward. Political pundits wiped their brows and scribbled about how the inspirational Obama would need to hit the ground running the moment he finished his inaugural address. After all, it was only the fate of the world’s most powerful nation steadying itself on his shoulders.

Within minutes of ascending to the highest spot in the storied American hierarchy, Obama had his Chief of Staff, Rahm Emanuel, himself an artefact from the Clinton years, issue an order suspending the wash of last-minute federal regulations pushed through by the outgoing Bush Administration, pending a decisive and scrupulous review. Within three days of his inauguration, the newly minted president had frozen the salaries of Senior White House Staff earning over $100,000 a year. Within a week he had imposed harsher rules on lobbyists, forbidding those with recent ties to lobby groups from holding a spot in his White House.

“If you are a lobbyist entering my administration, you will not be able to work on matters you lobbied on, or in the agencies you lobbied during the previous two years. When you leave government, you will not be able to lobby my administration for as long as I am president,” Obama twirled during his first press conference as president.

Immaculate Election

It’s important to acknowledge at this point that despite being born in a manger of virgin birth some 2000 years ago, Barack Obama is not Jesus Christ. Like any politician entwined in the organised chaos of American politics, the slings and arrows of the game beset him. Within days of opening political limbo to those who would walk in the shadows of those who lobby, President Obama doubled back, asking that teeny, tiny crack be left open for a guy by the name of William Lynn. Lynn was Obama’s choice for Deputy Defense Secretary, but unfortunately, came sporting ties to Raytheon, a major defence contractor that specialises in missile and airborne system initiatives. In pop culture terms, it was Obama’s take on the “No Homers” club: he was allowed to have one.

Talk was rife among liberal circles on how the new president would set about reversing the atrocities committed by his predecessor (never mind what he did to the English language). The dogged spectre of the War on Terror™ lay battered and bruised at the Commander-in-Chief’s feet, with a large haematoma shaped like a naval base on the southern Cuban coast.

The detention centre known as Guantánamo Bay became an ugly symbol that plagued George W Bush’s presidency. Within its walls, the foundations of due process were seemingly brushed aside along with that oft-forgotten set of principles known as human rights. In the wake of condemnation both abroad and at home, President Obama issued an order on 21 January 2009 to suspend the proceedings of the Guantánamo Military Commission—a faux set of legal procedures designed to deal with ‘dem terra-wrist folk—and close the much maligned prison within a year.

“To overcome extremism, we must also be vigilant in upholding the values our troops defend—because there is no force in the world more powerful than the example of America. That is why I have ordered the closing of the detention centre at Guantánamo Bay, and will seek swift and certain justice for captured terrorists—because living our values doesn’t make us weaker, it makes us safer and it makes us stronger,” Obama said to a joint session of Congress in February. That being said, refining White House personnel and re-reading the barometer on human rights, laudable initiatives they might be, will stand comfortably in the shadow of the economic storm that bore down on the 44th president even before he took the oath of office.

Healing Hands

The subprime mortgage crisis, a drooling Dow Jones and the pugnacious greed and selfishness of a moneysome few were the cause of one of the most harrowing economic mauling of a generation, and the impetus for a series of carefully constructed economic packages drafted by Obama’s crack economic team. The President lobbied Congress to pass a $700 billion plus stimulus package, neatly titled the ‘American Recovery and Reinvestment Act’. The package came brandishing a bountiful bevy of economic goodies, from individual and company tax relief, to infrastructure, education and healthcare investment.

While a staggeringly important piece of legislation in and of itself, the package served as an interesting tool for measuring the reach of Obama’s bipartisan cooing. Unfortunately for the President, who pledged to speak in many different political dialects throughout his campaign, Congress voted largely along party lines, with many members of the Republican Party critical of the stimulus package.

A group of noted economic figures by the name of the Cato Institute were particularly damning of the president’s plan, and took out advertisements in a number of major American newspapers, including The Washington Post and the New York Times.

“Notwithstanding reports that all economists are now Keynesians and that we all support a big increase in the burden of government, we the undersigned do not believe that more government spending is a way to improve economic performance,” a petition penned by six Cato economists said tersely.

Nonetheless, the bill was passed, given Executive ink and became law on 17 February of this year, curiously balanced on the precipice of oblivion.

Lay Down Your Arms

While history waits for the dust to settle on the presidency of George W Bush, the lingering smoke of his foreign policy projects continue to fume and smoulder. Barack Obama not only inherited two exhaustive wars in two different countries, but the taunts and derision of a world kept at an arm’s distance by his predecessor.

Obama’s campaign championed the fact he had been steadfastly against the Iraq war from the beginning. He emphasised a need for Iraq’s people to take the chalice of democracy from the United States and her “Coalition of the Willing” and drink on its own accord. Before an audience of marines at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, the president outlined his plan to cease combat operations and withdraw from the embattled Middle Eastern country.

“As a candidate for president, I made clear my support for a timeline of 16 months to carry out this drawdown, while pledging to consult closely with our military commanders upon taking office to ensure that we preserve the gains we’ve made and protect our troops,” Obama said.

“Those consultations are now complete, and I have chosen a timeline that will remove our combat brigades over the next 18 months. Let me say this as plainly as I can: by August 31, 2010, our combat mission in Iraq will end.”

As Obama’s gaze began to lift from the former Mesopotamia, he set his sights upon the initial focal point of the War on Terror: Afghanistan. Committing 17,000 extra troops to the mountainous country, the president hoped this renewed offensive would curb the belligerent Taliban’s annual spring offensive. “The Taliban is resurgent in Afghanistan, and al-Qa’ida supports the insurgency and threatens America from its safe haven along the Pakistani border,” Obama said.

Obama’s intent was greeted not with derision, but with a desire for a clearer strategy from opposition figures. His opponent from the 2008 election, Senator John McCain, accepted the difficulties the United States faced, and moved that the new Administration would need to be patient: “It is complex. It is challenging. And I don’t see frankly an Anbar wakening—a game changing event—in Afghanistan, such as we were able to see in Iraq,” said McCain. “This is a long hard slog.”

The enormity of the task that lies ahead of the man whose presidency is all but in its infancy cannot be underestimated. A mere 76 days into his tenure, Barack Obama has a bloodied economy, two wars, and the contemptuous weight of his detractors and expectant supporters to balance. Though the framework suggests he will spend the next four to eight years consolidating, America remains hopeful—it has no reason to feel otherwise. If he in fact proves himself competent and assured in the face of such adversity, President Barack Obama may very well be the Great Black American Hope we have been waiting for.

The world is a stage, and he is director; what theatre he presents will need longer than 76 days to unfurl.

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About the Author ()

Kia ora, biography box, kia ora.

Comments (9)

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  1. Kerry says:

    Interesting perspective, J & M.

    May I reccommend peer-reviewed journals such as the Journal of Political Science, as well as your cited references of late-night TV shows?

    I’d fairly confidently affirm though, that this is not only the ‘recession of a generation’, but our Recession of the Century.

    I’ll still put money on it eventually causing as much financial re-distribution as the ’29 crash did; we just have more sophisticated central bank systems for obfuscation now (actually, as a result of the Great Depression …), so people who don’t know where to look are being merrily misdirected to believe that it’s ‘not all that bad’.

    Ask a chinese or japanese investor what’s happened to their portfolio in the past 18 months and you might understand the bigger picture. We’re just a little insulated from the global effects of the US defaults on debt, here in ‘Godzone’.

  2. smackdown says:

    hey nobody cares thanks

  3. Andrew Mendes says:

    Great job. Loved the ‘Fargo’ quote. Yah, ya betcha, yah.

  4. Why is it so funny to you guys that Obama is black? I don’t like the colour of his skin, I just imagine hes white.

  5. Gordon from Glasgow says:

    Fook tha’ Em-Jay-Oh an Jay-Jay-Wud car’ick’tars, what th’ fook is goin’ on har’?

    Wurst peece o’ gernalism EVAAAAR.

    You khaan take mai life, but you cannae take mai Salient site ah-way!

  6. Interesting reading in today’s Kiwiblog about Obama’s Cybersecurity Act 2009 and the apparent lack of coverage in mainstream media outlets. Click my handle for the link…

  7. Dr. Peter Manglethwaite says:

    Shit. Power Line’s authors typically support the conservative agenda. The Cyber Security Act has been hitting headlines on the wire and other tech based American blogs. It is one of those things that at face value looks like a good idea but can not be quantified in soundbites and so is therefore not easily covered by MSM.

    Although it is good to point out that France just thrown out a a law like our S92a experiment.

    I’m sure JJW—the big fat geek he is—has read through the CS Act and will put something up shortly about it.

  8. From yesterday’s AP newswire (link on the left):

    “The White House is considering whether to issue an executive order to indefinitely imprison a small number of Guantanamo Bay detainees, concerned that Congress might otherwise stymie its plans to quickly close the naval prison in Cuba.

    Under the proposal, detainees considered too dangerous to prosecute or release would be kept in confinement in the U.S. or possibly overseas, two administration officials said Friday. Otherwise, the White House could get bogged down for months seeking agreement with Congress on a new legal detention system.

    Civil rights advocates and constitutional scholars accused Obama of parroting the detention policies of former Republican President George W. Bush.

    “Prolonged imprisonment without trial is exactly the Guantanamo system that the president promised to shut down,” Shayana Kadidal, a senior attorney for the Center for Constitutional Rights, said in a statement Friday.

    He added: “If the last eight years have taught us anything, it’s that executive overreach, left to continue unchecked for many years, has a tendency to harden into precedent.”

    CHANGE WE CAN BELIEVE IN

  9. Tito Jackson says:

    cool update thanks real food for thought

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