Tuesday, November 11, 2008

THE FLIGHT OF THE BLACK SWAN


The flight of the black swan

From The Statesman
ND Batra

The whole world is waiting for President-elect Barack Obama, one of the most inspiring orators of modern times, to hear what he will say to the American people, now in deep economic distress, as he enters the White House on 20 January 2009. Perhaps no one could have been more gracious than President George W Bush, who said, “It will be a stirring sight to watch President Obama, his wife, Michelle, and their beautiful girls step through the doors of the White House.”

I see him hugging and folding his wife and children in his huge embrace with a broad smile, waving to the milling, swaying crowd, as if to say, “Thanks for the company, we have arrived, at last.”
A generation ago, it would have been unthinkable that the American-born son of an African immigrant married to a White woman would have the courage, “the audacity of hope”, to dream of sitting in the Oval Office. By winning the presidency, Mr Obama has elevated the White House and uplifted the American people. He might transform the US into a moral force, once again a great power for good.From the White House the Obama family will survey the past, from the coming of Kunta Kinte (Arthur Haley’s fictional-historical character from Roots) to the US in a slave ship to work in the cotton fields of the South to his liberation after the Civil War, which soon mutated into the utter degradation of segregation through the Jim Crow laws; his slow march through judicial and legislative processes, for example, the1954 Supreme Court decision in Brown versus Board of Education declaring segregation as inherently wrong and the 1964 Civil Rights Act outlawing racial segregation; and his final assertion as a human being and the dreaming about a new US where one’s character and merit, as the non-violent civil rights movement leader Martin Luther King, Jr. prophesied, would matter more than the pigment of one’s skin.

In a manner of speaking, the history of the US is the history of the Black man rising and being accepted as a fellow American by the White man. Now that Kunta Kinte is entering the White House, it’s the end of history. And a new dawn of possibilities, as Mr Obama said.It is the beginning of new possibilities at home for regenerating the US through innovation, invention and entrepreneurship, of establishing a new system of universal healthcare and financial security, of re-democratising and re-dedicating the American dream so that there will always be a second chance and failure is no stigma, and yes, you can do it.
Mr Obama built a remarkable grassroots Internet-based meta-party political machine to win the hearts and minds of the young and the old, of the entire racial and ideological spectrum, and almost got a mandate to bring about transformation in American society. But as the ravaging global financial crisis shows, Americans are so densely interconnected with the rest of the world that no meaningful change can occur unless the rest of the world is willing to cooperate, a lesson the US should have learned after the 9/11 terrorists attacks. The US cannot go it alone even in its attempt to set its own house in order without help from others, whether it is the Chinese moneylender or the Pakistani badlander.
So the question is how Mr Obama will transform his campaign slogan, “Yes, we can”, into reality.On Friday, Mr Obama, surrounded by some of the best and the brightest economists and financial experts, gave his first post-election press conference. He was cool and measured in his remarks about the state of economy and sounded much less exuberant about the prospects of turning things around than when he was stumping for the election. “I do not underestimate the enormity of the task that lies ahead,” he said. “Some of the choices that we make are going to be difficult. And I have said before and I will repeat again: it is not going to be quick and it is not going to be easy for us to dig ourselves out of the hole that we are in.”
He urged Congress and the Bush administration to pass a stimulus package, which, apart from the $700 bailout already approved for reviving financial markets, would cost anything between $150 billion to $300 billion and would help families with tax-relief, extended unemployment insurance benefits and food stamps. It would also bolster the crumbling budgets of cities and states, without which some of the essential services would be adversely affected.

A similar stimulus package of $107 billion was given in the beginning of the year to mostly lower- and middle-class families but it worked more like a small drink of brandy for a depressed man than an energiser of economic activity.The most sobering lesson a US President has to learn is that he can’t do much about global markets. Being the leader of the free world can create a dangerous delusion. Whether there will be an opportunity for finding a new leadership role for the US in an interdependent world of rapidly emerging economic powers ~ China, Japan, the EU, Russia, and, perhaps, India ~ no one knows.

But when a reporter asked how Mr Obama would respond to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahamdinejad’s letter of congratulations, he said with a determined finality that Iran’s nuclear ambitions were absolutely “unacceptable”. I hope Mr Obama will also have the courage to say, “The decline and fall of the US is utterly ‘unacceptable’.”

But look! What a cornucopia lies in wait for Kunta Kinte in the White House: a global financial meltdown; the Israel-Palestine decades-long deadly dance; Iran’s “peaceful” nuclear ambitions; the Afghanistan-Pakistan implosion; and let’s not forget the dessert: China’s mountain of a $2-trillion foreign exchange reserve. All served up by your favourite waiter, Joe the Plumber.

(ND Batra is professor of communicationat Norwich University)

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