Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Ascent of Barack Obama

View from the top

From The Statesesman

This is how the United States of America or any civilised nation ought to be: A nation where its people will “not be judged by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character”.

These words of Martin Luther King Jr., a leader who was in many ways Gandhian in his non-violent methods in leading the civil rights movement for seeking justice and equality, and whose birth anniversary preceded by a day the inauguration of the first black man to grace the White House, have characterized the emerging American dream. It is a dream of transcendence and self-renewal and it makes us wonder what President Barack Obama, this man of hope and transformation, will do now that his dream has come true. What America is going to be, what it does or does not do, under President Obama will have serious repercussions for the world. No metaphor can capture its immensity but one might say that the USA is not only a moral force for freedom and equality but it is also the hub and the driving engine of global the economy. And to a great extent the USA is the single most important determinant of peace in many parts of the world. America’s misfortunes do not necessarily mean blessings for other nations. Its decline and fall will not leverage others to rise. The whole world is watching whether Obama, having raised himself by his bootstraps and having transcended all the prejudices of race, religion and colour, can prevent the US and the world economy from sliding into the abyss of depression. This is the dream he might not have dreamt while aspiring for the White House.

The American people have been very generous with him and, suspending their disbelief, they have trusted him. They have listened to his promise of change though in the beginning of his political campaign, the meaning of the slogan “change” or “yes we can” had a different context and connotation. On the minds of the American people in the early days of his political ascent was the disastrous consequences of the Iraq War which in the beginning they had willy-nilly supported but later on ~ when casualties began to rise and troops began to return home, some in body bags and others mangled, limbless and traumatised, and they saw no end to the fighting ~ wanted to get out of at all cost. Billions of dollars could have been spent elsewhere, the American people argued with the wisdom of hindsight. They said, in poll after poll, this is not what America ought to be doing.

The American people responded heartily when Obama shared his new vision of building a city of hope on a shining hill. Mostly, it was the promise of change from the senseless brutality and stagnation of the endless war. But Iraq surprisingly began to stabilise and the possibility of a US withdrawal became closer to reality, perhaps because of the new strategy of surge that George W. Bush initiated. And the success of the surge further raised hopes that the same sort of strategy might work in Afghanistan also, though the problem is much more complicated because of the fact that Pakistan’s Islamic militants enjoy sanctuaries in the tribal frontier region bordering that country.

But late last year, when the financial market crashed and blue chip banks, brokerage firms, mortgage lenders and insurance companies started to sink, the American people began to wonder whether Obama will be able to pull them out of the black hole of economic despair.

Getting out of Iraq or bombing the Taliban and Al-Qaida in the Afghanistan-Pakistan non-state region with remote-controlled drones seemed much easier than restoring faith and trust in the economy. The despair ~ the enemy within ~ which resulted from the loss of trust in financial experts, rating agencies and the self-correcting mechanism of the marketplace has been gnawing and eating into the American spirit of optimism in spite of the massive bailout already in place.

The $350 billion out of $700 billion that Congress authorised for the bailout of collapsing financial institutions and for stabilising the marketplace had very little effect on the economy. The Senate would not have trusted the Bush administration with the remaining $350 billion but it released the amount when Obama asked for it, hoping that he could do it. But the lawmakers also know that the Obama administration will need much more than that amount and so Democrats in the House are working on a massive new economic recovery plan of $850 billion with the hope of stopping the economy from spinning into a downward spiral. This multi-pronged approach including salvaging key financial institutions to unfreeze credit, giving people tax credit so that they can start spending again, and finally investing in infrastructure to create jobs, will hopefully stabilise the economy, restore people’s faith in the system and eventually trigger economic growth.

When Americans work and consume, the economic wheels in Europe, China and India and rest of the world will begin to spin again. Will President Obama be up to the job of saving the United States of America from economic depression? Perhaps that is what Martin Luther King meant when he asserted the supremacy of one’s character rather than the circumstances of one’s birth.

(ND Batra is professor of communications at Norwich University)

No comments:

Post a Comment