The Other America

So, the USA has voted to return its first African-American president for a second term.  And now I’ve caught up on sleep and dried my eyes, perhaps I should step back and reflect.

It’s almost impossible, I suspect, for many of us to make sense of the tea party brand of Republicanism which, some commentators believe, was in large part responsible for Romney’s failure.   How can we, from this side of the pond, comprehend the view that the healthcare system  that Obama brought in – which falls so far short of providing what we in the UK have, still, and rely on so completely at so many points in our lives – is the first step on the road to Communism?  How can we understand how so many Americans can, apparently, believe that Obama is a Moslem?  How could the ludicrous statements on rape from various Republican spokesmen (gender specific term used entirely deliberately) have been taken seriously by anyone, for a nanosecond?  And let’s not even start on guns – though I urge you to read a Yankee in Yorkshire’s blog post  on that issue.

Reactions to Obama’s victory have in some cases not just verged on the apocalyptic but plunged headfirst into it.    Warren Gibson, who teaches Economics at San Jose and Santa Clara Universities, claims that ‘Obama hates America’, that ‘His first term in office gave us numerous actions that exemplify his quest to bring America down.’  For him Obamacare is an atrocity, and the only silver lining to his re-election is that ‘it will hasten our Götterdämmerung’.  Or take our own Melanie Phillips (please…), who writes that ‘America goes into the darkness’, and that his re-election will bring about World War Three, when his friends in Iran launch their genocidal war on Israel.

A different view comes from an independent commentator, blogging as billericapolitics, who regrets Obama’s victory, but argues that it’s happened largely because the Tea Party extremists, or at least their social conservative platforms, do not and will not have popular support:

The Republicans need to re-brand and delete all social conservative positions from their platform. If the God freaks don’t like it, too bad. Let them stay home, vote Democrat or Republican as they wish. So called conservatives should be concentrating on small government, a strong military, a philosophically principled foreign policy, and a secular judiciary that ignores all religions and judges based on the facts and the rule of law.

There’s another strand of hostility to Obama’s second term, not from someone who wanted a Romney victory, but based on a deep anger with Obama’s foreign policies and the belief that the two-party structure sets the electorate up for a choice between two evils, where Obama is simply the lesser of the two.   I understand where blackgirldangerous is coming from:

This is how the two-party system is set up. It’s a trap and we’re stuck in it. If we don’t vote for Obama, we’ll get Romney, and it will be bad. If we vote for Obama, we’ll get Obama, and it will be bad. Maybe not quite as bad on the surface. Which, I guess, is enough for a lot of people, especially those who don’t look beneath the surface.

Now, there are things that Obama has promised to do and failed to do, and there are things he has done which are indefensible, particularly in foreign policy terms.  Those failures, those wrongs, grieve me.  Where I differ from the above writer is that I see a profound difference nonetheless, a gulf, between the two parties that is not merely rhetorical.

I’m with KatranM, a commenter on Gary Younge’s sceptical article in the Guardian, who says that:

Most of us think that here is an intelligent man with the usual reprehensible but necessary political skillset, a progressive, one who dreams big about getting red and blue states to work together, but he hasn’t accomplished it because (a) it’s hard and (b) the GOP spent his entire term trying to destroy him by vilifying him and obstructing everything he did. But we know that doesn’t get him off the hook, and he disappointed us, too. He didn’t fight hard enough. He compromised — and we get the reasons why EVERYONE must compromise to accomplish anything in this polarized environment — unskillfully, gaining no compromise in return.

He did almost jack squat about the environment during the first term in office. He dropped the ball on immigration. He worried us deeply by launching the age of drone wars.

In other words, he’s our guy, he’s done a lot of good, and we believe he CAN do better, but we are keenly aware of his flaws and imperfections.

Get off your high horse. I would guarantee that 99% of those who voted for Obama don’t think he’s the messiah, or the Great Something Hope, or any of the marketing slogans, although it’s emotionally satisfying to thumb our noses at racism and get a rather decent guy and his family into the White House. But we know that’s an optional extra, not the essential reason we support — but still question — Obama.

I recognise in myself an idealism that can be naive, despite my 55 years on this planet.    I recognise in myself a strong desire to believe in Obama, because he’s the first African-American president, because his very presence in the White House is such a powerful symbol of the triumph of the 60s civil rights movement, against the brutal and murderous racism that for so many is a living memory.  I love the fact that his victory speech celebrates that America is ‘the most diverse nation on Earth’ and I want to believe in the vision he expresses even though I know that it is rhetoric that he will not live up to, and that the idea that ‘You can make it here in America if you’re willing to try’, to work hard, is not and never has been the reality.  But watching the two camps last Tuesday night it was clear that they represented two different Americas.

Anne Braden tells how William L Patterson told her, in the early 60s, “You know, you do have a choice. You don’t have to be a part of the world of the lynchers. You can join the other America.” He said, “There is another America.”

And I’m paraphrasing a little bit, he said, “It’s always been here. Ever since the first slave ship arrived, and before. The people who struggled against slavery, the people who rebeled against slavery. The white people who supported them. The people who all through Reconstruction struggled.” He came on down through history of the people who have struggled against injustice. The other America.

On Tuesday night, the other America prevailed.

 

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  1. #1 by --Rick on November 10, 2012 - 8:00 pm

    I would say to your summation that I agree having an African American in the White House is a powerful symbol, but on the other hand; having this African American in the White House only portrays weakness and vulnerability with respect to the United States. Symbolism is good enough for the ideal, but it is not even competent for the real world.

    I will hope that the President proves us on the other side wrong and that he is successful in improving the economy, not being “flexible” with our enemies, and that he and his Administration will be more transparent when it comes to fiascoes such as Benghazi, Fast and Furious, Green Energy “cronyism” deals, etc. He has a long way to go to regain our trust and so far, he’s’ made no effort to demonstrate that he has a new attitude and respect for honesty.

    That’s how I see it and how I will continue to call it until he shows me more of the other side of the coin. As I said in my article cited above, I blame the Republicans for their own losses and outline the reasons why. I am convinced that only a free, minimally restricted and regulated market will be powerful enough to get us out from under our debt, and even that has to be joined with a smaller sized and spending federal government – the type of government I don’t think President Obama or any of his supporters would be willing to accept.

    • #2 by cathannabel on November 10, 2012 - 8:08 pm

      Thanks Rick, I really appreciate your comments, and your positive feedback. We will disagree about a lot of stuff, but I found your blog fascinating, and your analysis invaluable to me, as a Brit liberal trying to get my head around US politics, and trying to balance my instinctive positive responses to Obama. I don’t often blog about US issues because I don’t feel I’m qualified, but I will continue to follow your blog with great interest.

  2. #3 by --Rick on November 10, 2012 - 8:01 pm

    Nice blog, by the way. So good, in fact, that I’ve become a subscriber to a daily digest from here. Thank you for your hard and honest assessments of the politics and the reality of the world in which we live.

    • #4 by --Rick on November 10, 2012 - 8:11 pm

      You are very welcome and disagreement is what keeps the world healthy. I often read blogs with opposing views and rarely comment unless the writer strikes me as one interested in searching for common ground or just a factual exchange. Based upon your writing, you fit that rare profile in my mind.

      So, once again, thank you for your efforts – very good effort at that.

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