by Joseph A. Palermo —
It was a beautiful thing seeing a planetary celebration over the results of an American presidential election. Hundreds of millions of people were wondering whether or not the American people would succumb to another tainted election where the only winners were the corrupt purveyors of aggressive militarism abroad and religion-tinged authoritarianism at home.
Doesn’t it feel a lot better to be loved by the rest of the world instead of despised?
My graduate course on contemporary American history met two days after the election. I have a student in my seminar from Amman, Jordan, who served in the United States Navy as an Arabic translator at Guantanamo Bay and in Iraq. He phoned his mother in Amman after he saw the returns on TV confirming that Obama was the President-Elect of the United States of America. His mother, who speaks little English, was crying on the other end of the line she was so happy. She told her son that she was so proud of America and that only in America could a person like Barack Obama rise to the top leadership. He said he cried too and that his love for America has never been so strong. As an immigrant, he said, he identifies with our new president because he believes Obama’s background gives him a special sensitivity to the challenges of the immigrant community — especially Arab-Americans who have been so maligned by the radical Right in recent years.
Three other students in the class are Latinos and they were gratified to vote for Obama because they said he also speaks to their own feelings of marginalization. They said they felt proud to be voting for a black man with whom they could relate as being outside of the dominant white society. They have confidence he understands the problems facing the Latino community. Latinos were key to Obama’s wins in Nevada, New Mexico, Florida, and Colorado. All the pundits who predicted that tensions between the black and Latino communities would cut into Obama’s appeal among Latinos, driving a wedge between them, were proven wrong on Tuesday. Si Se Puede!
There is also a white evangelical Christian in the class who voted for Obama because he said he is more concerned about the economic wellbeing of his family and the standing of the United States in the world as a beacon for peace than the wedge issues the Republicans ram down his throat.
A Republican woman in my class who comes from a very Republican eastern California district bucked her entire family to vote for Obama. She said she voted for Obama primarily because she pays out of her own pocket each month over $600 for a terrible health insurance plan with huge deductibles and other gimmicks that limit her care. She said she is hoping Obama can deliver on his promise to relieve the health care burden on her and her family. (Her husband and other relatives all voted for McCain and called Obama a “Socialist”).
Some of my students are cautiously optimistic about whether or not Obama can deliver on his promises after he settles into the corrupt, money-driven city of Washington, D.C. — a sober outlook. Others are thrilled at the new beginning Obama offers the nation and the world and are heartened to see the astonishing outpouring of support from people all over the planet. There was some disappointment expressed with California voters who passed Proposition 8 (the anti-same sex marriage initiative), but there is hope the courts might be able to nullify this intrusion into the state constitution.
I pointed out that Justice John Paul Stevens, the most respected and most liberal on the Supreme Court, is 88 years old. And Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg is 75 years old. And now we don’t have to worry about the President appointing to the Supreme Court troglodytes like Antonin Scalia or Uncle Clarence Thomas (two of John McCain’s favorites) when these two venerable jurists retire. Hooray for that!
Hearing the wet-blanket commentary a couple of nights ago on the Charlie Rose show about the meaning of the 2008 election, where Newsweek editor Evan Thomas sensed a “creepy cult of personality” in Obama’s historic victory, made me want to point out to Mr. Thomas that the people of the world are not celebrating Obama’s victory because of his ethnic background or his “personality.” If a black man were elected who supported the Bush Doctrine there wouldn’t be any celebrating abroad, I assure you.
Given the relative youth of our nation and the fact we’ve never known the horrors of war on our soil or experienced a fascist takeover of our government it would stand to reason that the United States could succumb to authoritarianism. Karl Rove’s vaunted “permanent Republican majority” was really an attempt, along with George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, to do everything in their power to transform American society into a kind of “free market fascist” state; a country where the State would fuse with giant conglomerates to form a single set of right-wing Republican institutions.
How else can one explain a “doctrine” that reserves the right to use military violence to topple governments, invade countries, and occupy nations based on a Commander-in-Chief’s whim? Or the whole “K Street Project” where corporations and lobbyists funneled campaign cash into the coffers of the Republican National Committee after being awarded lucrative government contracts in an enormous kickback scheme? Or accusing anyone who disagreed with the new Republican one-party order as being “unpatriotic?”
Let’s not forget that there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and there were no ties between the Iraqi government and the religious fanatics of Al Qaeda. But that didn’t stop Bush from using those lies as a pretext to invade and occupy that country. The American people, who twice elected Bush, are responsible for the actions of their government that have led to the premature deaths of at least 150,000 innocent people in Iraq since 2003. The people of the world did not support the neo-conservative project in Iraq. The 2008 election shows that the American people have now finally caught up with the rest of the planet.
CNN’s John King and other corporate media political “analysts” like to pick out the whitest, most conservative districts in southern Ohio or Indiana and use them to lecture President-Elect Obama and the Democrats in Congress about how they must not do anything “the Left” might like and stay “moderate” or else these white people in this former Bush district will vote against them in 2010 and 2012. (These pundits used the same argument to try to dampen the grassroots enthusiasm for Obama during the primary battle with Hillary Clinton.) They also talk about labor unions as if they are just another “special interest.” They fail to note that labor unions have gotten the shit kicked out of them for the past 30 years and are long overdue for some attention from the federal government. (Someone should tell them that this is not 1972.)
But what these corporate media analysts leave out is the very real possibility that these former Bush voters flipped to Obama precisely because they want the government to take action and to do something to alleviate their dire economic conditions. These people are most likely voting as pragmatists. They want a functioning government to solve some of the problems the Republicans made worse with their retrograde corporate welfare policies. Don’t we pay taxes so the government can take care of problems that individuals cannot solve for themselves? Or is that $12 billion going to Iraq each month the only “legitimate” way to spend tax dollars? I don’t recall right-wingers denouncing the expenditures of tax dollars on huge corporations in the form of tax cuts, contracts, and deregulation “Socialism.”
The Republican dead-enders are free to call Obamanomics “Socialism” or “Far Left” or “Pro-Big Labor” or “Big Government” or anything they choose, the fact is that the American people were horrified at the sorry state of their government after Hurricane Katrina, and they are equally horrified by the squandering of their hard-earned tax dollars on “nation building” exercises abroad and hand-outs to big corporations. One wonders if the punditocracy was even paying attention at all to the election.
Obama flipped eight states that had previously gone for Bush. CNN and Fox News can run all the “analyses” they wish about a few lily-white districts in southern Ohio or Indiana where Obama won by slender majorities. And then, inevitably, drearily, they extrapolate from that Obama must “stay in the center” and must not do anything bold or interesting or even beneficial for working people or else he might lose some apocryphal white voting demographic. But that only tells us a tiny part of the story. What about Nevada, Colorado, New Mexico, and Florida? These states flipped, in part, because of the overwhelming majorities Obama stacked up among Latino voters. Someone should send a memo to CNN and Fox that the Latino vote matters electorally in many “battleground” states just as much (if not more) that the white vote. Si Se Puede!
Barack Obama transformed the Electoral map of this country. He did it with the help of millions of ordinary people in all 50 states. He won like no other Democratic candidate has done since Lyndon Johnson. It is a huge victory. He will be our president for the next eight years — of this I am certain. He will be a successful president because he has to be a successful president — he has no choice. As the first African-American president his success is crucial to all future non-white and women presidential candidates, born and unborn.
And the crises caused by the excesses of Republican misrule provide President Obama and the Democratic Congress a once-in-a-generation opportunity. He inherits a prostrate financial system at the mercy of government intervention and a presidency armed by Bush with the greatest concentration of executive powers in our history. He should use the power he will have over Wall Street as well as the executive powers Bush has bequeathed him to take back our country from the corporations and initiate bold new programs for the benefit of the middle class. He will work hard to deliver on his promises for universal health care, ending the occupation of Iraq, and investing in public education, infrastructure, and alternative energy.
He has no choice.
If President Obama cannot deliver he’ll be a lame duck quicker than you can imagine.
by Joseph Palermo
Joseph Palermo is Associate Professor of American History at CSU, Sacramento. He’s the author of two books on Robert F. Kennedy: In His Own Right (2001) and RFK (2008).
Reprinted with permission from the author.
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