As President Barack Obama comes to the end of his eight-years as President of the United States of America, many there are who are beginning to make their assessments of his tenure. They should all try to remember where the world was in 2008 before attempting those assessments, says Ewart Walters whose article below was written at the moment of Barack Obama’s election victory in November 2008.
“America has come to its senses” Part I
Oh yes, we can!
by Ewart Walters
In the sweet, oh so sweet, afterglow of America’s monumental achievement on November 4, 2008, a song came to mind. It was a song by the great soul singer Sam Cooke, a song of the aspirations of the US civil rights movement of the mid 1960s. A song of hope and faith.
“I was born by the river in a little tent
Oh and just like the river I been a runnin’ ever since
It’s been a long, a long time coming but I know
A change gon’ come oh yes it will.”
The title? “A change is gonna come.”
The song has been covered by more than two dozen artistes including Aretha Franklin, Patti Labelle, Seal, Al Green, Prince Buster and Tina Turner. But none of them quite evokes the deep soulful yearning of Sam Cooke, the yearning of a people for freedom, for equality, for justice, and the certain knowing that a change is going to come.
That change was launched by Barack Hussein Obama in the summer of 2004 with his speech at the Democratic National Convention. And then, with audacious hope and more than a little faith in people, he launched his campaign for the presidency in sub-zero temperatures on February 10, 2007, pledging to “build a more hopeful America.” As his campaign took off the theme became crystallised in one word – CHANGE.
Who would have thought the yearning for change was so deep, so worldwide? From Alaska to Australia, from Bangalore to Rio de Janeiro, from Negril to Edinburgh, from Johannesburg through New Delhi to Osaka and Obama (Japan), a Niagara of tears was unleashed. Tears of moment, tears of relief, tears of joy.
New York Times columnist Frank Rich noted, “On the morning after a Black man won the White House, America’s tears of catharsis gave way to unadulterated joy.” And another, Judith Warner, said, “The election brought the return of a country we’d lost for so long that it was almost forgotten under the accumulated scar tissue of accommodation and acceptance.”
But what are we changing from? The answer is Reaganomics and the Bush Doctrine that have held sway these past 28 years.
In his latest book, Free Lunch: How the Wealthiest Americans Enrich Themselves at Government Expense and Stick You With the Bill, former New York Times reporter David Cay Johnston explains that the trend of government policies favoring the super-rich began when Ronald Reagan became president and continued through the Clinton and Bush administrations.
One analyst describes it as “an era of unbridled deregulation, wealth-enhancing perks for the already well-off and miserly indifference to the poor and middle class; of the recasting of greed as goodness, the equation of bellicose provincialism with patriotism, the reframing of bigotry as small-town decency.”
Another, Mark Weisbrot, says, “Reagan decimated organized labor and cut taxes – for the rich. He … succeeded in drastically changing the ideological climate on economic issues. By the end of the Reagan (and George H.W. Bush) administrations in 1993, the typical Democratic member of Congress was far to the right of Richard Nixon on most economic policy.
“The impact of this … on the living standards of the majority of Americans can hardly be over-emphasized. Prior to the Reagan years, the United States was on its way to becoming more like Europe, with a welfare state and social safety net that would allow the vast majority of its citizens to enjoy the benefits of a developed, high-income economy. When Medicare and Medicaid were enacted in 1965, it was widely believed that insuring the elderly and the poor, respectively, were just the first steps toward universal health insurance. The assault that began with Ronald Reagan’s firing of 12,000 striking air traffic controllers in 1981 set the nation on a very different path.”
Indeed, this was when we discovered that a new class of people had been created. This was “the underclass,” a dismissive term that was a life sentence to permanent detention in poverty and the nation’s privatized jails. This was the first act in the creation of hopelessness and despair. And that despair is what Judith Warner cited with her brilliant comment about “the accumulated scar tissue of accommodation and acceptance.” Numbed into silence by the incessant drumming that ascribed deity to privatisation, unregulated free market policies and its war on terror approach, people simply lost hope and muted their better judgement.
Ewart Walters, CD, M.J., is a journalist, diplomat and author whose critically acclaimed book, We Come From Jamaica: The National Movement 1937-1962, is the brilliantly told story of the men and women who propelled Jamaica into Independence. A triple gold medalist in Journalism and a keen political observer, Mr. Walters who published his own newspaper The Spectrum in Ottawa, was Parliamentary Reporter for Public Opinion and the Gleaner in the early years of Jamaica’s Independence, and later served as a senior public servant with the Federal Government of Canada.