Obama’s mini revolution
After the gruelling, 6-billion presidential election, America is
sitting in the afterglow of a comparatively quiet revolution which has
happened with a narrow margin, leaving exhausted America panting and
growling in two polarised camps. The import of the election is yet to
surface in full force. Eventually when it makes its presence felt it
will stand out as the reference point from which America will draw its
directions as it heads into the years to come.
President Barack Obama with first lady Michelle Obama and
daughters Malia and Sasha at his election night party
Wednesday, November 7 in Chicago. AFP
The re-election of Obama is more than a personal victory for him. It
is, by far, the election that will define the critical ideological shift
which runs into many layers. Primarily, it is a shift from the basic
self-help, each-for-himself and catch-as-catch-can ethic on which
America was brought up to a more inter-dependent, neighbourly and
compassionate society. The do-it-yourself brash capitalism has been
transformed into a sharing, caring, community-centred welfarism. Obama
care will be the iconic centre piece of the mini revolution. But it has
other layers too reflecting just not the multi-ethnic diversity but also
geo-political realities of a new multi-lateral world that recognizes and
accepts the limitations of a uni-polar power without widening the
increasing debt burden, or withdrawing into a revised version of the
In short, President Barack Obama has at last brought America down to
earth. America will never go back to its past again the way it has been
in the better part of the 20th century, particularly after World War II.
In his articulate but non-abrasive style Obama challenged everything
that was sacred in American politics, economics and culture and won. He
dragged American kicking and screaming into the new realities of the
21st century. With his landmark success Obama has written the parameters
of American governance of the future.
His second election consolidated and entrenched the paradigm shift he
began tentatively, sensitively and even nervously in the first term. The
imperatives of the ideological and political shifts were confirmed by
the me-tooism of Mitt Romney. As the election drew to a close Romney was
shifting so fast that he was sliding willy-nilly into Obama's arms
without acknowledging it. In essence Romney had virtually nothing much
to offer except Obama care. When he abandoned the roots from which he
began his primaries -- a move that stunned the Tea Party Right-wingers
-- America had drifted with him into Obama's care. He was so close to
Obama in the end that if he won the election he would have been the
beneficiary of the political agenda of Obama which was beginning to
unravel and revive America from the Bushy depths into which it had
fallen. Obama's mini revolution had its roots in Obama's first term and
advanced, in fits and starts against the formidable forces of the
establishment, into the second term where the chances are better for him
to consolidate his gains. It is the revolution that had to take place
and Obama did it his way.
Obama's political thrust to pull American out of the encrusted ancien
regime of the conservative right is a remarkable achievement that would
have had to go through the passage possibly of a bloody revolution in
another time, in another place and with another set of leaders at the
helm. Obama's popular mandate, grabbing the monopoly of power from the
mighty right, stands out as a bloodless revolution. The gathering
strength of the popular will and the failure of the private sector to
live up to its promises -- the American dream -- have tilted the moral
and political power in favour of Obama.
The nation had been suffocating in a concretised ideological past for
too long. The Right-wing was screaming its head off about the
apocalyptic end that was coming round the corner with Obama riding all
four horses simultaneously. For a while it seemed that the Christian
Right was poised to defeat "the apocalyptic rider". Rupert Murdoch's Fox
News, the last refuge of the dying breed, was hissing like Gorgon heads
ready to sting anything that crossed its path. But America, perhaps
instinctively recognising the new realities, has said goodbye to the
hedonistic, free-floating days of Great Gatsby and moved closer but not
exactly to the left-wing hopes in Grapes of Wrath. Big government has
come to stay. The myth of small government will continue to play in the
rhetoric of the right-wing though sliding markedly down the decibel
levels as time goes by.
The radical slide to the American left began with the arrival of
Obama on the American political landscape. That in itself was an
unimaginable revolution. A black man in the White House was the first
symbol that cast its shadow of coming events. But, of course, he did not
get to the White House because he was black but because he was white. In
office he proved that he was more white than George Bush. Once ensconced
in office he could do things that Bush couldn't do. With his left-wing
credentials he could even win the Nobel Peace Prize and kill more
non-Americans without losing face. He could do what no other President
could do: win an election amidst the highest unemployment record. The
power of Obama was in daring to take new paths. To take the roads not
taken before. His greatest show of strength was in taking America down
new paths to the future.
It was a huge gamble. In short, Obama took America under his care
with a philosophy that went against the grain of self-made America
fashioned out of trickle down capitalism. The two ideologies confronted
each other in Ohio where the auto-industry, teetering on the verge of a
crash, was rescued by Obama care. The social worker from Chicago
triumphed over the ideologically fixated free-marketeer who abandoned
Ohio to Darwinian survival-of-the-fittest economics. Ohio was the
defining battleground of the competing ideologies of Obama and Romney.
When Obama won Ohio it turned out to be a reward of gratitude from an
electorate which was rescued not by free market enterprise but by the
daring enterprise of Big Government. Ohio proved that private gains come
from public enterprise pumping money into private enterprise.
It validated Obama's cry: "If you've been successful you didn't get
there on your own". Yes, Big Business got to where it is because the Big
Government helped them all the way to the top. Obama's battle is
reminiscent of the days JFK battled with the steel magnates whom he
called SOB's, translated quickly by him, in the face of the fierce
backlash, into Sons of Businessmen. But Obama's declamation attacking
the core of the hallowed mythology in the American political culture was
absolutely obnoxious to the ears of Big Business.
Mitt Romney, naturally, grabbed it with both hands assuming that he
could hang Obama with his anti-establishment rhetoric. Yes, it was a
risky statement to make in the middle of an election campaign dominated
by a pro-enterprise culture.
Obama's slogan went against the fundamentals of American free market
ethos. It was like Prime Minister Manmohan Singh advocating the killing
of the sacred cows in the middle of an Indian election. Yet Mitt Romney
couldn't run far with it. The grassroot coalition of the new electoral
forces of America had shifted significantly, moving away from relying
entirely on free enterprise, and was not in the mood to believe in
outdated, laissez-faire 'Romneconomics'.
Besides, successive global financial crises -- particularly the
subprime lending crisis in America -- had battered the image of free
enterprise as a reliable Salvation Army. What was seen in the halcyon
days as a solution was increasingly looking like a problem. The private
sector had lost its early vigour and seemed weakened unable to stand on
its own two feet. Changing America needed a new politico-economic agenda
of hope and Obama was willing to write it, shifting to the left within
the overall capitalist framework.
America was yearning urgently for renewal. Obama was willing to renew
it with Big Government -- something which was anathema to the dogmatic
right of the Tea Party. The old myths of free enterprise had run out of
steam. New hopes arising from the new political alignments in the
American electorate needed new perspectives. There was nothing new in
Romney's me-tooism. When the genuine original is staring in your face
why go for me-tooism!
There was also a sense of tiredness overtaking America. The
post-Mayflower generation that worked their guts out to build America
was no longer certain of their identity. The 21st century arrived at
their doorstep loaded with a different set of migrants who looked
different, didn't speak English and was not seen on Sunday Churches.
They were bonded more to the supermarket than to the land.
They had no kinship with the land like the white oldies. Their hopes
and aspirations looked outside the traditional society. Obama sailed
back to Europe to fulfil their dreams. The European model of a welfare
state seemed more appropriate to America which has weathered enough of
economic Frankenstorms wiping out the secure markets that stabilised
society and lives.
Besides, the politicised Christianity that dictated right-wing
morality to America had lost its grip on the changing demographics.
America had been struggling for a long time to break loose from the
straight-jacket of the Christian Right -- a malevolent force with sub-cutaneous
fascist tendencies that had the potential to grab power and drag America
to anti-democratic extremism. In fact, Rev. Billy Graham, the Catholic
Bishops, Ralph Reed's Faith and Freedom Coalition, the Nuns on the Bus
in Midwest and other assorted Christian fronts ganged up against Obama.
It had succeeded in the past but for the first time the anti-thesis
triumphed. The coalition of marijuanaists, abortionists, gay rightists,
Lations, youth, women etc., beat them hollow.
This is the icing on the cake of the American Revolution. The
defeated Christian Right-wing, no doubt, will regroup and try to stage a
come back. But even if they do -- political pendulums tend to swing from
time to time -- it is unlikely that they will roll back the map of the
new demographics. Of course, this does not mean that America will swing
to the other end of the religious spectrum represented by the likes of
President Obama's former chaplain in Chicago, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, who
told his congregation: "God damn America!" If American Christianity is
to regain its lost grip it has to move away from its extreme right-wing
and move closer to the center-left programmes of Obama. What is more, it
appears right now that God is on the side of Obama. It seems like that
because only a messiah of Biblical proportions could have shifted
America from its entrenched traditional right to centre-left. Only a
skull-cut and clean shaven Moses could have written on stone the
medicare that entitles the poor American to state-sponsored health
Now that he has got over the biggest hurdle the second lap may not
run into the same kind of fierceness that opposed him in the first lap.
He has nothing to lose now except the fear of another unexpected
Frankenstorm, or the fear of the Middle East exploding out of control,
or the private sector running amok globally. If his investments in his
centre-left programmes and the economy pays him good dividends he could
smile a bit more.
The Right-wing, however, is biding its time hoping to either reverse
or halt the Obam(l)ic trends. It may relent initially but they will be
waiting, watching, waiting for the ticks of time to swing the pendulum
back into their corner. They represent the tragic vision of F. Scott
Fitzgerald who summarized the plight of those trapped in history: "So we
beat on, boats against the currents, borne back ceaselessly into the
past." It is against these inevitabilities that Obama has put his
shoulder to the giant wheel of history and shifted it an inch -- just
one inch -- which is all what the most powerful commander-in-chief on
earth could do at any given time, knowing in particular that he has
taken the path less travelled and miles to go before he can sleep. Miles
to go before he can sleep. And we all know who said that.