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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 Munro Doctrine.

Remarkable achievement

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.

Risky statement

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.

Frankenstorms

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 insurance.

Private sector

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.

 

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