IT didn’t take long for the past to catch up with America and shatter the dream Dr. Martin Luther King spoken about 51 years ago. Today, the real tragedy of America’s first African-American president entails the disrespectful and disparaging manner in which he has been treated by the political establishment in Washington.
Not surprisingly, the rise of the radical Tea Party and the re-emergence of Republican hard-line ideology have both coincided with the current wave of Obama-bashing around the country. Nowhere in the world or indeed in American history, has a president been constantly belittled and openly subjected to malicious insults, trash talk and derision like in America. Oprah Winfrey has advanced the view that President Obama is treated differently because he is black.
Be that as it may, America’s 44th president has been portrayed as an “Islamic atheist Marxist Kenyan”, and repeatedly branded a “liar”, “traitor”, “terrorist”, “coward” and “anti-Semite” by top Republican congressmen, presidential candidates and mainstream pundits. Everything, from his birth certificate to his intelligence and patriotism to country has been called into question. He’s been ordered around by prominent sections of the mainstream media and greeted with a finger in his face by an Arizona governor in front of television reporters. Newt Gingrich, the former House Speaker, has said that Obama’s policies are “a very serious threat to our way of life.” From the onset of his presidency, he faced scorched-earth Republican opposition from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who ominously announced that “our top priority over the next two years should be to deny President Obama a second term.”
Indeed, no one can find another example in American history where a U.S. president requested a date to address Congress and was refused. This was the first denial in the annals of American political history – unsurprisingly directed at the first African-American president. If any word characterizes the current congress, it’s “obstruction”. Under a Republican Congress, truth has metastasized into lurid fantasy, and ignorance and stupidity have been held up as badges of honour. Can it really be that Republicans are incensed by a black man in the White House with a liberal agenda?
During the Baltimore riots in April this year Donald Trump tweeted: “Our great African-American president hasn’t exactly had a positive impact on the thugs who are so happily and openly destroying Baltimore!” He also urged Obama to leave office early and play golf on one of his many courses. Alarmingly, there seems to be no end to the insults hurled at President Obama.
It also appears that the racial division and distrust between blacks and whites in America are more pronounced than ever. The actor Morgan Freeman said recently that America’s president may be black, but its laws are all white. To be sure, the presidency of Barack Obama appears to have once again exposed the ugly underbelly of American society.
When President Obama took office in 2008, the American economy was in a tailspin. The U.S. financial system was in a mess and the economy was hemorrhaging 800,000 jobs a month. The high-handed approach to foreign policy of George W. Bush, as opposed to Obama’s current collaborative and common-ground approach, had contributed to the straining of relations with key international allies and in some instances, the isolation of the U.S. in some parts of the world.
Today, the U.S. economy has made a remarkable recovery against some pretty tough odds – notwithstanding Jeb Bush’s implausible claim that the economy has actually gotten worse under Obama’s watch. Most economists believe that the massive stimulus package introduced by the Obama administration, helped end the Great Recession. There is also much consensus around the idea that Republicans would have brought on another Great Depression if they had been allowed to implement their plan to cut federal government spending.
It has been amazing to watch how Obama’s achievements in healthcare, foreign policy, energy policy, financial reform and economic management have consistently been undermined by a Republican party increasingly seen as representing the white elite – hellbent on stirring racial division and social unrest in the country.
Yet despite his ground-breaking efforts at health and social reform to assist the bottom third of American society, the vitriolic hounding has continued unabated. According to a major newspaper in America, the most radical opponents of Obama view his speeches and proposed legislation as “nothing more than a black man’s attempt to exact revenge against the country’s white majority.”
In 2013, the conservatives within the Republican party attempted to paralyze the government and risk a federal default so they could block Obamacare, the president’s health care reforms – never mind that the reforms were endorsed by American voters, approved by a majority of both houses of Congress and upheld by the Supreme Court. In September 2009, during a State-of-the-Union address to a joint session of Congress, South Carolina Congressman Joe Wilson shouted at the top of his voice that President Obama was a “liar”, as the president declared that illegal immigrants would not be covered under a health insurance reform programme proposed by the Democrats. Another Republican lawmaker last year publicly referred to the size of Michelle Obama’s behind.
Critically, Obamacare was introduced to increase the quality and affordability of health insurance coverage to millions of low-income Americans, and to reduce the costs of healthcare for the government. A respected Harvard economist believes the reforms represent “the most favourable and significant regulatory overhaul of the U.S. healthcare system since Medicare and Medicaid in 1965.”
Alas, the throwing of jibes at the president whether intentionally or not, has not only been confined to the American public. Upon Obama’s election in November 2008, Italy’s gaffe-prone and polarizing then-Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi described him as “young, handsome and suntanned.” Mr Berlusconi would later rehash the jibe on his return from the G20 summit in 2009: “Ah, Barack Obama. You won’t believe it, but the two of them sunbathed together, because the wife is also tanned.” Further, in a statement last year carried by the official Korean Central News Agency, a spokesman for Kim Jong-un, North Korea’s reclusive leader, referred to Obama as “a monkey in a tropical forest.”
Yet, a more obvious act of disrespect is hard to imagine than the occasion when Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s recalcitrant Prime Minister bypassed the normal diplomatic protocol and accepted a Republican invitation to address Congress. Many believe this was the worst insult in living memory to a sitting American president by a foreign leader.
At the second Republican presidential debate, President Obama was viciously attacked on all fronts, and unfairly labelled “an apprentice” and “naïve”. One particular presidential hopeful even bigotedly spoke of “Obama’s America”, as if to imply that Obama has inflamed racial tensions and divided the country. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Among the many economic pundits who were amused at the cheap rhetorical jibes thrown at President Obama at the second debate was Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman: “If the discussion of economics was alarming, the discussion of foreign policy was practically demented. Almost all the candidates seem to believe that American military strength can shock-and-awe other countries into doing what we want without any need for negotiations, and that we shouldn’t even talk with foreign leaders we don’t like. No dinners for Xi Jinping! And, of course, no deal with Iran, because resorting to force in Iraq went so well.” Have the Republicans really pushed their once proud party (the Party of Lincoln and Reagan as they love to say) into kamikaze course?
In short, the utter disrespect levelled at President Obama, not simply from disgruntled citizens, but from people of sections of society from which respect for the Office of the President is expected, has been unprecedented. How much longer can African-Americans tolerate the insults hurled at their leaders? Bob Marley asked: “How long shall they kill our prophets while we stand aside and look?” Obama’s salutary efforts, including his fight to establish a higher minimum wage, were always going to be frustrated by institutions which have been fine-tuned for many decades to work against the interests of minorities, especially blacks.
Yet despite the bigotry, intellectual buffoonery and entrenched discrimination which President Obama has faced, he has still emerged as one of the most consequential and successful presidents in American history. His leadership has been surprisingly consistent and methodical. In more ways than one, he stands for a better America, in contrast to many of his predecessors, including George W. Bush who tried to impose their terms on the world. It is my view that economists, historians and political scientists will appreciate the scale of his successes over the long run and history will be very kind to him.
For comments, write to Clementwulf@hotmail.com – Clement Wulf-Soulage is a Management Economist, Published Author and Former University Lecturer.