Wed | Aug 23, 2017

The dubious legacy of Barack Obama

Published:Sunday | November 13, 2016 | 11:00 AM

Title: Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion

Editors: Jeffrey St Clair & Joshua Frank

Publisher: AK Press, USA

Supporters of the 44th president of the United States will cringe at the title, Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion. It is a title that suggests ineptitude and failure. Sadly, it ignores the crippled economy that he inherited. Under his watch, the United States recovered handsomely - the bulk of its armed forces stretched thin on two battle fronts returned home, and, of course, Osama bin Laden was neutralised. And there is more.

Obama's signature domestic policy achievement, the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) survived a Supreme Court challenge; he re-established diplomatic relations with Cuba; signed the Paris Accord on climate change; implemented the Dodd-Frank reforms that protect consumers from financial-industry abuses; and negotiated a deal with the Islamic State of Iran that curtailed its nuclear ambitions.

But as compelling as these achievements and policies appear, they may not be enough to award a passing grade to the president.

Hopeless is a compilation of articles that traces the meteoric rise of Obama from his activist years as an Illinois senator to the nation's highest office. His natural star power was enabled by a slick campaigned oiled with hard cash. Some $52 million "was spent on media, consultants, image marketing, research, and telemarketing," according to Pam Martens' "Obama's Money Cartel."

Obama once called for reducing the influence of money in politics, a call that is forever drowned by the drumbeat of Wall Street.

In 'Obama's Sellout on Taxes', by Michael Hudson, this truism jumps at you. He writes: "Obama has only done what politicians do: He has delivered up his constituency to his campaign backers the same Wall Street donors who back Republicans."

Notable is that the many contributors of this study cannot be discounted as conservative hacks willing to discredit every progressive policy. In fact, many are crestfallen liberals. There is no attempt here to dismiss or ignore Obama's magnetic appeal and infinite potential. Praise, though, is parsed and paradoxically delivered, as in Franklin C. Cpinney's 'The Afghan War Question'. On the one hand, Obama is lauded for his oratorical gift and intelligence, but later disparaged for his "lack of moral courage".

Throughout, there is a stubborn argument that the Obama administration is unwilling or incapable of projecting power.

From a hem-and-haw foreign policy that puzzles allies and emboldens adversaries, the US has surrendered its geopolitical clout, according to many of the writers.

Some editorials are more provocative than others. In 'The Novocaine Presidency' Kevin Alexander Gray argues that the lot of blacks has devalued under Obama. "Many blacks, regardless of class, see themselves and their aspirations in Obama and the threats against his life only strengthen that support." He argues that the patience of blacks has enabled Obama "to get away with not saying or doing anything that would favour black interest, and doing things against their interest, like bailing out Wall Street fat cats while everyday people are cast adrift."

Gray goes on to cite staggering statistics on black unemployment. "[A]s wealth, poverty, education, and health disparities between blacks and whites grow wider", [and] "as the number of black homeless, jobless, and incarcerated increases, there is a host of questions blacks need to find answers to and act on ... . What is the change they need, and who leads the fight?"

He ends with a chilling pronouncement: "[I]f Obama is not part of the solution, he's is part of the problem. Right now, he's the latter. And he better look out if the novocaine wears off."

In Wajahat Ali's Obama's Immigration Reforms: Neither Humane nor Thoughtful, the president is assailed for the deplorable conditions at immigration centres. He attributes this to outsourcing "core public functions to private actors ... without an enforceable system of regulations ... ." Ali argues that "as a result of the current immigration policy, overpopulated, remote detention centres house immigrants who are denied meaningful contact with their lawyers, access to legal resources to fight their case, proper medical care, and contact with family members".

Interestingly, Ali blames the massive influx of immigrants from Central America on the Honduras coup d'etat that was orchestrated by the Obama Administration. The disruptive US interference is examined in the intriguing 'The Honduran Coup: A US Connection' by Conn Hallinan.

Hopeless is study in political leadership, geopolitics, geo-economics, and public policy. We conclude that the job of US president is constrained by party politics, special interests, and lobbyists. Indeed, what constitutes a great president is sometimes determined by providence and the unpredictable forces of history.

It is within this context that Obama's wins must be weighed against his losses. We have already noted his victories. But his detractors call attention to the following: a controversial agreement with Iran; a beleaguered health-care plan that has weighed downed the middles class; a bankrupt immigration policy; a pronouncement that climate change is an existential threat to civilisation (and not terrorism); a 'red line' bluff in Syria where 500,000 people have died and another 3,000,000 displaced; a record number of deportees in 2013; and a troubling silence on violence wrecking black communities. When the dust clears, Obama's supporters can only hope that history will be kind.

Ratings: Highly recommended

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