Hope anew - Obama's big gamble

Published: Sunday | November 11, 2012 Comments 0
President Barack Obama, with his daughter, Malia, and wife Michelle (back turned), waves towards the crowd at his election-night party last Wednesday in Chicago. - AP
President Barack Obama, with his daughter, Malia, and wife Michelle (back turned), waves towards the crowd at his election-night party last Wednesday in Chicago. - AP

Erica Virtue, Senior Gleaner Writer

It was a gamble of mega proportions. A heavily white country with a growing minority sector, with a history of bigotry straining against a desire for tolerance. The question was: Had the United States (US) come far enough to elect a black president? The answer was a resounding YES in 2008.

But what of 2012? Again, tremendous strides have been made in the land of opportunities, and they have reached to Caribbean minds.

"The most powerful part of Obama's legacy for the Caribbean is a symbolic one; it demonstrates to us that amid rampant racism, a black man could rise to become president not once, but twice. It is particularly symbolic also because so many of our Caribbean citizens migrated to the US and have made significant contributions to the US development," University of the West Indies (UWI) academic Jermaine McCalpin told The Sunday Gleaner.

Caribbean people, he said, will most remember the feel-good factor of seeing the first identified black man becoming president, but cautioned that expectation is impractically high. He suggested that there is a "wide enough lacuna between expectations and reality as it pertains to what Obama's legacy is".

"Obama's foreign policy towards the Caribbean will not be any more benevolent because he is black. Geo-strategically, Asia is of more economic and political importance than the Caribbean. I cannot see us getting any more development assistance because Obama is president," he asserted.

DECADES-LONG TIES

The Caribbean, through immi-gration, has maintained an umbilical relationship with the United States. This has been strengthened through bilateral agreements going back decades, and the view was under-scored by Roberta S. Jacobson, US assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs.

In an article published on November 7 titled 'The United States and the Caribbean: seizing the opportunities ahead', Jacobson said the United States and the Caribbean enjoy extensive political, economic, cultural, and family ties, which have deepened over the years. She pledged the continued support of the US for shared goals.

McCalpin, however, went beyond the psychological feeling of a black president.

"President Obama's legacy must be characterised by his continued efforts at social welfare, affordable healthcare, getting America out of its financial recession and increasing employment. And beyond the traditional presidential library in Hawaii or Illinois, Americans will remember him as the president that pulled America out of its two most expensive wars," he stated.

Obama has taken Americans out of Iraq and has pledged to end the war in Afghanistan.

"But most people in the Caribbean will remember him for his efforts at immigration reforms, especially the provisions for illegal immigrants under provisions of the Dream Act, first introduced in 2001 by senators Orrin Hatch and Dick Durbin," he stated.

Illegal immigration among minorities in the US impacts heavily on the Caribbean, many of whose people are undocumented immigrants. He believes that the Caribbean will have to offer strong lobbying efforts to ensure that the US remembers the Caribbean beyond development assistance.

DIVIDED SYSTEM

"Given the divided political system in the US, what he achieves in his second term will require bipartisan cooperation and strong decisive leadership," said McCalpin.

Irwine Clare, advisory board member of the Jamaica Diaspora in the US, North East, said the human side of the man should not be excluded.

"The human side should be looked at. He has given hope to a whole race of people, not just blacks it's the many who thought they could never be something. Now they can aspire to be," Clare said.

Becoming the first black president to be re-elected with both popular and electoral votes is an endorsement despite the closeness of the votes, according to Clare. For him, his legacy will be written long after he leaves office, and will be felt largely "in the Supreme Court. The possibility exists that he could name up to three members who are facing retirement".

Clare said under Obama, global likeness of the United States had improved significantly with his high ratings by foreign countries and leaders.

Clare said part of his legacy will be embedded in the restoration of the auto industry in the US, which has saved thousands of US jobs.

"In the end, he will be judged by some by the colour of his skin. For others, it will be what he did to develop America at home and expand America's role in the world. For others, still, it will be how their personal fortunes improve or stagnate. His legacy has to be dissected to separate the positive psychological emotive effect of a black president from what has this translated into policies that are favourable to the Caribbean," McCalpin said.

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