Lambert Brown, Contributor
It was not supposed to happen - a black man becoming president of the United States of America at the turn of the 21st century. That Barack Hussein Obama, a man with a Muslim-sounding name and a Kenyan father was re-elected US president in a landslide victory two Tuesdays ago has confounded the critics who said it couldn't happen.
Eight short years ago, not many persons in the world would bet that a black man would be elected president of the most powerful country in the world. Eight years ago, very few persons would believe that if a black man became US president he would survive his term without being assassinated like John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. On November 6, more than 60 million Americans - more than half of all who voted - made sure that those of us who live in this time would be fortunate to witness an event of historical significance: the re-election of a black man as president of the US.
For some of us, history has been particularly generous. We have seen Nelson Mandela move from being a political prisoner to becoming the first black man to lead South Africa. In Jamaica, we were privileged to see a woman from humble beginnings - Portia Simpson Miller - emerge to become the first female prime minister of our nation. Politics is indeed the art of the possible. The many critics and cynics who told us that these occurrences were not possible are becoming the laughing stock of history.
In the US, we were told that the recent presidential elections were too close to call, and that Obama was likely to be a one-term president. We heard the same thing in Jamaica in December last year in the general election campaign. The fact that the results of the elections in both countries were far from too close to call means we must seriously question the objectivity and competence of pundits, analysts and political commentators who got it so wrong. Too often, facts and objective realities are subordinated to the wishful thinking.
70 per cent favourability
In 2009, Mr Obama had a 70 per cent favourability rating among the US population. By November 2010, his popularity plummeted and he suffered a "shellacking" at the polls. His political life was numbered, and he was sentenced to political ignominy.
In 2006, after becoming prime minister, Portia Simpson Miller's favourability rating in the polls soared to 70 per cent heights, yet by September 2007, her Government was voted out of power. Like Obama, her critics were swift in writing her political obituary. Jamaicans were told no political leader could survive such a precipitous fall in favourability rate. History confounded those critics when Simpson Miller led her party to a massive electoral victory in December 2011.
The people's genuine love for and admiration of a political leader may wane, but never really disappear once the leader remains true to the cause of the people. Barack Obama's re-election, like Portia's victory, is testimony to the truth of this position. Several readers will, like the critics, seek to ignore this truism. Excuses will be made, but the cold facts cannot be hidden forever. We may choose to ignore these facts, but we do so at our peril.
That is what happened to Dick Morris, the political analyst on the US TV channel Fox News, who, on November 6, was predicting a landslide victory for Mitt Romney. Hiding one's head in the sand does not change the facts as life presents them. Facts, like truth, may be inconvenient, but we must learn to face them, accept them and act accordingly.
Barack Obama has been ridiculed, called lazy and unintelligible by his critics. He has been described as a socialist and as the most divisive president in US history. He has been portrayed as the incarnation of Hitler, but in the eyes of the majority of Americans, those labels did not stick. There are other lessons to be learnt.
During the recent US elections, the American people were presented with clear choices on the economic path forward. Different ways to reduce their fiscal deficit and reduce their high national debt were put before the people. Obama advocated increasing the tax rates on the richest Americans while cutting some expenditure. Romney argued for reducing the tax on the rich and cutting government spending big time. Both candidates trusted the people to issue a verdict on their economic vision.
involving the people
Here in Jamaica, we, too, have a fiscal deficit and high debt levels to be reduced. Our authorities seem to prefer to solve our problems by quiet discussions with the IMF, while ignoring the need to discuss possible solutions with the people. It is only by involving the people in finding fixes to the problems of tax, pension and public-sector reforms that sustainable resolutions will emerge.
The current bureaucratic approach is not different from that of the previous government. With this approach, we are likely to be presenting another austerity budget next year without the buy-in of the majority of our people. The US elections proved that constant communication with the people is essential for effective governance. That is what allowed an obscure black man and a political novice in 2004 to rise to become president of a majority white country in 2008.
It was that constant communication with the people that made it possible for him to successfully confound the critics by being re-elected in 2012. Obama realised that people power could always trump the power of big money. More than 60 million Americans who, despite relatively high levels of unemployment, unprecedented corporate financial contributions to his opponent, as well as threats by certain private-sector employers to fire their workers if Obama won the elections, nevertheless voted for Obama's re-election. They did this because they were fully informed and realised that sacrifices may have to be made in the best interest of the nation.
The Jamaican people will make the necessary sacrifices if they are fully informed. Secrecy will not help. If the people are trusted, they will return the trust. That is for me a crucial lesson from the US elections. That is always the best way to confound your critics.
Lambert Brown is a government senator and president of the University and Allied Workers Union. Email feedback to email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.