America at a crossroads


Tuesday, November 06, 2012

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TODAY is the day of decision in the 2012 United States presidential elections. In 2008 Barack Obama, running on a Democratic ticket, won decisively against the Republican candidate John McCain. For the first time in history there would be a black man in the White House. Obama won because the people were tired of what was happening in Washington, they wanted change, they most of all wanted to see a buoyant economy befitting the country's world superpower status.

But as the euphoria waned, the man who electrified America with his inspiring eloquence against the backdrop of his best-selling book, The Audacity of Hope, began to face some harsh realities. One such prick in his balloon was the decision by the Republicans, emboldened by the irascible Tea Party operatives, not to cooperate with him in Congress, thus stymieing many acts of legislation that would have positively driven his agenda for change. Obamacare was perhaps the most striking example.

One does not have to be over-discerning to see that there has always been a racial undercurrent ever since the White House was occupied by a black family. Indeed, it has been reported that after their crushing 2008 defeat, the extremists in the GOP huddled together and vowed that they would do everything in their power to get rid of the feisty Hawaiian who was spawned by an African from Kenya. Never in recent memory has the legitimacy of an American president been so questioned. This scenario went to such a ridiculous extent that there were repeated calls for Obama to produce his birth certificate, in that it was being posited that he was not born in America. His middle name Hussein did not help either, given the high level of paranoia in the USA when it comes to Muslims.

One of the major casualties of the 2012 presidential elections is the Truth. Republican candidate Mitt Romney, a Mormon elder, has not only flip-flopped, he has on many occasions twisted the truth and in some instances told outright lies. I must confess that up to now I do not know what Romney stands for as he keeps shifting his positions. Having won the second debate, an upbeat and back-on-the-block Obama used his knowledge as the incumbent as well as his strength of character to "Sandy-fy" Romney in the subsequent encounters. This is a man who has shifted his positions on key issues in a most glaring and unrepentant way. That the presidential race could therefore be so close shows how much white America wants to get rid of Obama!

Yes, millions of Americans are still out of jobs, but the latest statistics have shown that there is an uptake, notwithstanding that the unemployment figure stands at 7.9 per cent, Osama Bin Laden is dead, US troops have been withdrawn from Iraq and there is a timetable for leaving Afghanistan. These achievements alone should guarantee President Obama a second term, but when you are black you have to work even harder to prove your worth.

Who is Mitt Romney? What is he? Doesn't character matter anymore in an American presidential election? What is his plan to revitalise the economy? Merely giving tax relief to the wealthy? President Obama has been reassuring his supporters that at least they know him and they know that he says what he means and means what he says. He has also clearly defined his plan if re-elected. Aren't these desirable qualities that any honest, well-meaning politician should have? Wake up, America!

One Republican activist, reportedly a clergyman, said that if Obama wins tonight, America will head into a civil war. This divisive rhetoric is yet again a prime example of the hatred spurred by racism that Conservatives have for the man who, through his foreign policy initiatives, has made America the safest it has been since 9/11.

I wonder if this irrational clergyman will also curse God because of Hurricane Sandy as many Republicans feel that if they lose the election, then it will be a combination of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie's very kind comments on the president's handling of that devastation and that it took the sting out of the Romney momentum.

It is no secret that America is split right down the middle in terms of partisan support for the GOP and the Democratic Party. It is therefore the Independents who may well decide this most pivotal election. Then there are the ethnic groups inclusive of blacks and Hispanics. In Jamaica, most of us endorse Obama, primarily for sentimental reasons. Let's face it, if he were a white president that has supported same-sex marriages there would be "more fire" for him! Such are the vagaries of politics. In this vein, it will be interesting to see if the Bible-thumping black evangelicals vote for Obama today.

As one who is not over-integrated into the domesticities of American politics, I am more concerned about the implications on the international front, depending on who sits in the Oval Office. From all indications, the choice is between a hawk (war) and a dove (peace). Romney clearly is a hawk which means his incumbency could see a World War III looming on the horizon. Obama's kinder and gentler approach, his very demeanour emanates not weakness, as many of his detractors are wont to say, but a strength of character and a fixity of purpose.

In 2008 I was invited to the American Embassy in Jamaica to watch the counting of votes on election night. As I left the complex later that night with pep in my step, I quietly cried. I had lived to see a black man become president of the world's most powerful nation, thus making him first citizen on planet Earth. Since then, he has not delivered on all his promises and some of the sheen has worn off. But I still see him as a wonderful human being. That is why I want him to win. In the final analysis, character, likeability and trust matter in any election. And what if Obama doesn't win? Well, I have already shaved off my moustache of many decades. The show must go on!

Lloyd B Smith is a member of parliament and deputy speaker of the House of Representatives. The views expressed are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of the People's National Party.





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