Columns

The Obama win has only a feel-good sensation for Jamaica

Mark Wignall

Thursday, November 08, 2012    

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FOUR years ago the world witnessed what some saw as a near miracle, a socio-political miracle of sorts. In a country which spent nearly all of its formative years bringing into harsh and brutal practice the belief that its white-skinned residents were superior to people of all other skin tones, in 2008 it elected to the highest office in the land a person who was from that other "inferior" class.

Four years later when it was up to those same voters to exercise that most sacred of democratic options - the right to vote - they re-elected the man from that "other" class, most likely because, at the very least, he had proved himself to be an effective commander-in-chief in many areas, but also because the other choice, Mitt Romney, represented a man who resided in the skin of a chameleon.

Four years before 2008, not many Americans or those in the international community would have been prepared to tell the world that the US would elect a black president. I first became aware of Obama in 2005 and remarked to myself, "Who is this man, where is he from and...what an articulate man he is, hitting all the right buttons and doing it with such ease of delivery."

In 2012, that is now the proverbial water under the bridge. Barack Obama has been given his second term and the main concerns for the American people are job creation in the short and medium term, women's issues, the retention of "entitlements", and, among other things, the need to see bipartisan cooperation between the presidency and Congress.

For us in Jamaica, there is not much to single out as items that would place us firmly on America's radar. As a nation with its hands constantly outstretched and actively seeking loans and grants, we have elected at least one leader in this country whose strongest management options, in the view of some voters, were his ability to "get money from America". I speak of course of Eddie Seaga, Jamaican prime minister from October 1980 to February 1989.

In 2013 and beyond, it is hardly likely that America will see us as that important to warrant more than the odd agreement and cooperation with the "war on drugs" moving from South America to mainland USA.

I was most amazed at how older supporters of the JLP, many of whom are hopelessly out of touch with present political realities, were supporters of Mitt Romney. Many of them were conveniently willing to forget about Romney's hideous political faults and his mad lurch to the far right, simply because the JLP was a "conservative" party like the Republican, and the alter ego of its worst incarnations. They were willing to give Romney the nod (those who were US citizens) in spite of his inability to hold to one position long enough to last until a new political dynamic presented itself.

One reader who has long harboured deep resentment with my writings and who I suspect enjoys his self-imposed antagonisms e-mailed me the day before the US presidential elections:

"Stop making excuses for Obama! He has failed miserably. A win for him is possible, but unlikely. Brace yourself for a loss.

"Free advice - start listening to networks other than CNN and MSNBC - broaden your knowledge.'

In other words, the reader probably was so enmeshed in the right wing views of Fox News and the likes of Rush Limbaugh and company that he had grown to accept the mutual tickling of ears and distaste for those who saw differently.

Another reader wrote, "Mark, it is all politics and as you rightly put it... they are all politicians. In my view President Obama has had his share of "shifting" views. One can only point to his ever "evolving" view on gay marriage. It evolved only over a few more votes and campaign money.

"I immigrated here for the sole purpose of making a life for myself and family. Growing up in Jamaica it was never a black and white issue for many of us not so privileged ones. It wasn't enough to depend on a government who could never deliver on its promises. But I wanted a chance to prove that if I work hard and play by the rules, I could achieve much. Many of us have not fared well under Obama's policies. In short, our lives are not better off four years later. In other words, our cost of living far outpaced the salaries we now take home. In the meantime, we have a president who is bent on taxing us more to pay for the social programmes for the few. That was Michael Manley's formula for a promising nation, which stagnated a whole generation. It will not work here.

"I was certainly disappointed with your recent column. If you want to cast President Obama's second term as a victory for "blacks" you have grossly missed the point. Because he will leave at the end of his term to a wealthy life in the private sector, and the lives of the blacks around will remain the same.

"Therefore, it is not about ideology for me, and the many people of colour voting. We will vote based on the record of one, and the belief that the other will be a better alternative for the lives of our families. We are not looking for a handout or government-run health care, but the chance to continue to produce and secure enough to last us into our retirement years."

Of course, at no time did I classify the expected Obama victory as one for black-skinned people. One of the great fears I had for the region was that a Romney victory would lead to a harder line on Cuba and a reversal of some of the mild reforms that Obama has made on the US relationship with our sister island.

It is my hope that Obama will, freed from the possibility of an electoral loss next time but hobbled by the exigencies of what his political legacy will be over the next four years, make a serious focus on ending the crippling trade and economic embargo with Cuba. Of course this will require concessions from the Cuban leadership. It is my added hope that the Cuban leadership will accept that something else has to give and that has to be a relaxing of the old rigid rules of communism. China has some lessons to teach Cuba.

For Jamaica the Obama win will bring euphoria because "one of us" excelled. Outside of that, I cannot see any other direct benefit except the continuation of our traditional trading and increased attraction to Americans as probably the best tourist destination in the region.

observemark@gmail.com

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