It is difficult to forget the moment of unparalleled joy, of hope, of promise, when it was announced that Barack Hussein Obama was going to be the 44th president of the United States of America. People ran out to the streets vindicated. Despite a looming economic crisis, world over, hope roared. America had stood by its promise to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. History, for once, seemed to do what was right and just.
The euphoria soon dwindled and a sordid reality seemed to come crashing down. The economic crises, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the maladies that state welfare programs entrenched, the flailing infrastructure, the faulty education system and the rise of the ‘rest of the world’ – the common man’s faith in the American dream seemed lost.
Come 2011, Obama could barely keep his head over troubled waters as criticisms of his Presidency poured in from all sides.
His Universal Health Care Bill has been universally panned – the criticism being that he waited for consensus and allowed the rectification of a bill, whose benefits no one claims to have received as yet. Opposition points this as a sign of his passivity, his inclination to appease all parties and a government bid to interfere in and regulate the free market
An added negative is the forecasted $900 billion hole in the federal budget over a period of ten years. This is read as Obama’s tendency to increase the federal deficit through increased federal spending.
The opposition’s cant is that there is a productive unemployed youth incapable of affording health care/insurance that are being latched onto the health care program of their parents under Obamacare. This has been labeled as a symptomatic policy that has governed Obama’s presidency that will turn America into ‘a European Socialist State’, ‘an Entitlement State’ and a ‘Welfare State’. It doesn’t help that the unemployment rate has remained at 8.5% despite growing confidence in the economy.
Coupled with criticism of Obama’s personality – a crafty orator, aloof, disconnected, non-committal, passive and worn out – the past three years in the Oval office have been anything but transformative.
But on the other hand, there are numbers that contest all these allegations from reliable sources. Ever since the implementation of Obama care, the percentage increase in U.S health care spending (2009-2010) has been only 4%; the lowest annual increase in the past 50 years. He cannot be faulted for his military and foreign policy stratagem either. As The New Republic notes, “In 1953, the United States had almost one million troops deployed overseas—325,000 in combat in Korea and more than 600,000 stationed in Europe, Asia, and elsewhere. In 1968, it had over one million troops on foreign soil—537,000 in Vietnam and another half million stationed elsewhere. By contrast, in the summer of 2011, at the height of America’s deployments in its two wars, there were about 200,000 troops deployed in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan combined, and another roughly 160,000 troops stationed in Europe and East Asia. Altogether, and including other forces stationed around the world, there were about 500,000 troops deployed overseas. This was lower even than the peacetime deployments of the Cold War. … The comparison is even more striking if one takes into account the growth of the American population. When the United States had one million troops deployed overseas in 1953, the total American population was only 160 million. Today, when there are half a million troops deployed overseas, the American population is 313 million. The country is twice as large, with half as many troops deployed as fifty years ago.” On another plane, the auto bail-out saved thousands of jobs and sale numbers in the American industry have seen a positive turn globally and this government, despite its many grid locks, has managed to fend off being drowned with the Euro crisis.
So the problem definitely isn’t overseas commitments or a Socialist socio-economic transformation. The problem is perhaps, the deeper issue of accountability. Who do we hold responsible, why, for what and to what extent?
With the elections sweeping over the nation and the hope that brought Obama to the Oval office turning malevolent, one wonders what precisely guides the voting public to invest their trust and hope in a single person? Is it a paradoxical social contract in which we all mutually select a single man to articulate our communal needs while we go about fulfilling our individual ones? Or by making every leader an extension of our own failures, do we expect a messianic sacrificial lamb – someone to wash away yesterday? Or is it an unconscious hierarchical instinct, harkening back to the primal food chain; predators on top?
Whatever instinctual process guides our choice of leadership, the disconcerting fact remains that we now understand leadership and change as synonymous. As a rhetorical device, change is evocatively powerful – a mono syllable that easily translates into a chant or a mantra. But it is the process of change, rather the actions that lead to ‘change’ that are more complicated, more conflicted. The larger mass seems to ignore this aspect of change and focus on the mantra instead. In this lies the paradoxical logic that guides the choice of leadership. In fact lately, it is those that coin the best mantra for change according to the times that sway the tides rather than agenda, records, discourse and analysis.
Truthfully speaking, it is a conflicted chaotic reality that determines change. Transition periods don’t occur in the blink of an eye. It isn’t a shout or a slogan and a sudden enlightened new world order. The process of change is tiresome, gruesome, demanding and forces every man, irrespective of the labels that govern his station in life, to rise, to attain a silent heroism through principled pragmatism.
But when chants and cants replace analytical engagement, one wonders what’s next, and who is going to pay for it.