Some have called Cornel West’s scathing critique of Barack Obama petty, while others—including some in the Muslim community—argue that America would be better off without four more years of Barack Obama. Which is not to say that either West or disgruntled pockets within the Muslim community prefer Romney over Obama, but only that his less than progressive politics, they believe, would do little to alter the status quo. So, what changed?
Now, it is somewhat clear why a growing number of African Americans seem to have lost faith in the President: to paraphrase West, it is because he seems more obsessed with being on Mount Rushmore than in the trenches with the disenfranchised. And there is much truth to that. But I also believe that Obama’ failure to deliver is both his fault . . . and ours. His wanting to be on Mount Rushmore, if true, came only after we anointed him our savior: from economic meltdown at home, and unwinnable wars overseas!
With regard to the electorate at large, Obama has disappointed, I think, not because he broke promises, but because it saw in him a crisis president who failed to deliver. George Washington, the first of three so called crisis presidents is remembered for having gained this country independence from the British during the American Revolutionary War. History has immortalized two others: Abraham Lincoln for his efforts, during the Civil War, to preserve the Union and free the slaves—in that order; and Franklin Delano Roosevelt for his saving grace New Deal during the Great Depression. All three have secured their places in history not because of their presidential performance, but their bold leadership in the face of extraordinary odds. With Obama, it was his yes we can mantras, his verbal chutzpah, if you will, rather than some special insights into problem fixing that sealed his tryst with destiny. In him, we thought we saw the capacity to transcend party politics in Washington, refloat a tanking economy at home and restore national pride abroad. For his part, Obama didn’t say much; instead, he simply assuaged our fears with broad rhetorical strokes. That he subsequently seemed to assume FDR’s mantle with no more than his audacity of hope is therefore, less hubris and more a response to our premature paean. And this is precisely why he failed so many: Muslim and non-Muslim, Black and White, native and alien.
And then there is his approach to foreign policy. In calling for a multilateral approach to global policing, for example, he seemed to make light of a deeply held belief in this country that America as a nation is first among equals, and justified as a result, to go it alone. His new approach to foreign relations, which some have called ‘Obama’s benign provincialism’ is anything but. While he did compare his belief in American exceptionalism to the Brits believing in British exceptionalism and the Greeks in Greek exceptionalism he took pride, nonetheless, in its role in rebuilding Europe and promoting human rights worldwide. That he believes in America’s uniqueness is evidenced by his trumpeting of America’s Constitution, its body of laws, and its belief in free speech and equality. Obama’s America, though imperfect, is nonetheless quite exceptional.
As for the Muslim world and its disappointments, where do we begin! After his Cairo speech Muslims were optimistic that Obama would close Guantanamo, end drone strikes in the theatre of conflict, and be more even handed in his treatment of the Palestinians. To his credit Obama did warn that “No single speech can eradicate years of mistrust,’ and that the road ahead entailed the ‘hard work of forging common ground.’ He began by selectively undoing only those Bush era policies that failed to draw lines of distinction between Muslims and terrorists; as for his predecessor’s war on terror, he quietly extended it . . . and nailed Osama! His handling of the Palestinian issue has been disappointing, I admit, but this is largely because his message of hope, to paraphrase the Guardian newspaper, was up against Netanyahu’s wails of doom. Where Obama was looking to shift the weight of US power to force a more balanced outcome, Netanyahu countered by convincing Israel’s well wishers that Israel was being sacrificed.
Will he win in November? I think the odds favor him, but only if his chastened devotees hold him to standards that are more presidential than messianic, and his critics come to realize that saving America as a whole is far more important than going after its political parts.
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