Belfast Telegraph

President Obama's spin fails to disguise litany of failure

By Eamonn McCann

Today in America, a teacher spent extra time with a student who needed it... An entrepreneur flipped on the lights in her tech startup... An autoworker fine-tuned some of the best, most fuel-efficient cars in the world... A farmer prepared for the spring after the strongest five-year stretch of farm exports in our history... And in tight-knit communities across America, fathers and mothers tucked in their kids..."

The comforting litany of homely vignettes went on and on, eventually prompting the thought that, if he can't think what other job to go for once his presidency comes to an end, Barack Obama would be a shoo-in as script-editor on Thought For The Day.

The man whose high-flung rhetoric thrilled hundreds of millions when he first addressed the Houses of Congress five years ago now trudged his way through thickets of dreary verbiage.

Those of us who stayed up late to listen to his State of the Union address were left with a sense of dismay that he has fallen so far short of expectations.

He never mentioned poverty. The number of foreclosures reaches record levels and the poorest of the poor are made to grovel for food stamps, but the man who reached the heights by promising to speak for the downtrodden hadn't a syllable to say on the subject.

Even in the matter of race, Obama has nothing distinctive to say. Indeed, race has become a trump card which his supporters can play any time his record is called into question.

Obama, according to some analyses, has talked less about race than any other Democratic president of the last half-century. He has explicitly rejected the idea that governments should openly focus on the defining disadvantages of African Americans. But between the idea and the reality falls the shadow of the consensus.

The black elite provides cover, as Columbia University political scientist Frederick Harris has just put it, tending to see "the decline of a political vision centred on challenging racial equality [as] the necessary price for the pride and satisfaction of having a black family in the White House."

A satisfactory enough deal for the comfortably-off, who can be passed off as representative of "the community", but useless for those at the sharp end.

Obama argues that policies which reduce inequality generally will lift up disproportionate numbers from minority groups; which would be fine if serious action against general inequality was in prospect. But it isn't.

The headline announcement was a pledge to introduce a law raising the minimum wage for workers on federal projects from $7.25 (£4.44) to $10.10 (£6.19) an hour. Sounds substantial. But a closer look reveals this, too, as a typical piece of Obama bluff.

Even as his spinners and weavers of plausible misrepresentation fanned out to urge the media to take the minimum wage initiative as this year's Big Idea and the phrase "America deserves a raise" as the soundbite de jour, a closer look showed that beneath the shiny surface there rested nothing very much at all.

The raise applies to contract workers on federal schemes – "a few hundred thousand," according to the New York Times. The first year's incremental increase will be 95 cents (58p) an hour.

At an average 40 hours a week 50 weeks a year, the total cost to employers will be $560m (£343m), which they will be able to recoup through adjustments in the levels of tenders. In other words, the taxpayer will foot the bill for almost all of the raise.

We could go on and on – climate change, Guantanamo, Afghanistan, drones. Compared with the promises and expectations of 2008, Obama has been an abject failure, if not an outright fraud. One wonders whether, if he wasn't black, he wouldn't be seen even as a figure of scornful fun.

But mainstream politicians and opinions-formers in the north will resist this conclusion for longer than, possibly, anybody else, such is the embarrassing obeisance towards US power and preferment.

Many are gearing up for the anticipated ascent of Hillary Clinton. First, the first black president, then the first female president, and don't dare say a vice-versa word lest you be labelled sexist.

US elections, they say, are matters for all on the planet, US policy and clout affecting every part of the globe.

Isn't it time we subjected US presidencies to the same sort of scrutiny we bring to bear, or at least realise we should bring to bear, on governments of treachery and opportunism in the rest of the world?

Belfast Telegraph


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