Dr. Joseph O. Okpaku, Sr., yesterday, chronicled the Obama legacy from 2008 to 2012 and noted that Obama, deploying his intellectual forte that is universally acknowledged to be one of the best amongst world leaders, had to make difficult choices faced with an economy gone awry. He continues today. Read on.
In particular, a group on the extreme right of the Republican Party would essentially form a faction that came to call itself the Tea Party.
They would avow and advocate measures and positions that would previously be regarded as very extreme in the spectrum of American politics for one of the two major national political parties.
But somehow, at least so it came to seem, they attracted those who also consider the ascendency of a Black man to the American presidency as an abomination and spared no effort to resist, abuse and insult the President. A white radio talk show hostess would actually go so far as to call on the air President Obama, the First Lady Michelle Obama and their family, “the trash in the White House.”
Obama’s response (actually lack of it) would prove to be one of personal controversies between him and his supporters. As president of all America, it seemed, Obama could not be seen as responding to racist conduct, especially those aimed at him and his family. On the other hand, his failure or refusal to condemn such behaviour and even act publicly to prevent or reduce its occurrence, annoyed a good number of Black Americans who saw such conduct as depriving them of finally enjoying the respect due from the miracle of having a Black President in the White House.
Former President Jimmy Carter would try to handle this from a neutral angle so to speak. He would severely condemn such behaviour, calling them downright racist, using his southern credentials to authenticate his judgment. But Obama would be uncomfortable, and almost come across as wishing people would ignore such unacceptable behaviour. This would pose a problem between Obama and a number of Black Americans.
In the same vein, but from the opposite angle, many Black Americans most of whom had worked their hearts out to get Obama elected president, had a legitimate expectation of special attention to their needs and anxieties by “their” president. Obama, again appearing eager not to be seen as particularly a Black President, but as President, period, seemed to shy away from this immense real and psychological need of Black Americans. Even Black elected official such as members of the Congressional Black Caucus, the association of Black Americans in Congress, would complain that they had less than needed access to the president.
In fact, curiously, President Obama also had fewer Blacks in his cabinet than even his Republican predecessor, President George W. Bush.
To further complicate this was the fact that given the skewed needs of Black Americans to survive, domestic issues were more frontal in their priorities than foreign affairs. Accordingly, Obama’s foreign policy accomplishments did not seem to mean much to them, except to the good but limited number of them for whom foreign affairs, especially as they affect Africa, their ancestral land, have always constituted a breathing space from the seeming insensitivity to their special interests of America’s domestic policy.
For this last group as well, Obama had a problem. Except for a highly publicized trip to his ancestral home in Kenya and an early visit to Ghana, Obama does not seem to the public eye to have paid much attention to Africa and African development other than to demand democratic good governance from their leaders, a position that a few saw as castigating and lecturing African leaders rather than engaging them and the African people, his ancestral family, in concrete strategic development partnerships. His implicit targeting of Nigeria for criticism during his visit to Ghana, and the glaring decision to bypass what is Africa’s (and indeed the world’s) largest and leading African country, a clear contradiction of unspoken protocol, was seen by some Nigerians, candidate Obama’s most vocal and enthusiastic supporters, as a snob that was unfair, unnecessary and unjustified. Stories have it that many Nigerians with US citizenship who were visiting home at the time of the 2008 elections actually rushed back to the US just to cast their votes for him in the historic event.
There was also the sense amongst some that Obama was surrounded by too many at the White House who sought to “handle” him, a catch-all phrase covering a plethora of advice and counsel that militate against the instinct of the leader or chief executive. Some credence is lent to this perception in the book The Obama’s by Jodi Kantor in which Michelle Obama is reported as having felt that her husband was being too much managed with the risk of turning him into a politician (as opposed to a man driven by a shared popular dream).
So, with all of these, and the strident and unmitigated effort by the Republican Party to undercut and undermine just about any effort, policy or programme he proposed as President in order to ensure that he did not get to serve a second term, what was the glorious promise of Obama’s debut as President of America ran into road blocks from all kinds of corners. The result was that, his critical accomplishments notwithstanding, Obama’s Democratic Party was not able to turn out the votes in the mid-term elections of 2010 that he had so well done for his election to office in 2008. His once tireless supporters seemed, in some sense, either disillusioned or at least weary and less enthusiastic. Of course, mid-term elections, being devoid of a presidential race, do not attract as much nationwide enthusiasm as the full-term ones. But they do matter. The Democratic Party lost control of the House of Representatives, and hard only a vey slim majority in the Senate, making it virtually impossible for the President to overcome the deliberate efforts of the Republican opposition to block his legislations.
Obama The Second Time Around
Looking back at his tenure and stewardship of America in his first term in office, there is no doubt that in absolute terms as well as given that he inherited a collapsing economy and dispirited nation when he took office in January 2009, President Barack Obama has accomplished a lot, especially within the very short time of four years. He has stemmed the tide of economic decline even granted that there is still a long way to go. Employment is increasing even if slowly, the people’s confidence is returning and America is holding its own in particular at a time when Europe is going through its own hiccups.
But whatever the dampening effect of the wholesale effort to deny him the acknowledgement of his true accomplishment, a few observations about his own policy, strategy and positions might throw some light on his prospects or efforts for a second term this time around. It is worth noting, parenthetically, that four years or so ago in the heat of the 2008 campaign and election, few people, especially in my family, would entertain even the very thought of a critique of Barack Obama, how much less a criticism of him. Any such thought was taboo.
Today, there seems to be a slight wiggling room for re-election observations, including entertaining in a very small way the possibility that there may have been a misstep or two here and there, not humongous or fatal, but still relevant and worthy of observation, especially as guides to his second term.
Dr. Joseph O. Okpaku, Sr., President and Publisher of Third Press Publishers and Chairman of Telecom Africa International Corporation, is a renowned scholar and expert of strategic development and global issues. He is regarded as a Renaissance man and a leading 21st Century philosopher.