By Uche Onyebadi
LAST week, I watched with intense attention as President Obama presented his annual State of the Union address to the joint session of the U.S. Congress. He did so with a sense of accomplishment reserved for seasoned matadors. There he stood on the presidential podium, gleefully reeling off layers of his administration’s achievements, to the chagrin of his Republican Party opponents. House Speaker John Boehner sat there like an unfulfilled zombie, stoically refusing to applaud when the president provided indisputable evidence of good deeds by his government.
The fact is that upon his election and being sworn into office in 2008, the Republican cabal with current Senate Majority Leader, Senator Mitch McConnell as its spokesman, resolved to make Obama a one-term president. That clandestine meeting also resolved that the most effective way to derail and crush the new president’s administration was to say NO to any and everything Obama proposed or attempted to do.
That explained why the Republican Party was called the party of NO especially in Obama’s first term in office. So absurd was this practice of placing political road-blocks on Obama’s way that the crusading Republicans made several attempts to shut down the U.S. government for politically selfish reasons.
The list of what Republicans opposed is without an end. Obamacare, the healthcare bill that was meant to make affordable healthcare available to millions of impoverished and financially stressed Americans, was militantly opposed by Republicans and their Tea-Party allies. Similar opposition was mounted against the government’s attempt to introduce a law that would enhance minimum wage for all Americans.
Equal pay for women for equal work done by them in the workplace? Republicans opposed it too. How about making it easy for people with crushing student loans to pay back?
Medicine to cure cancer
The NO Republicans also said NO. Each economic reform introduced by the president was met with a resounding NO. This NO-mindset was so intense that President Obama once joked that were he to develop a medicine to cure cancer, Republicans would still vote NO to it.
Just before the 2012 presidential election campaign, Republicans switched strategy. The same people who had said NO to everything Obama did or tried to do turned around to blame their president for all that did not go well in the country. Here is an example.
When the country’s unemployment figure was hovering around 12 percent, Republicans pounced and blamed the man they had frustrated in his attempts to make the economy work. When the plans Obama put in place began to yield fruit and the unemployment rate came down to 10 percent, Republicans dismissed the figure as bogus and manufactured by Obama’s “Chicago Mafia”. Finally, when it became clear that Obama was now turning the economy around and the unemployment figure went below the magical two-figure threshold, that is, below 10 percent, the same people shifted gear. Their new mantra was on the “quality” of the jobs that were creeping back into the economy as they began to sneer that America was being inundated with low quality, meaningless jobs.
How the Republicans managed to keep up the tempo of their criticisms of Obama and making him look like a loser when in fact he was recording success after success is mystifying. The tempo was so high that Democrats who were up for re-election in the November 2014 mid-term elections put a huge distance between them and their president. They did not want Obama’s “tainted” image to rub off on them.
But, no one can hoodwink all people all the time. The irony today is that after some lily-livered Democrats ditched their president, eventually lost their re-election last November and ipso facto handed both Senate and House of Representatives to Republican control, Obama has emerged bright and shinning in near immaculate political robes. His current approval rating is slightly above 50 percent. And the opening sentences in his 2015 state of the union address reflected the overall economic resurgence and his enhanced approval rating. Here is what the president said:
“….Tonight, after a breakthrough year for America, our economy is growing and creating jobs at the fastest pace since 1999. Our unemployment rate is now lower than it was before the financial crisis. More of our kids are graduating than ever before; more of our people are insured than ever before; we are as free from the grip of foreign oil as we’ve been in almost 30 years…..America, for all that we’ve endured; for all the grit and hard work required to come back; for all the tasks that lie ahead, know this: The shadow of crisis has passed, and the State of the Union is strong.”
Obama’s successes so far were not fortuitously achieved. The opposition one his way was monumental and continues to be so. The job of economic reconstruction was, according to him, full of “grit and hard work” but he did not relent. He had an agenda and pursued it vigorously, relentlessly and with vision. Good governance does not depend on good luck. Obama understands this. That is why he had the courage to tell his countrymen and women that “the shadow of crisis has passed, and the State of the Union is strong.”
Such good tidings are hardly heard from presidents in Africa and the developing world.