03/11/2014

Mid-Term Elections, Barack Obama and the American Dream

After Nov. 4, we should know if the Republican Party will control both the House of Representatives and the Senate for the next two years. As President Obama will be entering the last two years of his second mandate beginning in 2015, the lameness of the lame duck President will be intensified if the Republicans control both houses of Congress.


The interest in the election will also focus on the legacy of Barack Obama. With presidential candidates such as Hillary Clinton and Chris Christie already priming for the primaries before the 2016 election, attention will inevitably turn to evaluating Obama’s place in history. After all, the Republicans have been so negative towards the President that controlling the Senate, besides changing the chairmanship of committees, will not have the significant effect the media is trying to sell.
But the role of the President is not without significance. There is a serious leitmotif that this election is a referendum on President Obama’s legacy. While it is obviously much too early to have a proper perspective on what he has or has not accomplished, and it is impossible to quantify if the election is really about what Obama has or has not done, at this point we can say that: his popularity is around 40%; the Democratic candidates in tight races have invited his wife to campaign for them but not him; he appears disengaged from the day-to-day business of running the country; the pressures of the office have obviously weighed on him, grey hair and all. I think all of the above is beyond debate.
What is fascinating about the current debate concerning his legacy is the difference judged between American voters and foreigners, especially journalists who follow politics in the United States. Most of the foreign media reporting on the U.S. remain enamored of Barack Obama. Why is this so? While many Americans, including Democrats, express disappointment if not anger at his failure to be transformative as promised and hoped for, foreigners continue to believe that the glass is half full. While we are all very far from the euphoria of having the first African-American President and one so articulate and cosmopolitan, foreigners continue to say how he has been successful in spite of the financial crash and fervent opposition by Republicans.
Foreigners see the glass half full; Americans see the glass half empty. This is an important distinction that I believe revolves around a vision of the American dream. For non-Americans, the United States still remains a beacon, a hope, a project that continues to unfold towards true democracy, social mobility, meritocracy, and a dynamic multicultural society. That is the American dream still beating in the hearts of non-Americans. For U.S. citizens, this is the post-dream period. From the assassination of John Kennedy in Dallas to the horrific imprisonments in Guantanamo, from the hotel in Los Angeles where Robert Kennedy was assassinated to the shameful behavior of troops in Abu Grahib, from the civil rights marches in Selma to the shooting in Ferguson, Missouri, from the generosity of the G.I. Bill after WWII to the impoverishment of our returning soldiers, from the guarantee of jobs and social coverage from cradle to grave to the 44 million uninsured and the collapse of the middle class, the American dream has disappeared for many Americans.
It is ironic that the American dream still lives on in the hearts and minds of non-Americans. It is a tribute to the magnificence of the dream, and how it was created and developed with the United States. We all have dreams. Dreams are essential to our existence. But, does the dream have to be identified with one country?  Barack Obama was the personification of the American dream. Once more, post-Kennedys, many Americans and most foreigners thought the dream was going to be realized.
Is the glass half-full or half-empty? It all depends on where you come from.

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