When Barack Obama ascended to the Presidency in 2008, many felt it was a pivotal moment in American history. This is true, but for reasons beyond those that many of us believed at the time.
The country elected its first black president (multiracial, actually) and this man spoke with undeniable intelligence and a center/left philosophy at a time when the country was falling into the worst economic decline since the Great Depression.
In his acceptance of his party’s nomination, Obama declared that people should have a safety net whether it was health care, or unemployment insurance, or protection from predatory credit-card providers. The 19th century thinking of rugged self-individualism should be replaced in large part by a more caring nation for those who have been overcome by circumstances beyond their control. Since his inauguration in 2009 Obama has set forth an agenda to accomplish these well-intentioned aspirations: the Health Care Affordable Act, extending jobless benefits and tax cuts for the middle class, and financial reform of the banks and Wall Street.
However, neither policy nor legislation in the last 22 months has turned (or even halted) the idea of greed and personal self-aggrandizement that continues unabated.
There is no way turn back time but, just for a moment, imagine the unimaginable: a McCain-Palin victory in 2008. There is little doubt that if that had happened what we saw November 2, 2010, would have been a polar opposite.
A McCain administration would not have invested in a stimulus plan, and probably not saved the auto industry.
The route they would have taken would include lower taxes (but not just for the middle class, increasing the debt) and health care or financial reform would be whispered as talking points by the liberal media to a very tone-deaf Republican administration.
So in 2009-10, who would have the tea party have railed against to lower taxes and cut spending? For that matter, how many Hitler signs would we have seen and would the word socialism ever have been mentioned if President McCain decided to bail out American industry?
The economy, I suggest, would be in an even deeper recession, unemployment perhaps at even higher figures than today, and the world economy in a continued free fall.
The Republicans, in our hypothetical time warp, would be the obvious fall guys as the midterms approached and the blame might have resulted in a bonanza for
the Democrats. We would have seen a midterm election reversal surpassing even the 1938 totals.
But instead the Democrats were the fall guys, despite some of the most sweeping reforms by a president in our country’s history: providing health care for the millions uninsured; giving protection to consumers from health insurance companies who cancel their customers for becoming ill and won’t cover the many with preexisting conditions; implementing financial protection for credit-card users, and regulations to halt Wall Street’s laissez-faire strategy of taking bad risks without accountability.
Concurrently beginning reconstruction of a very old infrastructure in desperate need of modernization, that will provide jobs in time.
The Republican’s hit political paydirt thanks to a deep recession that still stagnates the U.S. economy, unemployment that stubbornly persists as large companies refuse to spend on expansion (as they sit with large sums of cash in house), and a frustrated electorate beguiled by misinformation and ignorant characterizations into believing our own government is the enemy.
The pivot we have made as a nation is not toward the change and optimism that should have energized Obama’s first two years (after eight years of greed and cynicism under Bush) but incessant pessimism that divides us and carries a subliminal message of extremism, and that has led us back to the saddest of misfortunes: Racism, the issue the founding fathers of this country were unable to erase even with an enlightened document like the constitution.
In the last half-century, with progressive legislation, we have seen unprecedented progress in race relations in this country. Today, however, we see a different cultural tendency entering our nation’s dialogue, fostered by right-wing media (Fox) and led by people like Glen Beck, with the millions of viewers they lay claim to. They proclaim God and patriotism while at the same time they compare Obama’s policies to the Third Reich, stoke the fires of a convoluted birther theory, and intimate that health care is a form of reparation for 19th century slavery.
Now older generations are reminded of prejudices that they had begun to let go of. With Beck’s announcement that President Obama has a disdain for the white race, the rippling effect has been an “us against them” mentality. There has been a renewed atmosphere of xenophobia, whether the conversation is about Black people, Moslems, or recently even Jews (Beck’s accusation that liberal activist George Soros helped send people to death camps).
As new generations are exposed to the poisonous revisionist history of callow opportunists, let us hope the Republican victory does not lead us back to the most unfortunate aspects of our national mentality. Let us hope our finer instincts prevail.