“Tribute to Her,” uploaded to the Internet on Nov. 7, 2008, is a slideshow of Election Day photographs. YouTube member SailorBrownie described her post as a “dedication to all those Black Americans who went out on Tuesday and voted. We made history.”
While it’s not altogether clear who is the “Her” in the title of the video, it might as well be the woman collapsed on the floor in tears. A girl nearby touches her cheek with a little confusion and a lot tenderness for the woman who is, most likely, her mother. The pictures are set to the Beatles song, “Blackbird” — a good choice, considering it was the civil rights drama playing out across the pond that inspired Paul McCartney to write the song on his Scotland farm in 1968.
And on the night of Nov. 4, 2008, a tall, thin man on the stage in Chicago’s Grant Park seemed brighter than every light in the sky. Not a dry eye in the house, say those present in Chicago on election night, and even Republicans seemed moved by this milestone of racial equality. “We have overcome,” read one banner held aloft.
What a difference two years makes. The worst thing about a sugar high, doncha know, is the sugar crash.
Obama stood for change and hope, and for collaboration in an increasingly fractured world. Today that hope has dissipated. Meanwhile, extremists on the right grabbed the populist football and ran with it.
The Obama = Hitler signs at tea party protests have always puzzled me. According to Wikipedia, populism fueled the rise of Nazi Germany: “Distressed middle-class populists during the pre-Nazi Weimar period mobilized their anger at government and big business. The Nazis parasitized the forms and themes of the populists and moved their constituencies to the extreme right through ideological appeals involving demagoguery, scapegoating, and conspiracism.”
Whoa! That sounds more like a tea party rally than a day in the White House rose garden.
No matter what conservatives say, small government does not equate to a kinder, gentler nation. Re-read Upton Sinclair’s 1906 book, “The Jungle,” about the fun times had by all prior to the federal government stepping in to protect meat-packing workers. (After publication of “The Jungle,” a doubtful Teddy Roosevelt sent two trusted emissaries to check out the novel’s veracity. True, they reported.)
Obama has made some colossal mistakes. One was pushing health-care reform that lacked cost control. Another was putting health care before unemployment and foreclosures, a toxic combination that is rapidly sending America’s middle class the way of Passenger Pigeons.
We’re in deep trouble. Still. The economy is running out of gas: “Since World War II, the economy has never once avoided a recession once the unemployment rate rose by more than 0.3 percentage points (on a three-month average). And it’s about to do just that . . . The jobless rate, now at 9.6 percent, is expected to rise to 10 percent or more later this year or early next year.”
The Commerce Department just issued a new report based on third-quarter data. “An economy growing at a sluggish 2 percent, nearly all economists agree, cannot produce nearly the demand needed to bring down the nation’s painfully high 9.6 percent unemployment rate.”
Shadowstats.com calculates our real unemployment rate (as measured by the old standards, before “long-term discouraged workers” were, in 1994, erased into nothingness) is not 9 percent or 10 percent. Try 22 percent.
Some observers, like John B. Judis of The New Republic, believe the so-called Great Recession, along with the recovery of 2009, is just a semantics game. Judis says we’re not headed for the second half of a double-dip recession. We should be so lucky. According to several key indicators, we’re in a depression similar to the 1890s and 1930s.
Keep in mind that no precise, agreed-upon definitions of recession and depression exist. The term depression was used by President Herbert Hoover specifically because he thought it sounded less alarming than “crisis” or “panic.” An ordinary downturn in an ordinary business cycle. Nothing to see here, folks, move along.
What we needed over the last 21 months or so was a president who would level with us. A president who would hammer out the message — every week, if necessary — how deep our trouble was, how only massive government intervention could get us out, how every American shared a duty to hold elected representatives accountable for obstructionism in Congress. We needed a president who would tell us that this was not the time for nostalgia for an independent, pioneer past. Now was a time for bold ideas and new safety nets that fit our 21st-century economy.
We needed a president who proved by words and deeds that he stood with Main Street, not Wall Street. Obama was not that president. From his bank-friendly Cabinet choices to his ineffectual foreclosure-prevention program, Obama failed. Period.
Oh, I’ve heard the directive: Democrats should brag more about their accomplishments. Puh-leeeze! Democrats are politicians, and politicians never shut up about real accomplishments. When the “accomplishments” are riddled with massive concessions to big business and wealthy donors? Not so much.
Liberals felt betrayed by Obama as one program after another got kicked to the curb. Public option — gone! Medicare for age 55 to 65 — poof! A WPA-style jobs program didn’t even have the honor of getting trashed, since it was not seriously considered.
As more and more right-wing extremists gained political traction, moderate voters went from decades of weighing the pros and cons of viable Republican and Democratic candidates to wondering if they should write in the name of a trusted friend or perhaps a high school teacher.
Some conservatives, meanwhile, are salivating at the prospect of taking over the government and cutting the few remaining safety nets.
These are dark times. Maybe a little wisdom from the past is in order. (Even Obama’s detractors agree he gives good speeches.) The first three graphs of Obama at the mike on Election Day two years ago:
If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible; who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time; who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer. It’s the answer told by lines that stretched around schools and churches in numbers this nation has never seen; by people who waited three hours and four hours, many for the very first time in their lives, because they believed that this time must be different; that their voice could be that difference. It’s the answer spoken by young and old, rich and poor, Democrat and Republican, black, white, Latino, Asian, Native American, gay, straight, disabled and not disabled — Americans who sent a message to the world that we have never been a collection of Red States and Blue States: we are, and always will be, the United States of America.
I predict the urge to stay home on Election Day 2010 will be powerful. Easier to shrug and say: I tried. In 2008, I tried to make a difference. And where did that get us?
Two years of the “worst economy since the Great Depression” (what a mouthful! can we just say Great Depression II already? Thank you!) has weakened Americans. People are broke, exhausted and discouraged. They’re cynical, and for good reason. They saw first hand the influence of big money in Washington as the health-care bill wound its way through the legislative process and got gutted of almost every mandate in the public interest.
“Learned helplessness” is a proven syndrome. Why not let water seek its own level? Deep down, we’re all anarchists anyway.
But deeper down, we’re dreamers. And givers. I hope I reside among those who still want to lend a hand to fellow Americans. So many have fallen, including people who never before had a bit of trouble.
YouTube member SailorBrownie ended her three-sentence description of “Tribute to Her” with: “This video is also dedicated to America: a place where dreams can become reality.”
On Election Day don’t vote for the sell-outs, fools and thieves in Washington. They deserve every drop of your contempt. Instead vote for the unemployed, the homeless, the uninsured, the dispossessed. In desperate times like these, their dream is just to survive.
[originally published on Politics Daily in 2010]