Tag Archives: Obama effect

No Courtesy Farts: Obama Effect Gives US Diplomatic Face-lift

Barack Obama silhouette isolated on a white Had enough of the Tea Party tirades against Barack Obama?  For some perspective, take a look at what the rest of the world thinks about the United States since Obama took office:

“People around the world today view the United States more positively than at any time since the second Iraq war,” says international polling firm GlobeScan’s chair Doug Miller, after a study conducted in partnership with the Program on International Policy Attitudes (Pipa) at the University of Maryland.  The BBC notes that there can be little confusion as to the cause for this surge in popularity as the uptick in approval ratings coincided (roughly) with Barack Obama becoming president.  The improvement has been drastic and unquestionable: “America’s influence in the world is now seen as more positive than negative,” (Click here for a look at the graph) says the BBC of the results of the survey of 30,000 people in 28 countries.

There are of course going to be the isolationist, deadbeat, know-nothing boobs who shrug at this and claim that world opinion and active diplomacy do not matter.  To a chump of this breed, “us and them” thinking dominates and the outside world is willed away.  Whether they are attention whores waving their home-made signs of xenophobic desperation at anti-immigration rallies or whether they indulge in Rush/Beck/Hannity bulimia – force feeding themselves with ultra-right propaganda and then projectile vomiting, booty grazing style, across their sturdy white picket fences – the viability of their shortsighted thinking is quickly fading.

“They’ll just say that this is further proof that Obama is selling America to his wicked, socialist brethren in the empire of Europe,” said a commenter on the Rachel Maddow Blog.  These antediluvian, paranoid wrecks are as quick to fire off the “s” word as a high school sophomore is to boyfriend drop in every hallway conversation.  Newsflash: Working for better quality of life at home and reaching out diplomatically abroad is not socialism.  It is common sense.

“The idea that a better reputation abroad is meaningless uplift is foolish. It helps the US leverage its power to greater ends. The more popular the US is, the likelier it is to have a positive impact on other countries’ leaders. ” (Andrews Sullivan, The Atlantic)

Sullivan makes the point that the American face-lift began in 2007 , “when Cheneyism was in retreat, when Rice and Gates were beginning to reorient the US away from militarist adventurism, when the surge was beginning to tamp down violence in Iraq, and when the Supreme Court had begun to push back on the presidential power to torture at will. But it’s also worth noting that the gain in respect endures and strengthens as Obama holds office, at a time when every other country’s reputation is declining.”

No courtesy fart was needed after the last administration’s train wreck of a foreign policy.  We needed change.  The massive work of diplomatic reparation was before us.  And in place of cowboyish black and white rhetoric came a more nuanced approach to international collaboration:

“We remain a young nation, but in the words of Scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things.  The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better history. … Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America. … As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals. … America is a friend of each nation and every man, woman and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity, and we are ready to lead once more. … To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history, but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.”   – President Barack Obama’s Inaugural Address.

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Bjorn Karlman

Are Black People Better Off in Obama’s America?

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For a huge slice of America, the Obama bubble burst in record time.  The initial elation of having toppled the establishment and brought change with a young, sexy black president gave way to the anger of hangers-on when they realized that the new president was mortal, his agenda controversial and the economy he inherited abysmal.  A year later with an as-of-yet jobless recovery, a searingly controversial health care reform agenda in limbo and millions concerned about government spending, Obama’s support is at a record low.  White support dropped from 76% right after the election to a recent figure of 56%. Not so with African Americans.  A recently released Pew Research Center survey on race showed that, economy-be-damned, 95% of black people still have a favorable opinion of Obama and that they were more optimistic about their progress in the last two years than they have been for the last 25 years.

The “Obama Effect” is dramatic.  Despite the fact that, in terms of joblessness and economic suffering, African Americans have been far harder hit than the average American, almost double the percentage of black people (39%) in 2009 say that the “situation of black people in this country” has improved over the last five years, in stark contrast to 20% in 2007.  Also, 53% of black respondents felt that life in the future would be better for black people and only 10% felt it would be worse.  This is quite the jump from the 2007 numbers (44% thought it would be better, 21% thought it would be worse).

Things are looking better in the race relations department too.  Fifty-four percent of African Americans report that Obama’s election has forged progress in this area.  Only 7% disagree.  The perceived gap between black and white also seems to be narrowing as a majority of African Americans believe that the two racial groups have grown more similar in terms of cultural values and standard of living; 52% of black people feel that if blacks cannot get ahead in the US, it is their own fault, not something that can be blamed on racial discrimination.  This figure is not necessarily Obama-inspired but has been changing steadily from the mid-90s when the opposite view was held by most black people.

When it comes down to the economy and jobs, whereas white perceptions of the state of the economy have plummeted since the recession began, black opinions have generally held steady, as has their perception of the state of their personal finances.

Of course, not all black people are fans. African American Chicagoan Isaac Hayes is running for Congress and is attempting the near-impossible feat of stealing Illinois District 2 from Jesse Jackson Jr.  In a BBC interview, he says that Obama “brought inspiration, him and his family, to the White House. I am proud to have a black president – America is proud, but that’s not the issue. He’s brought change, but it’s not the right kind of change. He’s allowed the left to pull him off his campaign promise to work with both sides of the aisle. I don’t think he believes in American exceptionalism: he’s been on an apology tour round the world, and I don’t agree with that.”

Hayes’ point is as widely-held as it is predictable.  With the exception of a well-deserved win in the Jan. 19 special election to fill the Senate seat previously held by Ted Kennedy in Massachusetts, Republicans have been spectacularly reliable sourpusses since Obama’s election.  Why wouldn’t they be?  Their former leader was universally despised; their policies blamed for the near ruin of America’s economy and their power to achieve anything more than a red-faced Washington hissy fit, cartoonishly diminished.

So how do you react to record high levels of African American optimism?  I suppose reactionary bigots would claim that black people are delusional, their perception of reality and American misery skewed by having one of their own in the Oval Office.  If little has improved and much has worsened since Obama took office, why else would black people be content?

Another Chicagoan, Reverend Leon Finney, founded the Metropolitan Apostolic Church and now leads The Woodlawn Organization. He has known Obama since he worked as a community organizer in his 20s.  He says that because of their history, black people are patient. “We are very proud. We are elated. Maybe, somewhat underemployed and unemployed still, but we have a lot of hope. You have to remember more than any other ethnic group the African-American population has learned to live with hardship and survive the harshest of situations. ‘Last hired, first fired’ is nothing new for the African-American community. My sense is that we are used to the rigors and better able to adapt and less frightened (by the recession) than our brothers and sisters of different colors.”

Instant gratification is not something that can happen in today’s America, no matter how much it is craved. Historically, the plight of the disadvantaged, while dramatically unjust, has been more the norm in American society.  But maybe, just maybe, the tides could be turning. While those accustomed to luxury and a secure spot at the top of the economic totem poll may protest targeted taxes and an overhaul of healthcare, could it be that Obama’s legacy will mean enhanced quality of life for those in America who need it most?

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Bjorn Karlman