William Saunderson-Meyer
William Saunderson-Meyer

The American Dream in a rough patch

It’s the American dream with an offshore twist. Although proportionately fewer than in 2008, foreigners in their droves supported Barack Obama in this week’s United States presidential election.

The Gallup poll, of 26 000 people in 32 countries, found that 63% thought the US president had a high or very high impact on their lives and that 81% of the almost half who wished they could vote, backed Obama.

This proves the right’s suspicions. This guy’s obviously an African-born Muslim with forged citizenship papers, a wild-eyed socialist programmed by the country’s enemies to white-ant – oops, black-ant – the American way by getting rid of its citizen’s guns along with the White House Christmas tree.

The poll is a compelling rebuttal of the facile view that American domestic politics is irrelevant to the rest of humanity. Albeit waning, as the last superpower the US has an impact and influence everywhere, from Australia to Zimbabwe. So it is understandable that the world would prefer Obama over a bellicose geriatric in 2008 and an über-creepy Mormon missionary with flashing gnashers in 2012.

The high hopes that Obama inspired first time around have, however, dissipated. Just as well. Champagne moments, as South Africans now know, are energising and briefly inspirational, but have little to do with the everyday of realities of getting, using and keeping power.

This columnist wrote in 2008, ‘Those delirious with unrealistic expectations of the first African-American president will inevitably in time be disappointed. It is one thing to symbolise change, another to be its agent, especially in a society in the grip of powerful, conservative elites.’

While right about the disappointment, I was wrong about the change.

Obama has not been as successful as his supporters hoped, but he has been far more successful than his detractors claim. As New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman put it, Obama’s victory has been devastating to the Republicans in that ‘a country with nearly 8% unemployment preferred to give the president a second chance rather than Mitt Romney a first one’.

By 2016 the US will have been irretrievably altered by Obama’s eight years at the helm. What seems radical now, will have become accepted.

His controversial health care reforms by then will seem less like a dangerous Commie plot than an appropriate mechanism to deliver affordable medicine to the marginalised, belatedly bringing the richest nation on Earth into line with the rest of the industrialised world.

Women’s rights, gay rights, minority rights all grew apace under Obama. This was the far right’s best and last chance to thwart social changes such as abortion, single-sex marriage and Latino immigration.

Demography is destiny and the era of old, all-white snobbish male establishment deciding the fate of the ‘little people’ – the 47% that Republican candidate and part-time billionaire Mitt Romney dismissed so cavalierly – is forever finished.

The governance rules that Obama has imposed on a sometimes rampantly self-destructive financial sector will not, after all, be overturned. Worse for America’s elite, the wealthy will find themselves paying more taxes as part of the White House attempt to resolve the fiscal deficit, rather than it being left to the rest of their countrymen to soak up the pain of federal spending cuts.

Not since Richard Nixon’s 1970s has the US been so divided, so partisan, so rancorous, so intractable. Some Republicans were willing to stoop to anything, including damaging the nation they profess to love, to ensure that Obama was a one-term president. They failed and will have to rethink sabotaging the president, or suffer more electoral pain.

One doesn’t have to be a starry-eyed idealist to take pleasure in Obama’s win. Hell, a notoriously self-indulgent nation in a rough patch has opted to grit it out with hard choices, instead of being seduced by promises of an easy fix. That’s good, and not only for Americans.

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