‘The pundits, the pundits like to slice-and-dice our country into red states and blue states; red states for Republicans, blue states for Democrats. But I’ve got news for them, too. We worship an “awesome God” in the blue states, and we don’t like federal agents poking around in our libraries in the red states. We coach Little League in the blue states and yes, we’ve got some gay friends in the red states. There are patriots who opposed the war in Iraq and there are patriots who supported the war in Iraq. We are one people, all of us pledging allegiance to the stars and stripes, all of us defending the United States of America‘. (July 2004, Democrat Convention)
President Barack Obama, on the 6th of November 2014: ‘I’m eager to work with the new Congress to make the next two years as productive as possible. I am committed to making sure that I measure ideas not by whether they are from Democrats or Republicans but whether they work for the American people’.
Evident in these parallel sound bites is the theme of national unity; of an America, united in cause, exceptional in history, that will not pander to partisan interests. The national interest is not represented by a single faction, but is above and beyond party politics. This was the message of Obama’s 2008 campaign; a message which resonated with an electorate which believed in the transformative effects of his future presidency. It was this message which provided the junior senator from Illinois with the recognition which eventually landed him the Democrat nomination. Ten years later, the dream is over.
The mid-term election results were no surprise. To suggest that Obama’s six years in office have been underwhelming is an understatement. It is this irony which will be attached to Obama’s historical legacy which is most startling. With certain hope has come unprecedented disillusionment. The first African-American promised so much; ‘change we can believe in’. ‘Hope’ and ‘change’ were suitable adjectives for an African-American raised by a single white mother.
What commentators in the time and until recently failed to garner was what this ‘change’ entailed. Hope in what? Who are ‘we’? Who is part of the American nation? Do the African-American neighbourhoods in Ferguson, Missouri belong to the same nation as Greenwich, Connecticut? (N.B. Greenwich has a Mean Household Income of $614,000 dollars.) The question to ask is not ‘Where did it all go wrong?’ Instead, we should be looking at Obama’s campaign promises, exposing their vacuity. This is not a task for academics performing critical discourse analysis, but is instead a task for the American citizen; a task which is necessary if the nation is going to make an informed choice in 2016.
It might seem that Obama’s presidential epitaph is being prematurely written. Just under 27 months of his presidency remain. Temporal awareness cannot compensate for the cosmetic presidency which Obama has led. A cosmetic campaign from the start, substantive policy was always lacking. The 2009 assassination of Osama Bin Laden only adds credence to this view. No more than a symbolic victory, it underlined the ideological abyss within which Obama’s presidency operates.
Whilst those in the Democrat camp may look to constitutional flaws in accounting for the lack of Obama’s success, this very problem hasn’t stopped past presidents from making wholesale and modernising changes to the ideological spectrum in the US. Indeed, the Affordable Care Act is emblematic of this failure. It is anachronistic, failing to take account of the need for mental health provision in the twenty-first century. Unlike FDR and the New Deal, Obama, despite his racialized identity, along with promises for affordable healthcare has failed to shift the paradigm which the American Creed operates in. Immigration, corporate tax reform, environmental concerns are only the most pertinent areas of contestation where ideologies continue to collide. Is it any wonder America is coerced into opting for the only alternative: a befuddled, opportunistic and archaic Republican Party?