Obama: the reluctant black president

Love him or hate him the underdog is on top. It was in 2008 when the then little known political underdog upset Hillary Clinton, the establishment candidate, in the primaries before going on to trounce John McCain, a decorated Vietnam Prisoner of War and ranking member of the United States Senate – an institution he joined in 1987, before Obama became a student at Harvard University – in the general elections.

Love him or hate him the underdog is on top. It was in 2008 when the then little known political underdog upset Hillary Clinton, the establishment candidate, in the primaries before going on to trounce John McCain, a decorated Vietnam Prisoner of War and ranking member of the United States Senate – an institution he joined in 1987, before Obama became a student at Harvard University – in the general elections. 

Obama kept winning. History will show a man who rose from political obscurity to fashion himself into a highly effective American president. It will give credit to his temperament that allowed him to outmanoeuvre political foes to register key legislative victories, including those that other presidents who came before him had tried and failed.

 

For instance, universal healthcare on the domestic front and the Iran nuclear deal on the international scene.

 

History will judge him as an astute political player. It will underline the wisdom of a man who knew better to confront the less contentious political issues in his first term while keeping an eye fixated on the most controversial ones in order to ensure his re-election, and proving the maxim that a politician’s first day in office after the election is done is to establish a committee for his re-election. 

 

Indeed, history has been harsh to one-term presidents. Most of these have been men of noble intentions. But this has not stopped them from being remembered as political novices who ought to have pursued careers outside of politics, a suggestion that they lacked the cojones/fortitude to play in the political big leagues.

History will judge Obama to have had the grit. It will also lay emphasis to the fact that that this was a man gifted with intellect, something that even his worst critics acknowledged.

And it will speak of a man whose ability to exercise patience meant that he was always prepared to play the long game, to wait out his political adversaries.

Obama was no sprinter; this was a marathon man. History will recognise this. It will paint a man who, when he had to, employed the strategy of political “Rope a Dope” against the Republicans.

Readers of a certain age will recall the story in which the legendary boxer Mohamed Ali was asked how he was able to upset the larger, stronger, and heavily favoured George Foreman in the “Rumble in the Jungle” in Zaire to which Ali responded that his strategy had been to “Rope a Dope” by luring Foreman to punch himself out of stamina, thereby exposing himself to a knockout.

In short, history will be kind to Obama. It will paint him as a reasonable man with a unique set of abilities: a sharp intellect, the requisite wisdom, the right sense to seek compromise when it is the appropriate thing to do; overall, a man with the right temperament for president.

Finally, history will underline that this was a man who was unafraid to court controversy in the pursuit of values that were close to his heart.

The reluctant black president

It will be an incomplete history, however. Unless an entire chapter that speaks an inconvenient truth is added. It’d be uncomfortable to write and read because it is the black spot on an otherwise exceptional presidency.

It would detail how Obama offered negligible redress to black grievance; how he was too afraid to talk about race simply because he would be forced to confront the monster of racism that sustains structural inequality and systemic discrimination in America. It’d show that Obama cowed out.

Which begs the question: Why didn’t Obama pursue the black grievance with the same valour he pursued other matters that were presumed to be close to his heart?

The answer is uncomfortable. It is also why on the subject of blacks history will be unkind to Obama. It will indicate that he left intact a pernicious thread that has been the lid to black upward mobility and has sustained their indignity from the time of slavery, through the civil war, reconstruction, and the civil rights era up to today.  

Significantly, history will show that Obama’s relief for blacks was his common refrain that they are far better off today than they’ve ever been in history. Meanwhile, it is under his watch that the worst anti-black rhetoric and violence has swept America since possibly the Reagan era.

We’ve seen America’s racial prejudices rise from the covert to the overt. There’s been an increasing justification for racially-motivated murders of blacks at the hands of the police. We have been witness to a racialized social milieu in America: Trumpism has taken America by storm.

In it all, Obama acts lame-duck. And here’s the irony. Trump has beaten Obama to the subject of race through a bizarre argument of white grievance in which the real victims of institutionalised racism are caricatured as whiners and ingrates.

Obama’s apologists will want the benefit of doubt. They will contend that he was likely to deal with the issue of black grievance at the tail end of his second term because his strategy was always to leave the explosive matters for later, and that he could not have predicted that a charged phenomenon would emerge from nowhere to hijack the narrative on race by pulling the rug from under his feet.

That is conjecture, however. The record will show that when push came to shove Obama sacrificed black grievance. That he couldn’t have seen it coming only explains why.

You want to chat directly with us? Send us a message on WhatsApp at +250 788 310 999    

 

Follow The New Times on Google News