Playing politics

By PAT WATSON

A defining feature of Barack Obama’s first State of the Union address last week was his call for a bi-partisan truce in managing the important issues currently burdening the United States – primarily health care reform and government spending to create jobs. There has been so much scurrilous commentary thrown into the ether since Obama became the first Black person to be elected U.S. president that one has to wonder what is really at play. How much of the acrimony that now passes as political positioning is taking advantage of people’s fear of change and how much is linked to Obama’s skin colour?

Change in a society as complex as America’s, especially such monumental change as the Obama Administration is trying to implement with health care reform, would be hard won. Inevitably, reactionary forces are working overtime to resist the change Obama promised during his presidential campaign. Besides, while popular abroad, Obama did not win a landslide victory at home where there is still an uneasy existence among Blacks and Whites. Moreover, colour lines can be drawn through both main political parties, the Democrats and Republicans.

Our interest in what the American president had to say in his address is very much because our economies are so tightly integrated. Canada’s export economy is very reliant on the U.S. market so we are of necessity concerned about the still fragile state of the U.S. economy. At the same time, the cynical strategizing of our government, especially our Prime Minister, seems to go hand in hand with the essence of the corrosive tactics of the political combatants to the south.

Not that he claims to pay much attention to it, but Obama’s initial approval rating has fallen significantly, and he has even been criticized by supporters for being too conciliatory, especially since he seems to be the only one who is. The Republicans have shown time and again that they are not interested in working with this President. And now that the Democrats seem to be “running for the hills”, as Obama has said, the President’s job is going to be that much more difficult.

He faces an electorate that is impatient, not caring to connect high unemployment today to the past administration. Americans do not want to hear that it was the policies of the George W. Bush administration, including two very expensive wars, which have put them in the critical economic bind in which they now find themselves. They are only interested in how the current Administration will get them out of it and have them working again.

The modern era of low-blow politics first surfaced during the Richard Nixon administration of the early 1970s, and brought the word ‘Watergate’ into the political lexicon. It eventually brought Nixon down.

It hit another low when the polarizing power couple Bill and Hillary Clinton entered the White House. In their unrelenting efforts to defeat him, Republicans excoriated Bill Clinton as they sought to impeach him during his second term. Yet, his popularity soared. Now, in a country that fought a cold war against communism, Obama is being labeled a socialist.

Despite all this, in his first State of the Union address, Obama took the high ground. He said Americans are “tired of the partisanship and the shouting and the pettiness. They know we can’t afford it, not now.”

He could well have been speaking to our own governing and opposition parties when he said, “What… people hope – what they deserve – is for all of us… to work through our differences, to overcome the numbing weight of our politics, for while the people who sent us here have different backgrounds, different stories, different beliefs, the anxieties they face are the same, the aspirations they hold are shared – a job that pays the bills, a chance to get ahead (and) the ability to give their children a better life.”

Precisely.

Playing politics might be unavoidable, but when it appears more important to our leaders than national priorities, we are all in serious trouble.

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