The paradox that is the United States of America

By Patrick Hunter Wednesday November 14 2012 in Opinion
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Barack Obama was re-elected President of the United States of America last week. President Obama’s success has the Republicans not only licking their wounds, but trying to find out what went wrong.


The verdict appears to be that the Republicans have failed to recognize the changing demographics of the U.S. They failed to take advantage of those changes and make efforts to be more inclusive. Instead, they nominated a candidate who represented a part of America that was unwilling to see the need for change.


Conversely, Obama and the Democratic Party had a better handle on these matters.


And that brings me to the point I want to discuss. First, let me say that I have not read any of Obama’s books. For some reason, I have a problem with biographies. I do not have a sense of the ideology that forms Obama’s thinking from a personal level, as he may have outlined in his books.


However, I believe the strongest sense of the direction in which he wants to go is strongly encapsulated in the phrase, “change that you can believe in”, the central theme of his 2008 campaign.


The words for 2012 were different but the message was essentially the same. It seems to me that Obama was delivering a message: at its core, America was a nation of people that helped each other. When the U.S. faces hardships, there is a coming together of neighbours to help each other as best they can.


Now, this would be more a hope than the way things are at present, although there are elements, as we saw with Superstorm Sandy, where help was coming from all over the country and beyond.


Obama returned to this message in his election night speech:


“What makes America exceptional are the bonds that hold together the most diverse nation on Earth, the belief that our destiny is shared – that this country only works when we accept certain obligations to one another and to future generations, so that the freedom which so many Americans have fought for and died for come with responsibilities as well as rights, and among those are love and charity and duty and patriotism.”


The President, of course, is talking about a matter of which he dares not speak the name – socialism – although others, his right-wing critics, have named it.


The reality is that pure capitalism is no longer working worldwide. And, in the bastion of capitalism, the U.S., it is in very serious trouble. Yet, the Republicans and other conservative Americans argue against the intrusion of big government, failing to make the connection between the need to ensure a safety net for a large segment of the population which exceeds the 47 per cent that Mitt Romney talked about.


If nothing else is learned from Sandy and Katrina and the violent tornadoes and destructive wildfires of recent memory, it should be that not only should there be a central instrument that plans, maintains and provide emergency relief when necessary, but also, preparations for unusual events must be ever-evolving. That kind of preparation cannot be left in a haphazard manner for a large nation such as the U.S.


When these disasters happen, when there are emergencies, when people who have survived these tragedies need help to get back on their feet, they look to the government in most cases to come to their assistance. That is why there is a need to have these response mechanisms in place, and that can only be supported by taxpayer dollars.


The introduction of reforms to the health care system, Obamacare – he did well in embracing the name during the campaign – was singularly the most difficult piece of the puzzle to put in place, and perhaps the most urgent. There is a mentality within a large segment of the economy that feels that they should not be helping to pay for the healthcare of others until they are directly affected by the costs that a family member is faced with and the consequences.


Obama is facing major challenges as he prepares to engage in his next four years. The biggest hurdle in implementing some of his plans to help the U.S. economy is the battle he faces with Congress. Even though the Republicans are now saying what they think the public wants to hear, about cooperating, it is hardly likely that it will be smooth sailing.


So, these are some of the elements of the paradox that is the U.S. On one hand, there is the sense and the stated belief in being supportive of each other. Yet, when it comes to putting the mechanisms in place to better facilitate those supports, there is the sense of a loss of individuality.


There are many puzzling aspects about the U.S. On one hand, it has long proclaimed itself the leader of the free world. On the other hand, polls have shown that a considerable segment of the nation’s population does not know basic knowledge about their own country.


The list of contradictions and inconsistencies where the United States is concerned is long. That seems to be the challenge that Obama faces – overcoming some of those contradictions.


That may be his downfall. Changing the seemingly inbred sense of superiority that White Americans hold on to, supported by what they believe to be their God-given right, has to be a work in progress. Obama is hoping to make some headway before he leaves office.



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