The Straightaway

Politics Without Pundits

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A New America

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A New America

Twenty-two months ago, on the very steps on which one great president and Illinois legislator announced his candidacy, another Illinois legislator – the audacious first-term United States senator from Chicago – turned some heads and drew some laughter by announcing his own bid for the presidency of the United States of America. On November 4, 2008, what started as a distant dream in Springfield, Illinois has become veritable fact. Senator Barack Obama (D-Ill) will become the 44th president of the United States of America.

Obama’s victory, which was once unthinkable but seemingly inevitable as the campaign drew to a close, sent shockwaves throughout the world. People in places as far removed as Hong Kong, Sydney, and a little village in Kenya rejoiced when the news broke. World leaders as diverse as French president Nicolas Sarkozy and Iranian leader Mahmoud Amhadinejad sent words of congratulations.

The joy felt around the world was ten-fold in the United States. When the major news networks delivered the projection of Obama’s victory, men, women, and children across the land burst into exuberant celebration. Tears fell from even the eyes of grown men – the image of civil rights champion, the Reverend Jesse Jackson, with tears streaming down his face will endure as one of the most touching images of the 21st century.

Politics is by its very nature melodramatic – a political victory usually means much less than it made out to. The election of Barack Obama is an exception, like the election of Nelson Mandela as the president of South Africa (and the future election of a female American president). Any way you slice it, electing an African American to the most powerful office in a land where they were once legally enslaved is significant. The tears of the Rev. Jesse Jackson said it all.

But the great thing about Barack Obama is that he cannot simply be pegged as the black candidate. A greater percentage of white voters chose Obama than the white Democratic nominees in past years, such as Al Gore, John Kerry, and even Bill Clinton in 1992. Being black helped Obama win, but it was not the main reason, and it will not define his presidency.

Obama didn’t win because of the color of his skin, or because of where he is from; honestly, he didn’t entirely win because of the issues. His charisma and oratorical skills certainly helped, as did the false steps of the McCain campaign, including the unconscionable blunder of choosing Sarah Palin as the Republican vice presidential nominee. These reasons, however, do not tell the whole story.

Obama won because Americans of all ideologies – liberal, moderate, conservative, apathetic – saw something in Obama they yearned to find within themselves again: hope. They saw in Obama the promise of a better tomorrow, a better America.

Perhaps such cliché sentiments should not decide the outcome of political contests. But they did. The conditions of the American political and economic atmosphere were ideal for someone like Obama – an unpopular president, a long overseas conflict, a sagging economy, historically low political efficacy.

Now, an inexperienced, untested chief executive inhabits the most powerful office in the land. Obama remains an enigma, despite almost two years in the political spotlight – no one really knows what to expect from the Obama presidency. America has chosen a leader it seems to know little about.

Despite this, it is clear that Barack Obama has the capacity to become a great president. Only a leader of great potential can enthrall a nation as he has. One of the most important qualities of a leader is their ability to inspire those they seek to lead. It is impossible to say that Obama has not inspired America. People from all walks of life – old, young, rich, poor – have fought for Obama in perhaps the most massive political campaign in the history of mankind, in terms of organization, manpower, and money. People believe in Obama more than any politician of our generation.

Obama has promised to lead America wisely. His promise to exercise tact before tactical missiles will be a welcome change from the imprudently aggressive foreign policy of past Republican and Democratic presidents. His promise to promote diplomacy will help restore America’s image in the world arena. His promise to help the poor and disenfranchised, as he did when he was a community organizer in the slums of Chicago, will restore the faith in government of the average American. If Obama keeps his promises to America, great things will happen.

However, promises are just promises. The truth is that the difficult situation at home and abroad, the unpopularity of the Bush administration, and the high rhetoric of the campaign has leveled unbelievable amounts of expectation on the shoulders of President-elect Barack Obama. Everyone expects everything of him – it will be difficult for him to live up to the expectations. Obama will sometimes say the wrong thing, make errors, or fail. Such is the life of any person, whether they are a president or a store clerk.

Expectations and conditions have crushed leaders of great hope in the past. The ouster of Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos and the democratic election of President Corazon Aquino was a time of great hope for the Filipino people. Filipinos around the world flocked home, hoping that their new leader would turn the Philippines into a first-class country. Despite her best efforts, Aquino failed. More than twenty years after her election, the Philippines is still impoverished and corrupt.

The true test for Obama will be whether he can overcome the adversity he will surely face and continue to lead efficiently and virtuously. Obama has the skills necessary to succeed – the charisma of Kennedy, the eloquence of Lincoln, a strong intellect and seemingly sound judgment. He also has a brilliant, experienced second-in-command in Vice President-elect Joe Biden who will be a great asset for him.

What is audacious about hope is the fact that hope is considered audacious at all. Hundreds of millions of hopeful Americans have elected a young President who represents the hope they wish to feel, the change they wish to make. The election of President Barack Obama is not an end, but simply a means. As Obama said in his acceptance speech, “this victory alone is not the change we seek – it is only the chance to make that change.” The capacity for change, and greatness, is there, but the result remains unseen. President Obama has so much yet to prove.

The only certainty is that from this moment on, for better or for worse, this is a new America.

Speaker Pelosi’s Big Mouth

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Global economic markets went awry again after the $700 billion bailout bill failed in the House of Representatives by a narrow 208-225 margin. Some of the blame lies with the stubborn House Republicans, yes, but a lot of the blame can be put straight on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s shoulders (D-CA).

Trying to round up the required amount of votes needed to pass the bill, Speaker Pelosi delivered a sharply partisan speech on the House floor. Here are some excerpts, from the Guardian

“[W]hen was the last time someone asked you for $700 billion? It is a number that is staggering, but tells us only the costs of the Bush administration’s failed economic policies — policies built on budgetary recklessness, on an anything-goes mentality, with no regulation, no supervision, and no discipline in the system.”

“Democrats believe in the free market, which can and does create jobs, wealth, and capital, but left to its own devices it has created chaos.”

“Democrats insisted that legislation responding to this crisis must protect the American people and Main Street from the meltdown on Wall Street. The American people did not decide to dangerously weaken our regulatory and oversight policies. They did not make unwise and risky financial deals. They did not jeopardise the economic security of the nation. And they must not pay the cost of this emergency recovery and stabilisation bill.”

“Today we will act to avert this crisis, but informed by our experience of the past eight years with the failed economic leadership … We choose a different path. In the new year, with a new Congress and a new president, we will break free with a failed past and take America in a new direction to a better future.”

Even I, a mere first-year political science student, can see what an incredible misstep this speech was. To throw this partisan bile into the faces of the Republican representatives who were swallowing their partisan views to do what the country needs is inexcusable. To have risen to the level of Speaker of the House, Mrs. Pelosi must be a skilled politician, which makes this foot-in-mouth moment all the more confusing. She was supposed to pat the House Republicans on the head; instead, she kicked them right in the nether-regions.

After the failure of the bill, the Republican House leadership denounced the speech and blamed it for the failure of the bill. According to them, about a dozen Republican reps. had been so put off by Pelosi’s speech that they decided to vote “nay” rather than “yes.” With those dozen Republicans, the bill would have passed 220-213.

Of course, changing your vote and potentially destroying the American and global economy because of a petty reason such as a divisive speech is silly. Then again, these Republican representatives are human after all, aren’t they? They may be educated and the leaders of the nation, but they’re still susceptible to human stubbornness.

The fault lies with Pelosi then, for giving those Republicans an out like this. Instead of acting like a leader and lauding this historic effort that involved bi-partisan support in both houses of Congress and even from the Bush White House, Pelosi used her floor time to mouth off the same old Democratic partisan line. (Perhaps she hoped the dramatics would captivate the couple dozen potential voters watching her on CSPAN to vote Democrat!) According to ABC News, the ensuing disaster on Wall Street cost stockholders $1.1 billion in stock value today – more than double the amount of the bailout plan itself.

Egos have the dangerous capacity to destroy. Whose ego will take the blame for this debacle?

McCain Distorts Immigration in Mountain West

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As predicted earlier, the McCain campaign is targeting the key Mountain West states (Colorado, Nevada, and New Mexico), which he hopes will put him over the top in the electoral vote count. The latest attempt is a new Spanish-language commercial airing in those three states that blames Obama for the failure of the McCain-Kennedy comprehensive immigration reform bill that sputtered in Congress this year.

This is false. Obama voted to pass this bill, despite its unpopularity.

Here is Barack Obama’s immigration plan, quoted directly from Obama’s campaign website:

Create Secure Borders

Obama wants to preserve the integrity of our borders. He supports additional personnel, infrastructure and technology on the border and at our ports of entry.

Improve Our Immigration System

Obama believes we must fix the dysfunctional immigration bureaucracy and increase the number of legal immigrants to keep families together and meet the demand for jobs that employers cannot fill.

Remove Incentives to Enter Illegally

Obama will remove incentives to enter the country illegally by cracking down on employers who hire undocumented immigrants.

Bring People Out of the Shadows

Obama supports a system that allows undocumented immigrants who are in good standing to pay a fine, learn English, and go to the back of the line for the opportunity to become citizens.

Work with Mexico

Obama believes we need to do more to promote economic development in Mexico to decrease illegal immigration.

These views are in line with the bill McCain accuses Obama of killing. This ad is a clear distortion of the facts aimed at securing a key demographic in key states.

Here is the ad in Spanish. The translation is offered below.

ANNCR: Obama and his Congressional allies say they are on the side of immigrants. But are they? ”

The press reports that their efforts were ‘poison pills’ that made immigration reform fail.

“The result:

“No guest worker program.

“No path to citizenship.

“No secure borders.

“No reform.

“Is that being on our side?

“Obama and his Congressional allies ready to block immigration reform, but not ready to lead.

“JOHN MCCAIN: I’m John McCain and I approve this message.”