The cheers and tears are still indellibly etched in my memory. We joyously celebrated on that historical night of November 4, 2008. And then hundreds of thousands traveled to Washington, DC for the inauguration on January 20, 2009. I recall standing on the Capitol lawn in freezing weather for hours to be a part of history. Many of us never thought we would see this in our lifetime.
Then the music died down, and the enthusiasm ebbed while the work of the first Black President of the USA began. He woke up to the reality that the US economy was suffering the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression -- ushered in by the introduction of Reagonomics in the 80's (with a brief interlude by Bill Clinton) and continued through the term of George W. Bush.
Little did we know that "change we can believe in" would become the top priority of President Obama's Republican opposition. Mitch McConnel, Senate Minority Leader offered a new view of change. The GOP leader's top goal: Make Obama a 1-term president.
To achieve this goal, the Republican Party has mounted the most unified opposition to a President in history. The result is near gridlock in Washington. Every policy, every appointment, every speech, every foreign trip, every meeting, every decision is scrutinized and uniformly opposed to the point where there is no consensus on any issue of this presidency -- not even the killing of Osama Bin Laden. The Senate filibusters - or often just the threat of filibusters - has resulted in the minority controlling outcomes in the Senate. Sixty votes are required for virtually every measure to pass. So, without some bipartisan support, nothing of substance passes.
Ironically, the Republicans are joined by critics from within the ranks of Obama supporters. The Affordable Health Care Act -- the biggest achievement of his first term -- is criticized because it did not include the 'Public Option'; the Stimulus Package (American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009) was criticized by economists on the left as too small and did not include targeted jobs programs for Black unemployed; Guantanamo Bay is still open; repeal of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' took too long; the President caved on the Bush tax cuts; in the recent debt ceiling deal, John Boehner says, he got 98% of what he wanted; the Smiley and West roadshow complains that the President doesn't care about the poor; others on the left accuse him of bailing out Wall Street but not Main Street; and some in the Black community accuse him of taking the Black vote for granted and throwing Black supporters under the bus.
The result is stifling unemployment, stagnant economic growth, soaring profits and wealth by the rich, and devastaing losses and destruction of the middle class and the poor. All of this is being laid at the President's feet -- it is happening on his watch. Could it be that those who oppose him are willing to destroy the American Dream if that's what it takes to destroy this President? This is something to think about.
Upon reflection, I wonder "What did we expect?"
Did we fall asleep and think that we would wake up to a post-racial America? Did we think that the fortunes of Blacks would suddenly improve with a Black man in the White House?
The reality is that the perfect storm of global economics, political division, and social suffering have confronted all of us with the most difficult period in recent history.
There has not been a greater clash of political ideologies since the 1930's and the New Deal. Do we provide a strong safety net for the most vulnerable in our society? Will the economic fortunes of the most wealthy create a rising tide that lifts all boats?
The rise of China, India, the South Asian economy, and now emerging economies of South America have eroded the manufacturing segment of our economy; and the global strategies of America corporations has widened the wealth gap between the haves and the nave nots. Can the USA remain the global economic leader? If so, how do those at the bottom (Blacks and other minorities) avoid relegation to the status of permanent underclass?
Finally, how will future generations avoid the declining prospects of poorer education, uncertain retirement, and a health care system that yields high corporate profits and lower outcomes? We are face to face with a new reality that our petty preferences are no longer luxuries to enjoy in unlimited measure. Charting a new course won't be a matter of selecting something from the menus of the past. We can't use old measures of success as the criteria for the way forward.
These issues would be daunting for the most revered of any of our past political leaders. Roosevelt faced the Great Depression and WWII; Kennedy launched the space race; Johnson led us through the Civil Rights movement; Reagan faced the Soviet threat and the ending of the cold war; Clinton ushered in the Information Society and the dot.com boom; and G.W. Bush destroyed everything by unleashing corporate greed and cowboy diplomacy in the wake of September 11, 2001.
This is the stage that was set for the first Black President.
Our country is now facing a crisis of global identity and our role in the world -- from our position as the largest economy in the world, to global policeman, to humanitarian provider, to global statesman. This time in history requires a new form of leadership -- not cowboy diplomacy, nor corporate tycoon, nor military conqueror.
The USA elected a Black President for this time in our history. All of the models of the past won't work anymore. This is a time of transition that only a unique leader can navigate. One who refuses to sink to partisan bickering, but goes into the Global and domestic arena seeking a new consensus. It will be painful and difficult for the champions of the past to embrace the new future. Most of them want to preserve a privileged past for the future of their children and grandchildren that is no longer available. In the process, they may destroy that future.
What we need at this time, is a national catharsis to heal the divisions among us, as well as a unified vision of how to win the future. Our failure to do this will mean even more suffering by the least among us, and eventually a devastating crash for even the most well off among us. Our redeeming quality has always been a way to craft an American Dream that includes most of us. Getting there from this period of decline will be different.
I believe that our first Black President -- not from the privileged past, nor the troubled and angry turnoil of upheaval at the bottom of our society -- but one who genuinely has a new vision for winning the future is the right person for this time. We know his vision is new because it has attracted attacks from all quarters.
Transformative visions are always fuzzy. But when embraced, the details are always empowering to the population. The abolitionists had a new vision for America. Roosevelt crafted a new social contract. World War II ushered in the explosive growth of the USA middle class. Martin, Malcolm, John and Bobby envisioned a society that was more inclusive for all. Now, we have lost our way along a path of greed and selfishness.
We can make the first Black Presidency the transformative period our history needs at this time. But to do so, we too must embrace a transformative mindset -- Black and White alike. This is no longer a zero sum game -- I win, you lose. A new social contract will be needed for some; a full-employment business environment must emerge; and a new political consciousness must demand a new leadership mindset. We are that new consciousness.
Our first Black President is the symbolic transformer. But only history will determine if that is true. For those of us who can see the transformation beyond our current strife, we have the power to to shape the making of the Black President unique in our history. This transformation will need another four years of President Obama's leadership to begin to take root. Even then it won't be complete. We can work toward a vision of transforamtion, or blow up everything and start over (as our Republican leaders keep suggesting). I am working for transformation. I hope others will join me.
Roger Madison, CEO