Posts Tagged 'Obama'

Racial Equality and the ’08 Presidential Election

Rachel Pagano

Courtesy of dailymail.co.uk

Courtesy of dailymail.co.uk

We are now in a period of political transition where the end of the seemingly-ceaseless election and the anticipation of President-elect Barack Obama’s inauguration have left a vacuum in the world of politics. Columnists and politicians on both sides of the political spectrum have attempted to fill the void by discussing the fact that Obama will be our first African-American president. From John McCain’s concession speech on election night to the articles and TV shows the week that followed, we have been hearing about the major step in race equality that America has taken. It is therefore appropriate to ask: what role did racial identity truly play in the presidential election?

Racial equality in America is a very important issue. In our laws, our actions and our customs, we must show ourselves worthy of the principle “that all men are created equal,” stated in the founding document of our country. This presidential election gave us a unique opportunity to act in accordance with that principle, which, in my opinion, is not the same as voting for Barack Obama. Racial equality means just that—equality of race—which dictates that race should have no part in a person’s decision regarding whom to vote for. The voter should look at the candidates in terms of what they support, what they have done, what they plan to do, how they act, and what they seem capable of doing. Based upon a due consideration of these questions, a voter must decide which of the two candidates he or she believes would make a better president. Whether the person who embodies these characteristics happens to have black or white skin should never be a reason to vote for or against any candidate.

This is not to say that the post-election reaction was wrong. It is a different thing to celebrate the fact that for the first time in American history, the legal possibility of an African-American becoming president has become a reality, than to use race as a qualification for voting for him. John McCain was right when he indicated that this election is something of which all Americans can be proud. It has shown the great distance America has traveled since Martin Luther King Jr. gave his famous “I have a dream” speech in 1963. America has demonstrated that race is no longer a barrier to being elected to the most powerful office in the county. Pride in this fact rightly unifies a country divided along political lines.

In the wake of the election results many people, knowing that I was an ardent McCain supporter, have patted me on the back, and asked with a half-smile, “How you doing?” I cannot say that I am not disappointed, as I honestly think that McCain would have done a better job leading our country. However, I can say I am proud to be a part of a country where race is not a barrier to presidential election. I can also say that as a citizen of this country, I accept the laws by which Obama has been duly elected. Therefore, when he is inaugurated, I will stand behind him since a citizen should support his President. Still, I believe that one of the duties of a good citizen is to criticize the President when criticism seems due. So we’ll see what happens.

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The Global Recession: the Age of Big Government

Jeremy Martin


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Courtesy of bulletin.aarp.org

The global economic slowdown has compelled policy-makers to arrive at a series of controversial decisions, an important one being the embrace of “Big Government” policies. Stuck in the worst financial quagmire since the Great Depression, countries around the world are now using this approach to stop the bleeding. Washington adopted Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson’s bailout plan, initially set at $700 billion but recently raised to $1 trillion. The European Commission followed suit in Brussels with an injection of $2.3 trillion into various sectors across the Euro zone, and China plans to spend $586 billion by 2010 in order to stimulate its own limping economy. Such actions have been taken by other developed and emerging economies alike, further proving that the worldwide recession is here to stay.

Never before have we seen the Big Government phenomenon at work on such an unprecedented scale. By making Big Government strategies the bedrock of their country’s political platform, policy-makers endanger the likelihood of finding a real, inward-oriented panacea for the problems faced by their constituents.  Policy-makers dedicated to massaging tense markets through interventionist mechanisms, particularly in the U.S., have neglected investment in human capital and infrastructure—two necessary components for expanding business operations and opening up opportunities for hiring workers.

As a result of globalization, the economic slump that originated in the U.S. has bloomed into an ominous phenomenon referred to as “systemic risk,” where idiosyncratic shocks like the credit crunch threaten the stability of the entire global financial system. In the past months, big investment banks, insurance companies, and mortgage finance businesses have either collapsed (like Lehman Brothers) or merged (like Merrill Lynch and Bank of America). Consequently, the federal government has handpicked those companies that are worth saving, or, perhaps more accurately, are capable of being saved. Other regions like the EU are now scurrying to boost market liquidity by guaranteeing loans, bank co-insurance, and increased minimum protection for deposits of up to €100,000.

Unfortunately, our country, America, has tallied the most impressive (or in other words, unimpressive) list of all. The Troubled Asset Relief Program will dish out $1 trillion for Wall Street banks and troubled mortgaged-backed securities. Furthermore, the federal government wishes to rescue the Auto Industry with $30 billion for companies like Ford, Chrysler, and General Motors. It has bought up mortgage linchpins Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac for $200 billion, and increased its bailout for insurance giant A.I.G. from $85 billion to $150 billion. Within this maelstrom one incontrovertible fact remains clear: U.S. politicians have grown increasingly committed to Big Government in resuscitating the domestic economy and hitting the brakes on systemic risk.

This is not to say that our government should sit with its hands tied. Clearly our nation and others need help in some form or another. U.S. unemployment has reached the highest rate in 14 years, hovering around 6.5% and likely to surpass 8% by 2009. The U.S. stock market is 35% below its peak last fall and with foreclosures and tightening credit, any economic analyst would agree that the future continues to appear less bright.

It is therefore no surprise that some Americans in peril have ardently defended the government’s fiscal, monetary, and structural policies. In the minds of federal constituents, government spending should be used as a last resort, and if used correctly, can do some real good. This is only partly true. Americans and their democratically-elected politicians have consistently avoided a libertarian vision of life. FDR’s New Deal and LBJ’s “Great Society” definitely had their merits.

Yet the U.S. also has a history of bad government spending and inefficacy. Programs like Medicare (which is cash-flow negative) and Social Security (which will be within the next decade) are far from effective. Not to mention recent $100 billion federal executive departments such as Homeland Security and Veterans Affairs, which speak to the Bush Administration’s outright rejection of limited government.

And so, with a new administration on the way, we can see two roads diverging in a very troubling wood: one which points out how the conservative ideology—the belief that greed is always good—has provoked the crisis. The other perspective echoes what FDR spoke of in his second inaugural address: that “we have always known that heedless self-interest was bad morals; we know now that it is bad economics.”

Whatever the case may be, we will surely witness some bulked-up version of Big Sam — higher taxes, more regulation and increased spending — after inauguration day. Obama’s proposed plans are estimated to require a 39.6% personal income tax, a 52.2% combined income and payroll tax, a 28% capital-gains tax, a 39.6% dividends tax, and a 55% estate tax, all of which are much higher than what taxpayers have doled out in the past. According to the Wall Street Journal, Obama’s economic strategy amounts to $800 billion in spending on various plans such as green energy, establishing an infrastructure investment bank, expanding health insurance, regulating drug company and energy firm profits, and creating a mortgage-interest tax credit.

The upper class alone surely cannot and, most likely, will not pay for Obama’s plans. Instead, the middle class will probably end up assuming the “beast of burden” position, paying the costs of the policies that are purportedly intended to help them. According to his own web site, “Senator Obama is the only candidate with a plan to provide broad-based tax relief to the middle class, offering a credit of $1,000 per family or $500 per individual every year, and eliminating income taxes entirely for seniors making less than $50,000.”

Obama’s platform is both laudable and worrisome at the same time.  He appears to overlook the vital role of capital formation in creating businesses and jobs. Drastic redistribution of income and wealth spells disaster for entrepreneurs, small family-owned businesses, and investors alike. With the current bailout plans tacked on top of Obama’s economic remodeling, there is no question the U.S. debt will balloon.

We need to push Big Government to step in for other, arguably more pressing long-term issues such as more sound sustainable development, which Obama supports in principle, in a way that can provide jobs and produce consumer-friendly technology for industries like agriculture and construction. Do not ban NAFTA or raise barriers to free trade. Obama and his administration must resist gimmicks like the Gas Tax holiday and petty tax benefits to the middle class. Avoid empty promises and do something that can actually get done.

I applaud Obama for some of his principles but I think he should alter how he plans to execute his proposals. Let’s go for a ‘new’ New Deal, and, as recent Nobel Prize winner in economics, Paul Krugman, says, emphasize the provision of “aid to beleaguered state and local governments, so that they can sustain essential public services, [which] is important for those who depend on those services; it’s also a way to avoid job losses and limit the depth of the economy’s slump.”

If Big Government is going to raise taxes, fine. Our country must face the music. But why not do it for something worthy like making higher education less costly and cutting military expenditures for the two ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan? As Rep. Rahm Emanuel (Obama’s future Chief of Staff) put it, “I don’t think we need Big Government, but Big Solutions.” Big or small Government, the U.S. is in pretty deep with $44 trillion in unfunded entitlement obligations and $9 trillion stacked up in national debt. In light of globalization, we must first look inward by investing in human capital, sustainable development initiatives, and efficient infrastructure for actual change. For once, we need to let the world be and focus our attention on rebuilding our own country.

This will be more possible with Democrats dominating the Senate and the House of Representatives. But I don’t expect Obama and the Democrats to have all the answers. We’re walking through cash quicksand and we need to find prudent ways to get out. Looking ahead for long-term solutions, not short-term fixes, is the key. In this globalized world, you can run, but you cannot hide from volatility. In the meantime, let’s keep our fingers crossed.

Democratic Idols

Tarsi Dunlop of the Middlebury Roosevelt Institution

Democracy is not an easy concept; even a definition is hard for many people to agree on. However, the United States is one of the oldest surviving democracies in the world. It is therefore noteworthy that for all our desires to spread democracy, within the US is where voter participation is sorely lacking. Why, then, were we finding so much interest in the 2008 election before party nominees were even selected?

It could be said that democratic participation, for a rational voter, makes little sense. This is very often the reason for low turnout and just one aspect of “Making Democracy Work” that the Roosevelt Institution seeks to address as one of its national challenges during this election year. It is a challenging problem and one not easily solved. Voter apathy is a powerful notion. However, almost six months before we knew who would be running in the general election, the race was already dominating headlines.

Why was this? Perhaps it was because in our own uniquely American way, we have managed to turn democratic elections into our very own American Idol contest. It is now all about the contestants and their personalities. Barack Obama is charismatic and has already become a larger-than-life emblem of liberal “change,” but he is young, and somewhat inexperienced. Hillary Clinton has huge name recognition— and yes, perhaps she does polarize— but then again, she has spent time in the White House. When one wonders who will win between these two, it almost feels like we might as well ask who is the better singer, rather than politician.

John McCain, meanwhile, is a war hero who has been playing the role of “comeback kid” in this race. But will he be able to unite Republicans across the country? Can they find enough to like about him to overcome their doubts about his political stance, will it come down to how much the voters can identify with the man himself? Thus the discussion goes on. However, in the end, news coverage likes conflict and sound bites – as the viewers demand – and thrives on uncertainty. Well, there is certainly plenty of that going around.

Ultimately, perhaps democratic participation is not really about policy as much as the people who claim they will represent us. One might even go as far as to ask them all to sing a few bars, make a brief heartfelt speech to the American public, and then we’ll send people out to vote. Electoral College aside, would more people head out to the polls? This feels like the popularity contests of junior high elections all over again.

Racism Still Alive

Josh Wessler

In a discussion about presidential candidate Barack Obama, the question of race will inevitably come up. Pundits dissect his family tree: his mother is from Kansas, his father is Kenyan. Is he African-American? American? African? Black? White? His middle name is Hussein!

Take a recent article in the Washington Post, for example. The issue on everyone’s mind (mainly because the pollsters dwell on it), is about whether Obama can transcend the racial divide. How come these questions are never asked about the other candidates?

Is Edwards too white?

Gosh, I think Mitt Romney needs to lighten up on the race card. He doesn’t want to seem too pale…

Instead, the media remarks on how well Obama speaks to both races. Yet, Clinton won’t lose the white vote if she neglects blacks. And John McCain isn’t worried about appearing too much like an everyman. He (like the rest of the presidential candidates) is white, and unlike Obama, he doesn’t have to clarify his race.

Some say we’re in a new era of race relations. But we’re still asking the same old questions. And that’s a real shame.