In 2008, Barack Obama was elected the first black president of the United States. Is his re-election just as historic? The pros & cons.
A politician like any other? Picture: reuters
Yes! Now Obama is making history
The first re-election of the first black president of the USA – no, that doesn’t sound historic, but like an awkward journalist’s search for the superlative. Yet "historic" is the right adjective for this November 6, 2012.
First, because an Obama defeat would have relegated his first electoral victory in 2008 to a footnote in history, a gaffe that had only become possible as an antithesis to the Bush era. That would have been in line with the view of the white Tea Party men who have been demanding "their country back" for four years with barely concealed racist undertones.
George W. Bush eight, Barack Obama four years? For blacks in the U.S., that would have been a slap in the face; the hope for the realization – albeit initially symbolic – of Martin Luther King’s dream, which caused so many tears to roll on election night 2008, would have been gone for good. The second election victory confirms the first as truly historic.
But that is not all; indeed, it would be questionable as an argument. For even if Obama’s skin color and the prospect of making history as a voter certainly played a role in 2008, it would be downright ignorant four years later to explain his reelection on that basis. Barack Obama did not do nothing for four years. And even if his election campaign largely consisted of a warning against Mitt Romney and his Republicans, he has more than clearly advocated a vision of the USA with ultimately social democratic connotations, diametrically opposed to the neoliberal model of thought embodied by Romney.
In December 2011, Obama had laid for the first time in Osawatomie, Texas, that basic tenor that he resumed in his State of the Union address in January and preached over and over again during the campaign: "The free market has never been a blank license to take whatever you can get and from whomever you can get it." And the hemming in of capitalism in favor of more social justice, he said, must be done by the state. Contrast Romney: "America doesn’t punish success, America admires success!" That’s what it’s all about. For far too long, it has been left to neoliberals and conservatives to define "America," to describe the "American dream" as elbow warfare against others, American strength as the strength of the military.
Obama’s campaign was also an attempt to finally break this hegemony of definition. He was as successful in doing so as the situation allowed. The battle for minds is far from over. But November 6, 2012, shows: After 25 years of neoliberal discourse from both parties (the near-perfect deregulation of financial markets began in the U.S. in the 1990s under Democrat Bill Clinton), it is possible to win elections with a message of state-organized solidarity. If that is not historic? BERND PICKERT
No! Continuity is not revolutionary
There has never been so much history. One historical event follows the next. If even a computer company can succeed in staging every step in the development of a cell phone as a messianic event, then an event like the re-election of Barack Obama as President of the USA must of course be called "historic". Less is not possible. More differentiated and precise terms are not available in such a hysterical climate. The acceleration of the new media also shortens analyses. This narrows the view of historical processes.
Obama’s second victory is not a turning point. The outcome of the U.S. elections is gratifying for people who see the state as more than a night watchman, who take environmental protection seriously and who do not consider diplomatic negotiations with potential opponents to be treason. This is the course Barack Obama is more likely to take than his losing rival Mitt Romney. This does not mean that the old and new president is a leftist. For leftists and left-liberals worldwide, he is the lesser evil. Nothing more. So what? He’s not responsible for other people’s projections.
The color of Obama’s skin no longer matters. Perhaps this is precisely what will be described in historical retrospect as the most important element of his first term in office. Namely, that afterwards neoliberal blacks – oh yes, they exist! – were able to vote Republican rather than Democratic because it suited their economic interests. The question of discrimination was no longer of decisive importance in the election for the second term of a black president.
It is true: racism in the U.S. has not been overcome, as evidenced by the hatred that Obama often faces. It is also true that if he had not been elected, racists would have rejoiced. But is anyone suggesting that elections can change the attitudes of the losers? Or that Barack Obama’s victory was synonymous with the end of racism?
Historical developments are not a hurdle race, and their protagonists do not hop from one event to the next. Unless it’s in the movies. The abolition of slavery was a prerequisite for the civil rights movement, not its conclusion. The election of Angela Merkel as German chancellor is not the final triumph of feminism. Truly it isn’t.
History takes place as a sequence of processes, not as a sequence of events. Events can be landmarks, and certainly Obama’s first election victory was one. A black U.S. president: that represented a paradigm shift in history. But landmarks cannot be set arbitrarily often. Continuity is not revolutionary. Today, Barack Obama is a politician like any other. That could actually mean the beginning of the end of racial discrimination. But would have nothing to do with the outcome of the 2012 election. BETTINA GAUS