George Graham

Let’s Give President Barry the Benefit of the Doubt

I can’t deny that America’s first black president has been a letdown. For whatever reason, I thought he would have been more… well… liberal. I suppose it has something to do with racial stereotyping and the civil rights movement back in the Sixties. What with Martin Luther King and Malcolm X and even Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow Coalition, I had this image in my mind – a militant kind of image, an image of the oppressed black American yearning to breathe free.

barryBut, contrary to the fantasies of Tea Party marchers, Barack Obama could not be less militant. Absent the skin color and the exotic name, he is a middle-of-the-road guy from the Midwest, Hawaii born but Kansas raised. His white mother and white grandparents were the ones who molded his character. Those dreams of his Kenyan father were just dreams. He hardly knew the man.

Of course, he did marry Michele (with the president at right), as authentic black American as they come. And I’m sure she sets him straight when he wanders too far off course. I wouldn’t describe her as militant, either, but she gets it.

So here I was expecting Barack Hussein Obama to shake up Washington, and who should turn up but Barry from Kansas, smiling his pretty smile and making no sudden moves. What happened to the “change” he promised on the campaign trail? There has been change, of course. You can’t put a black family in the White House without causing big change. But the way things work in Washington hasn’t changed much.

Remember how he promised to get rid of the lobbyists? Well, lobbyists still rule the roost. And what about those Wall Street bandits? They’re still taking home multimillion-dollar bonuses. And I’m sure you recall the chatter about eliminating “earmarks”? Well, earmarks are alive and well. Just take a look at the health care bills.

Barry has even forgotten that Barack promised to give Americans a “public option” when he revamped health care. Now, he says he didn’t include the “option” in his campaign promises – to the delight of media types who trot out video clips to refresh his memory.

I’m not calling the president a liar; I’m just pointing out that he is acting a lot like other politicians – black and white. And maybe I’m the one to blame for my disappointment. It was na├»ve of me to think things could be different. The way things work didn’t come about by chance. The levers of power evolve over time as relentlessly as stalagmites and stalactites grow in a cave. They are the result of natural forces, not the handiwork of any individual or group. Barack might have had no better luck than Barry in trying to change Washington.

Perhaps we should congratulate good ol’ Barry on the changes he has been able to make. As Pulitzer Prize winning columnist Eugene Robinson points out:

Today, with unemployment at 10 percent, hardly anyone is thrilled with the state of the economy. But all the depression talk has ended, and the economy is growing again – slowly, yes, but perceptibly. There is widespread consensus that the worst is over….

Since last Christmas, our government has begun to tackle huge, structural problems that had long gone unaddressed: health care, climate change and education. To state the obvious, not everyone agrees with Obama’s proposed solutions. But it’s promising that the nation is so passionately engaged in debate about wonkish policy initiatives – public option vs. Medicare buy-in, carbon tax vs. cap-and-trade. This nation is at its best when it’s going somewhere and doing something, not when it’s standing still.

On Christmas Day 2008, U.S. foreign policy was seen as bellicose and dangerous by much of the rest of the world. Today, the United States is celebrated for having rejoined the community of nations by rejecting torture, respecting the Geneva Conventions and embracing international institutions.

We might be better off with Barry at the helm, after all. Who knows how Barack would have fared? He might have been like the proverbial bull in a china shop, strewing wreckage in his wake. President Barry may not be the militant I’d hoped for, but he does seem to know how things get done in Washington’s corridors of power.

As millions of recovering alcoholics pray:

God, grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change;
The courage to change the things I can;
And the wisdom to know the difference.

Perhaps President Barry has the wisdom to know the difference.

About the author

gwgraeme

I am a Jamaican-born writer who has lived and worked in Canada and the United States. I live in Lakeland, Florida with my wife, Sandra, our three cats and two dogs. I like to play golf and enjoy our garden, even though it's a lot of work. Since retiring from newspaper reporting I've written a few books. I also write a monthly column for Jamaicans.com