Democracy in Action: Obama as President

Mr. Sta. Ana is Coordinator of Action for Economic Reforms. This article was published in the November 3, 2008 edition of the Business World, pages S1/4 to S1/5.

“Celebrate democracy at the 2008 US Presidential Election Watch Party.”  This is the message of Ambassador Kristie Kenney’s invitation to a party on 5 November (Manila time).

To be sure, democracy is not just about having an election, even a clean and fair one.  In the present US context, democracy in action acquires great significance when the victory of Barack Obama is sealed.

Our colleague Rene Ofreneo describes an Obama victory as “liberating.”    An Obama win is liberating in different senses.

It will be liberating for the US to elect its first black president.  Obama ran for the presidency without making discrimination a main issue.  He will win, not because of color, but because people want change. And this will be good for healing America’s racial divide.

His coalition is more diverse and more colorful than Jessie Jackson’s rainbow alliance.  Jackson’s rainbow mainly mobilized the progressives.  Obama’s campaign has animated the whole of America—whites, blacks, Latinos, intellectuals, entrepreneurs, workers, women, independents and even Republicans.  This is the second sense that makes an Obama presidency liberating:  the capacity to unite the Blue and the Red; the whites and the colored; the enlightened rich, middle class, and the poor.

The third sense, arguably the most important, is that Obama’s victory will liberate the US, and the world, from the most reactionary rule of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney. Conservatism has a place in a liberal society.  But the Bush presidency has not been about pursuing good old conservatism (e.g., individual liberty, family values, minimal government).  Mr. Bush’s ideology is called neo-conservatism, a term that does not even capture the ugliness and wickedness of his rule.  Mssrs. Bush and Cheney have ridden roughshod over civil liberties, used torture and demeaning interrogation tactics, flouted global rules, engaged in patronage and cronyism, and wasted taxpayers’ money and incurred huge debts to finance a misdirected war on terror.

Many have high expectations when Obama assumes the presidency.  Indeed, the Democrat platform is most suited in dealing with a crisis situation.  Addressing the US recession requires big and bold government intervention.  On the other hand, the crisis itself is a serious constraint on Obama’s broad reform program.

At the very least, my hope is for Obama to restore America’s dignity by reaffirming the inviolability of human rights— amending the Patriot Act, or closing the notorious Guantanamo prison, for example—and promoting multilateralism in addressing global issues.  The taming of the financial crisis (or for that matter, climate change) can only be addressed through global collective action, not the Republican way of making “country first.”

The majority of US citizens have seen the folly of the Bush presidency.  And they will use the 2008 elections as a referendum to repudiate Bush and the Republican Party.

In addition, if the citizens of the world were allowed to cast their ballot in the US elections, they, too, would resoundingly vote for Obama.  A survey conducted by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) World Service conducted in July-August 2008 showed adult citizens from 22 countries throughout the world favoring Obama by a wide margin.  Obama won in all countries, including the Philippines, although a considerable percentage of the voters did not express their preference.

The Philippine result showed Obama trouncing McCain, with the former getting 46 percent and the latter obtaining 22 percent of the survey votes.  The world average was 49 percent for Obama against 12 percent for McCain.

Anyhow, the Pinoy vote won’t count.  What intrigues me though is how the Pinoy-Americans will vote.  They are a large community, with a potential to swing votes in some districts.  Since I am not aware of any statistical survey regarding how Pinoy-Americans will vote, I have to rely on anecdotes.

In an e-group consisting of classmates from grade school and high school, the US citizens among us are split between Obama and McCain, but some Republican voters will vote Democrat this time.  The McCain supporters are the most strident, however. It shocks me that highly educated men would brand Obama as one who condones the killing of babies, one who consorts with terrorists, one who is disloyal to America. Some are uncomfortable with having a black President although they won’t explicitly say so.

This pro-Republican or anti-Obama thinking extends to Pinoy-American women.  Our friend Nina, who is in New York for a meeting, told my sister that to her surprise, her Pinoy-American amigas are voting for McCain.

But within our family, the young nephews and nieces will vote Obama, reflecting the sentiments of the American youth.  Many of my cousins are pro-Obama.  Those with activist background will predictably vote Democrat.

My relatives who vote Republican do so not because they endorse Bush’s war in Iraq or Bush’s backing of Israel’s aggression in Palestine.  The main reason is they benefit from the Republican advocacy of tax cuts. But this is no longer their central concern in light of the recession that is destroying the jobs of even the highly educated and highly skilled.  A couple of young relatives—a Wall Street trader and an engineering techie for Lehman Brothers—have been laid off.

Perhaps, the story of cousin Doris is the most telling as to how the independents or erstwhile Republican supporters will vote.  In previous elections, Doris voted Republican because she disliked the Clintons and more importantly, because she badly needed the tax cuts that the Republicans offered.  She and husband Joseph were financing the education of their two daughters and a son who were enrolled in universities that count among the best and the most expensive in the US.  Hence, for Doris and Joseph, every dollar earned or saved contributed to their children’s education.

But this November, she will vote Obama.  For the first time in her life, she voted in the primaries, registering as a Democrat.  She braved a snowstorm, with her car even getting stalled, to cast her ballot for Obama.  No obstacle will likely stop her from voting Obama in the November 4 election.

It is people like Doris who will give Obama a clear-cut victory.  It is the likes of Doris who give meaning to democracy in action.

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