Approximately two years have passed since Barack Obama was inaugurated as the 44th president of the United States and much of the enthusiasm and hope that he aroused in people around the world is beginning to wane beneath the realities of an increasingly imperialistic foreign policy, a non-existent environmental policy, and a sclerotic economy whose effects have ravaged not only the poor of America but the poor all over the world courtesy of the economic miracles of “globalization”.
Given these dashed expectations and truncated hopes, what better platform than the State of the Union Address could a President use to speak to these dire issues of international scope? But more importantly, what kind of citizen could overlook the message Obama provides for those who have voiced their grievances, grievances that should not be dismissed especially by a head of state whose rhetoric and promises beg the complete opposite. So, what did Mr. Obama say to these suffering people: the Afghans, the Iraqis, the Yemenis, the Palestinians, the Haitians, the Pakistanis and working class Americans?
Chest out, shoulders back, and head tilted toward his colleagues, the leader of the “free world” gathered all the knowledge and experience that he could muster in these two tumultuous years and said, “America has the best economy in the world”. I’m sure a homeless man sleeping under an interstate bridge in downtown Atlanta was violently awakened from his slumber when the President uttered these words. Indeed, America’s homeless may not have physically heard the dreadful words roll off of his lips yet I have probable cause to believe that such blatant disregard of facts on the part of a man with such education has the potential to impart a deep rupture in the space-time continuum, shaking the earth at its core. Alas, Obama’s statement was tantamount to violating the incontrovertible laws of nature.
The best economy in the world? In a country where unemployment is nearly 10%? Where healthcare is a for-profit enterprise and not a human right? Where corporations have saturated the political system and manipulated the markets? Where immigrants flee their homelands to escape the ravages of “free trade” only to arrive in the “land of opportunity” where we exploit their labor? Where recent studies conducted by the Congressional Budget Office predict the federal deficit to reach $1.5 trillion dollars by the end of this year? This is the best economy?! It can’t be!
Then again, one could surmise what Obama meant if they read the Wall Street Journal the day after his address. Each headline was a bold challenge to the President’s unflagging commitment to enriching corporate CEOs at the expense of working people: Tax Redo Seeks ’Level Playing Field’, Budget Cutting Starts at Justice Department, Deficit Projection Fuels Fight Over Spending Taxes. These were just a few headlines that adorned the sacred pages of capitalist propaganda. But one article written by Dana Mattioli titled Executives Skeptical Obama Can Deliver was of particular interest, if not for its content, for the author’s uncritical manner in letting her readers know exactly where the President’s interests lie. The article started out describing how corporate executives “appreciated the president’s changed tone toward business” and how they were thoroughly pleased that Obama vowed to relieve them of the “unnecessary burdens” that had been plaguing them since he came to office. But what are these “unnecessary burdens” tormenting the Bill Gates, Donald Trumps, and Rupert Murdochs of the world? Are these burdens anything like those of the millions of people who lost their houses to foreclosure, lost family members to warfare, or better yet, are these “unnecessary burdens” anything like the burdens of those Palestinian families who have had their houses bulldozed by an American backed IDF or a five year old Iraqi child whose eyes have been blown out because he wasn’t vigilant enough to avoid an incendiary bomb? We are forbidden to ask these questions. We are forbidden to point out that in order to eliminate the “unnecessary burdens” of the wealthy the powerful have to impose necessary burdens on the poor, burdens that are necessary for the imperialistic, capitalistic, neoliberal, and corporatist system to persist in all its false splendor.
Indeed, more frightening than the notion that Obama is blind to this depravity is the notion that he sees this depravity yet he is somehow unmoved by it. Maybe job security, universal healthcare, public spending, the elimination of perverse incentives, and a non-imperialistic military do not conform with the priorities of the Obama administration. Maybe the “best economy” for the powerful is the complete opposite of what I propose. But if this be so, if the best economy for the powerful is one in which the plight of the working class, the despair of militarily occupied people, and the theft of corporate elites are all non-issues or, more appropriately, necessary burdens needed to divest CEOs of the “unnecessary burdens” of compassion, then our economy is not only the “best in the world” but arguably the best of all time. Certainly, Eric Spiegel, CEO of Siemens USA, wouldn’t disagree with this. An article in the Wall Street Journal quotes him as saying “I think [Obama] got the message that business is where jobs will be created, not the government”. Without a doubt, Obama did “get the message”, the moneyed message! He didn’t get the message of the immigrant, the dispossessed, the widow, the prisoner, the elderly, the child, or the woman. How devastating it is that the only message that the President relayed on that historic night was a message that alienated the overwhelming majority of the American population. Sure it aroused our fantastical notions of national supremacy but national supremacy doesn’t suffice when people are dying.
On this day, thousands of people in Cairo and Alexandria are storming the streets voicing their grievances against their US backed dictator, Hosni Mubarak. The most recent reports show that over 100 people have been slain by security forces, many of them dying at the height of indignation, and at the very depths of existential despair. Egyptians too can no longer bear these “necessary burdens”. Many journalists are attributing this spontaneous display of rebellion to the events in Tunisia where a fruit salesman by the name of Mohamed Bouazizi lit himself on fire in an act of protest after Tunisian authorities confiscated his fruit stand. He too had a necessary burden. We, in the United States, can learn much from these courageous individuals often running into the mouth of destruction to express their longing for a more just and egalitarian society. So, when will Mr. Obama get our message? Better yet, when will he even consider our message?! Whether or not he hears this message we must shout it. We must demonstrate that despite the corporate hegemony, the military aggression, the vilification of poverty, and the invisibility of the poor, we too have our burdens and unlike the burdens of the wealthy these burdens are, in the truest sense, unnecessary.