Special Guest Columnist - Michael Coren

Winter 2009 CSANews Issue 73  |  Posted date : Dec 12, 2009.Back to list

I have to be honest. I was never a particular fan of Barack Obama and I simply couldn't share in the mass euphoria when the man was elected. Of course, it was an iconic triumph for a black man to become president of a country that, 150 years earlier, had institutionalized slavery, but there are any number of gifted men and women of colour who could run for this or any office. The contrived rhetoric, the speeches that when analyzed, revealed so little content, the hysterical fans revering the man but clueless when asked about his actual policies. All too much for this cynic. Then again, the Sarah Palin cult left me bewildered. Surely this was not the best that a country of such greatness and splendour could offer?

More than a year later and Obama has had some, though not enough, time to show his worth. Frankly, it's more of the same. While claiming to want to end the polarization of American life and politics, he has made appointments and statements that have in no way been conciliatory. Health-care reform is vital but, from the very first days of the policy change, President Obama could have reached out to many Republicans who were offering constructive suggestions. He only did so when forced. Hillary Clinton, for all of her failings, had worked on this issue for years and surely would have made a better job of it.

On foreign policy, we see the greatest failings of all, made all the more obvious because we were told that this was the great revolution in Washington's relationship with the rest of the world. George W. Bush certainly left some open wounds but, even according to Obama's own criteria, he has done little. No genuine troop reductions in Iraq and Afghanistan, Guantanamo Bay not closed, Iran more bellicose than ever and all informed Israelis and Palestinians convinced that matters are worse now than under the last administration.

The president and his people made a lot of noise about America not being at war with Islam, but the West knew this already. The bigger point is to ask how many Muslims know that they are not at war with America. There were ranks of Muslim women and reformers who were outraged at what appeared to be Obama's fawning approach to the Islamic establishment in his Cairo speech.

There were similar groans when he failed to appear in person at the 20th anniversary celebrations of the fall of the Berlin Wall. This wasn't the marking of a passing event, but the commemoration of the turn of history. He appeared by video and, predictably, managed to discuss himself in what was supposed to be a testament to the millions who had lived under Soviet oppression.

This jarring lack of empathy was seen again after the massacre at Fort Hood. Not, of course, the time for false emotion or crass reaction, but the man hardly mentioned the slaughter for hours! A president is more than a political leader. He is a symbol of a nation, a centre for the hope and aspirations of an entire people. Reading from prompters in what is now, surely, an achingly predictable manner is not the stuff of greatness.

With the economy, it would be unfair to blame this current leader on what is a severely worrisome situation. The current pain goes back to a disease created by Carter, not diagnosed by Bush Senior or Clinton, and often ignored by the last president. But the amounts of money spent by Obama on trying to remedy the crisis are beyond comprehension and, at the moment, it is doubtful that this is working. The United States is simply not recovering as quickly as Canada, the bulk of Europe, or most of the rest of the industrialized world. With such government intervention, we can only imagine the long-term problems if this plan doesn't work.

He has certainly made the U.S. more popular in the developing world and in liberal circles in Europe and elsewhere. He has given hope to many in America who felt voiceless and without representation. He has given a new, shining possibility to the racial divide and allowed millions of Americans to feel involved in the body politic. He is intelligent, sophisticated and worldly. All this is laudable. He is also an emperor praised by legions of people for the wonder of his new clothes. We will need another year or two to decide whether they are truly spectacular, or whether he is completely naked. I hope for the former, fear the latter. It can be very cold out there, very cold indeed.