The Sunday Telegraph
November 23, 2014 12:00AMI'll barrack for US President Barack Obama
IS ANYONE else sick of Australian conservatives’ monumental arrogance in dismissing, and dissing, Barack Obama - one of the great leaders of our time?
There’s been a fresh wave of Obama-hate here after the G20 summit when, to the deep irritation of the federal Government and its barrackers, Obama deliberately goaded Australia about its vacillation on climate change.
I’ve spent the past six years being appalled - and kind of amused - by Australian politicians and commentators who presume in their petty provinciality to slag off someone of Barack Obama’s calibre.
First they said he wouldn’t get re-elected. Then they said he could never win a second election. Then it was ‘He’ll never get health reform past Congress’.
Now it’s ‘Obamacare is socialism’. They’ve spent Obama’s entire presidency looking for new reasons to despise a man who, a century from now, will be regarded as the one who utterly transformed America: who brought healthcare to many poor people who were shut out of the system, who ended the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, who finally killed Osama bin Laden, ended discrimination against gays in the military, pivoted American defence interests towards our own Pacific region, oversaw a rapid recession recovery and fast reduction of budget deficit and a staggering boom in US oil and gas production that utterly rebalanced geopolitics.
Just like the American conservatives, Australia’s right-wingers can’t seem to get past the effrontery of someone like Obama being elected at all.
Their slurs have been imaginative, at least. Maybe he’s a secret Muslim. Maybe he was born overseas. He’s not really a great orator. Well, maybe he’s OK - but all he can do is talk. He can’t get anything done. He built up all this hopey-changey stuff, as Sarah Palin once said, and then let everyone down.
And still the haters can’t grasp they’ve been wrong every time.
The latest bleat is that now Obama is irrelevant because he’s a ‘lame duck’ president, about to reach the compulsory eight-year end point of his administration.
Sure, Congress might be chronically gridlocked, and the 30 per cent of Americans who could be bothered to vote in the mid-term elections might have gone Republican, but this week Obama showed who is boss with an executive order that will give up to five million ‘illegals’ who have lived entire undocumented lives in the United States the right to work legally, pay taxes and access social security without fear of deportation.
They can finally leave to visit their elderly mothers in South America. They can, as Obama said, “come out of the shadows”.
Obama is daring the right wing: will you rewind this and deny the people who make America run smoothly - the vast underclass of immigrant cleaners, nannies, waiters, bellhops, labourers - the right to live free in the home of the brave?
It’s the same with climate change. Obama’s decided his next two years will be spent doing things without Congress’ say-so: like brokering a global agreement on mitigating pollution.
Obama thinks he has a shot at persuading the world’s dirtiest economies to come to a basic agreement on cleaning their acts up.
I think if anyone can do it, he can. That’s a legacy to be proud of.
And that’s why I think our Foreign Minister, the usually savvy Julie Bishop, sounds ridiculous for buying into the Government’s undignified whinging about Obama’s reference to the Great Barrier Reef in his G20 speech. Really, Julie? Did you really expect Obama to acknowledge how great Australia is because we don’t let oil tankers and dredgers dump crap on the reef?
Obama invoked our greatest natural treasure to make one simple, and much bigger, point: if global carbon dioxide emissions result in sea-levels changing, ocean acidity increasing and severe weather events dramatically increasing, as the vast majority of scientists and our own government experts say they will, the Reef will suffer like everything else on the planet. That’s it. Obama was talking to Russia as much as to Australia - but the federal Government reacted with an unseemly defensiveness.
One other thing about Obama-hate:
I think there’s a nasty undercurrent of hope that Obama might turn out to be just a token, after all. It’s so easy to say: “See, see? Well-meaning Americans were tricked into voting for him because he’s black, and now he’s turned out to be a dud!” Australia’s Obama-haters desperately want to see him fail, precisely so they can delight in some smug notion of post-racial enlightenment.
But I’m not embarrassed to say I think Obama’s story is talismanic in part because of his race - for what it says about America, not about him. I think we’re all lucky to have lived in the era Americans elected a black man and saw him grow into one of the most inspirational Presidents in a century.
In Obama’s lifetime, black men were hanged from trees. His wife Michelle and daughters are the direct descendants of southern slaves. The only African Americans to live in the White House were domestic staff.
And yet never have we heard Obama invoke his skin as a reason for the hatred he’s experienced. He doesn’t play the race card although his enemies so dearly wish he would, and although there have been occasions when race has, I think, been a factor. Obama is smarter, and bigger, than that.
Tony Abbott*,for one, is big enough to admit he underestimated Obama in the past. Shame some of Abbott's fans aren’t so gracious.
*our right-wing prime minister