Did I enthusiastically support presidential candidate Barack Obama in 2008? Absolutely! Do I agree with everything he has done over the past four years as president? No! Has he carried out all of the promises he made in 2008? No! Am I disappointed in President Obama in 2012? Yes! But so are millions of Americans who supported him in 2008. So are tens of millions of other people throughout the world who saw his election as history making and wished him well.
Still Support President Obama
Despite lingering disappointments, I support the reelection of President Obama because he represents my values. As President Bill Clinton put it in his speech at the Democratic Convention last week, there are two choices in the 2012 presidential election:
If you want a you’re on your own, winner take all society you should support the Republican ticket. If you want a country of shared opportunities and shared responsibilities— a ‘we’re all in it together’ society, you should vote for Barack Obama and Joe Biden. If you want every American to vote and you think it’s wrong to change voting procedures just to reduce the turnout of younger, poorer, minority and disabled voters, you should support Barack Obama. If you think the president was right to open the doors of American opportunity to young immigrants brought here as children who want to go to college or serve in the military, you should vote for Barack Obama. If you want a future of shared prosperity, where the middle class is growing and poverty is declining, where the American Dream is alive and well, and where the United States remains the leading force for peace and prosperity in a highly competitive world, you should vote for Barack Obama.
I want a country of shared opportunities and shared responsibilities— a ‘we’re all in it together’ society.
The rallying cry the Republicans have resurrected from three decades ago is, “Are you better off now than you were in 2008?” Let the facts speak for themselves.
When President Obama took office in 2008, the U.S. was losing 750,000 jobs per month. In 2012, there are nearly 100 thousand jobs added every month. Under President Obama’s watch, over 4.5 million private sector jobs have been created in the U.S. Are we better off in 2012 than we were in 2008? Yes!
In 2008, the U. S. economy had crashed. Trillions of dollars in investments were vaporized on Wall Street and the auto industry teetered on the verge of collapse. By 2012, the stock market valuations had doubled; and the American auto industry did not die in bankruptcy court as Mitt Romney had prescribed. By June 2012, General Motors’ sales figures were up by 15.5% over 2011. GM had sold 248,750 vehicles, registering its best performance since 2008. Chrysler had its best sales figures since 2007 with gains of 20.3 percent. Are investors and the investment climate better today than it was in 2008? Has the American auto industry “come back roaring again”?
Until President Obama put his presidency on the line and enacted the Affordable Health Care Act in 2009, some 40 million Americans had no health insurance. By 2014, most Americans will have access to affordable health insurance. They can shop around for competitive coverage using “health insurance exchanges”. Insurance companies will not be allowed to cherry pick the healthiest patients and discriminate based on preexisting conditions. Parents can keep their children on their insurance until age 26. Older Americans who use the Medicare program will continue to get discounts on their medications. Are these millions of Americans better off today than they were in 2008? Certainly!
Before President Obama created the Consumer Financial and Protection Bureau, crooked financial institutions ranging from credit card companies to student loan sharks used all sorts of legal tricks and confusing language to trap and rip off unwary consumers. The hedge fund managers and Wall Street financial manipulators lived high on the hog while millions of Americans lost their homes and investments. Are American consumers better off in 2012 than they were in 2008? You bet!
Women comprise 47 percent (or 66 million women) of the total U.S. labor force. In many industries, women are paid less than their male counterparts. Before 2008, women did not have the legal right to enforce their right to equal pay for equal work. President Obama signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act which protected women and all other workers who are victims of wage discrimination on gender, race, color, religion, national origin, age, or disability. Are these Americans better off in 2012 than they were in 2008? No doubt about it!
As of June 1, 2008, the United States had 182,060 military personnel deployed in Iraq. In 2012, all U.S. combat troops have been pulled out of Iraq. By 2014, all combat troops will be withdrawn from Afghanistan. President Obama signed a law to help veterans by providing tax credits to employers who hire them and expanded educational access and various reemployment and transitional services to veterans. Under President Obama’s watch, the world’s view of the United States “improved sharply”. Are these members of the armed services better off in 2008 than they are in 2012? Is America more respected and viewed in better light than it did in 2008? Do we have a better Commander in Chief in 2012 than we did in 2008? Darn right we do!
It is true that not all are better off today than they were in 2008. Osama bin Laden was much better off in 2008 masterminding terror from his his villa in Pakistan. So were many of his brothers-in-terror: Sheik Saeed al-Masri (Al Qaeda’s number three commander), Anwar al-Awlaki (Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula), Abu Hafs al-Shahri (Al Qaeda’s chief of Pakistan operations), top Al Qaeda leaders Atiyah Abd al-Rahman, Ilyas Kashmiri, Ammar al-Wa’ili, Abu Ali al-Harithi, Abu Ayyub al-Masri, Hamza al-Jawfi, Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, Ali Saleh Farhan, Harun Fazul and Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan (Al-Qaeda East Africa), Younis al-Mauritani, Tehrik e-Taliban, Baitullah Mahsud, Jemayah Islamiya, Noordin Muhammad (Al Quaeda Indonesia), Abdul Ghani Beradar (Taliban deputy and military commander), Muhammad Haqqani (Haqqani network commander), Lashkar-e Jhangvi (Qari Zafar leader) and Hussein al-Yemeni, Dulmatin (top Jemayah Islamiya leader responsible for the 2002 Bali night club bombings which killed over 180 people) and many, many more. These guys were definitely better off in 2008 than they are in 2012!
President Obama knows his work is not finished and he has a lot more to do in improving the economy. But the road he has travelled over the past 4 years has been a hard one. He faced stiff opposition every inch of the way. He was obstructed, blocked, thwarted, vilified and demonized. The top leader of the Republicans in the Senate vowed, “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president. That’s my single most important political goal, along with every active Republican in the country.”
As President Clinton observed, President Obama “inherited a deeply damaged economy, he put a floor under the crash and began the long hard road to recovery, and laid the foundation for a more modern, more well-balanced economy that will produce millions of good new jobs, vibrant new businesses, and lots of new wealth for the innovators.” There is a lot more to be done. More jobs need to be created and more investments must be made in education, job training and infrastructure improvements. But President Obama cannot fix problems that have taken decades to create in one term.
President Obama, Ethiopia and Africa
Did President Obama deliver on the promises he made for Africa to promote good governance, democracy and human rights? Did he deliver on human rights in Ethiopia? No. Are Ethiopian Americans disappointed over the unfulfilled promises President Obama made in Accra, Ghana in 2009 and his Administration’s support for a dictatorship in Ethiopia? Yes. We remember when President Obama talked about the need to develop robust democratic institutions, uphold the rule of law and the necessity of maintaining open political space and protecting human rights in Africa. We all remember what he said: “Africa does not need strong men but strong institutions.” “Development depends on good governance.” “No nation will create wealth if its leaders exploit the economy.” Was he just saying these words or did he truly believe them?
There is always a gap between political rhetoric and political action. Many Ethiopian Americans who supported President Obama enthusiastically in 2008 today criticize him for hypocrisy and for failing to deliver on his promise of promoting democracy and human rights in Ethiopia. Should we really criticize the President for being indifferent, disinterested, unconcerned and uncaring?
Truth be told, what the President has done or not done to promote good governance, democracy and human rights in Ethiopia is no different than what we, the vast majority of Ethiopian Americans, have done or not done to promote the same values in Ethiopia. That is the painful truth we must face. The President’s actions or lack of actions mirror our own. Just like the President, we profess our belief in democracy, good governance and human rights in Ethiopia and elsewhere in Africa. But we have also failed to put our values in action. President Obama was constrained in his actions by factors of U.S. national security and national interest. We were constrained by factors of personal interest and personal security.
In the pursuit of Al Quaeda in Somalia and the Horn of Africa, the Obama Administration shelved human rights, good governance and democracy in Ethiopia. Waging a proxy war in Somalia and snagging a drone base were the icing on the cake for the U.S. The Administration shamefully turned a blind eye when elections were stolen in broad day light, journalists and dissidents and opposition leaders were jailed at will. U.S. National security and national interest trumped Ethiopian human rights and democracy. That was wrong in my view because the pursuit of a U.S. anti-terrorism policy in the Horn was not mutually exclusive of the pursuit of a principled human rights policy in Ethiopia.
But let us look at ourselves as Ethiopian Americans and what we have done or not done to promote human rights, good governance and democracy in Ethiopia over the past 4 years. When it comes to speaking up and standing up for these values, most of us have chosen silence and inaction. While the vast majority of us privately extol the virtues of democracy and human rights in Ethiopia, we are scared stiff to make a public statement insupport of our beliefs. We are afraid that if we speak up, the regime in Ethiopia will take away our homes and investments. We are afraid that we will not be issued visas to travel there and even face persecution. We placed our personal interests and personal security over the national interest an security of Ethiopia.
But there are other hard questions we should ask ourselves: What did we do to bring pressure on the Obama Administration to promote human rights, good governance and democracy over the past 4 yeras? Did we organize to have our voices heard by the Administration? Did we exercise our constitutional rights to hold the Administration accountable?
In all fairness, when we point an index finger at President Obama and accuse of him of not doing much in Ethiopia or Africa, we should take a quick glance at the three fingers pointing at us. We should rightly be disappointed with President Obama for his record in Ethiopia and Africa. But we should be more disappointed with ourselves. The ultimate fact of the matter is that it is not President Obama’s responsibility to free Ethiopians or Africans from dictatorship although it is his moral duty not to support dictatorship. But as President, he balances and must balance American national and security interests just as we balance our personal and security interests and act accordingly. It is wise for people who live in glass houses not to throw too many stones.
But President Obama deeply believes in human rights and knows how hard and difficult it is to make it a reality. Last Spring, he made that clear in the context of the long and arduous struggle for human rights in America. “The civil rights movement was hard. Winning the vote for women was hard. Making sure that workers had some basic protections was hard. Around the world, Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, what they did was hard. It takes time. It takes more than a single term. It takes more than a single president. It takes more than a single individual… What it takes is ordinary citizens who keep believe, who are committed to fighting and pushing and inching this country closer and closer to our highest ideals.” Protecting human rights in Ethiopia and Africa is hard, very hard. It was hard for Nelson Mandela. It is hard for President Obama. It takes ordinary citizens like ourselves to fight and push for democracy, human rights and good governance in Ethiopia and the rest of Africa.
Remember, November 6, 2012
This is not the time to blame one another or trade accusations about what President Obama has done or not done in Africa or Ethiopia. We all know about the deep and structural problems of Africa with dictatorship and corruption. It takes a lot more to fix Africa than what an American president can do in one term. As Ethiopian Americans, we must not make the mistake of being a single issue group concerned only about a single country or single continent. We must understand that our issues are intertwined with the issues and problems of others. We must not forget that when we vote for President Obama, we vote for him as President of the United States, not Ethiopia or Africa.
On November 6, we face a single question. That question is not about human rights or democracy in Ethiopia. That question is about what kind of society we want to see in America. As President Clinton said, “If you want a you’re on your own, winner take all society you should support the Republican ticket. If you want a country of shared opportunities and shared responsibilities— a “we’re all in it together” society, you should vote for Barack Obama and Joe Biden.”
President Obama in his acceptance speech said:
America, I never said this journey would be easy, and I won’t promise that now. Yes, our path is harder – but it leads to a better place. Yes our road is longer – but we travel it together. We don’t turn back. We leave no one behind. We pull each other up. We draw strength from our victories, and we learn from our mistakes, but we keep our eyes fixed on that distant horizon, knowing that Providence is with us, and that we are surely blessed to be citizens of the greatest nation on Earth.
I shall vote for Barack Obama and Joe Biden on November 6, 2012 because I would like to be a part of a United States of America of Shared Opportunities and Shared Responsibilities. I support President Barack Obama not because he is a perfect president but because he is an imperfect president seeking to build a more perfect and harmonious America of shared opportunities and shared responsibilities— a “we’re all in it together” society.
I believe President Obama understands what he has to do in the next four years and that he has miles to go before he sleeps. Put in the poetic words of Robert Frost: “The woods are lovely, dark and deep./ But I have promises to keep,/ And miles to go before I sleep.”
President Obama still deserves the full and unflagging support of the tens of thousands of Ethiopian Americans in Ohio, Virginia, Florida, North Carolina, Colorado, Michigan, Nevada, Wisconsin and the rest of the states. I ask all of my readers and supporters to help re-elect President Barack Obama. Yes, we still can…
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Amharic translations of recent commentaries by the author may be found at: http://www.ecadforum.com/Amharic/archives/category/al-mariam-amharic and http://ethioforum.org/?cat=24
Previous commentaries by the author are available at: http://open.salon.com/blog/almariam/ and www.huffingtonpost.com/alemayehu-g-mariam/