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W.E. Gutman: Healing the U.S. also a war of necessity

Posted: December 4, 2009 5:17 p.m.
Updated: December 6, 2009 4:55 a.m.
 

Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica — A full-face and profile effigy of former President George W. Bush adorns the check-in area of a small guest house nestled in the rain forest on Costa Rica’s Pacific coast. The caption reads: “Wanted for crimes against humanity.”

The poster was put up in 2005. It is still there. Next to it hangs President Barack Obama’s portrait. “Will he clean up the mess?” a handwritten caption quips.

Tourists and locals find the juxtaposition amusing. The hotel owner, a Swede, seemed eager to explain: “Much of the world has come to despise the United States — its policies, of course, not its people.”

This resentment is tinged with greater doses of cynicism than hostility. Still, Bush continues to be the butt of this aversion. He is remembered as inarticulate, often incoherent, peevish, crude, betraying an abysmal lack of understanding of foreign affairs, dismissive of international law, contemptuous of his compatriots’ feelings and aspirations and loyal only to the centers of power and the elite who control them.

Bush had long become both an object of ridicule and fear. He personified an America addicted to oil, driven by hawkish, reckless foreign policies crafted to enrich the super-rich.

He epitomized a nation that wages wars premised on lies and stoked by fear-mongering; that defies treaty and charter; and whose alliances were clinched by military aid to brutal dictators, plutocrats and corrupt tribal chieftains.

The U.S. was also long seen as the agent of secret wars and the assassination of democratically elected leaders, of prison tortures and secret CIA “renditions” and as a bully whose tactics in trade and diplomacy disregard corruption and human rights abuses. Obama promised to change all that.

Those of us who voted for him exulted in his triumph. We had elected a man equipped with a functioning brain, a heart and clearly enunciated aspirations for a better, more just tomorrow.

He had offered America a vision of what tolerance, sanity and hope can accomplish. And he had driven his detractors to apoplexy.

We also knew some of his initiatives would fail and we were prepared to blame not the new president but the legions of scorpions nipping at his heels.

They had done everything to discredit and disparage him, impugn his birth and his patriotism, falsify his beliefs and disfigure his ambitious programs by absurdly comparing them to fascism, socialism and communism.

Obama was the first presidential candidate to tell America to look at itself in the mirror and ponder the image it reflected around the world. He was the first to shake the old system by its roots and propose egalitarian policies that bestow rights and privileges the rest of the civilized world takes for granted.

He is the first in a long line of commanders-in-chief to suggest diplomacy speaks louder than bunker-busters.

In anticipation of the dramatic makeover the “leader of the free world” pledged to bring about, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

The accolade sent a message to the new president, to the American people and to the world:

n Your election, Obama, heralds a positive ideological shift in the U.S.;

n Congratulations for not being George W. Bush;

n We support your programs;

n This prize is proactive, not reactive. It symbolizes our hope you will lead the nation and the world away from bulimic consumerism, cannibalistic capitalism and illegal, immoral and unwinnable wars.

This extraordinarily optimistic assessment is likely to be revisited and amended.

Obama is now headed for Oslo where the prestigious prize is to be conferred. He has since made the predictable decision to send 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan. In so doing, he has dismayed and disheartened those of us who voted for him.

He assured us he would bring the troops home; he capitulated to the generals.

He pledged his administration would rein in the economy and create jobs; unemployment is rising.

He spoke harshly of the financiers who bankrupted the nation; he gave them a free pass and they laughed all the way to the bank

He promised to fix the mortgage crisis; the economy is in tatters and people continue to lose their homes in record numbers.

He guaranteed a healthcare system immune from predatory insurance practices; several million Americans still have to choose between eating a square meal and taking life-saving medicines.

He galvanized the nation with his innovative approach to education; school houses are crumbling; pedagogical skills are on the decline; 7 million Americans are illiterate, 27 million are unable to read well enough to complete a job application and 30 million can’t read a simple sentence.

Meanwhile, nearly 1,000 Americans have died in combat in Afghanistan. Many more will perish far from home before the proclaimed but tenuous July 2011 “partial drawdown” takes place.

These are just a few of the infamies Americans now grudgingly concede have tarnished Obama’s carefully crafted persona.

We all knew what to expect from former President Bush. We held Obama to a higher standard. He let us down.

W.E. Gutman is a veteran journalist and Rosamond resident. His column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal.

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