Hope lost, audacity found

In his younger days, Barack Obama called for a more even-handed approach from the US on the Israel- Palestine conflict; today he warns activists not to sail to Gaza

Obama’s administration has pursued a multi-track effort to prevent Americans from participating in the flotilla.

Despite the campaign hoopla, it was never in the cards for Barack Obama to be a transformational leader, an FDR (Franklin Delano Roosevelt) or even an LBJ (Lyndon Baines Johnson). The bold new programmes that they introduced to help transform America into a more just and broadly prosperous land were not his style, as should have been clear from a 2006 interview in The Nation magazine conducted by David Sirota. Still, it did seem possible Obama might stumble into being a bit of a JFK, someone whose skillful, inspiring rhetoric raised people’s expectations and aspirations, leading others to go out and make history far beyond the bounds of what he himself dared to imagine. This was certainly the impact Kennedy had on civil rights, which helped set the tone for entire decade of the 1960s.

Things did turn out that way in exactly one case: the repeal of the military’s anti-gay “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. But in virtually every other instance, Obama’s influence has been much more reminiscent of the “practical”, if not paranoid side of Kennedy, who spent a good deal of time and energy trying to restrain the Civil Rights Movement, ever mindful of the negative impact that headlines of racial conflict would have around the world. Still, Kennedy clearly wanted progress on civil rights, both because he believed it was right, and because it was vital for gaining Cold War support in the Global South in the long run. He just wished the struggle was not so messy, even as his flamboyant spirit helped fuel that struggle, almost in spite of himself.

In 2008, at least, it could plausibly be hoped that Obama’s election would unleash a similar dynamic across a wide range of issues, encouraging idealistic pressure from below, even while struggling to contain it. But things have not turned out that way, as Obama has repeatedly undercut, sidelined or opposed the more idealistic enthusiasms of his base with a determined seriousness he rarely, if ever, displays against Republicans.

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Paul Rosenberg is the Senior Editor of Random Length News, a bi-weekly alternative community newspaper.