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Mainstream, Vol XLVI, No 49

From Slavery to the White House

Tuesday 25 November 2008, by N V K Murthy

November 4, 2008. This will indeed be a historic day for the United States of America. The citizens have emphatically voted to make Barack Obama the 44th President of the USA. It is as historic as the day when the Rev Martin Luther King Jr. addressed the freedom march in Washington D.C. in November 1964 and made his memorable “I-have-a-dream” speech. It is as historic as the day when the civil war ended which put slavery to rest. However, that was only as symbolic as the Indian Constitution making untouchability a crime. Those who did not belong to the privileged WASP group, White Anglo Saxon Protestants, reeled under discriminatory practices in all walks of life. When John F. Kennedy was candidate for presidency, many were skeptical of his candidacy because they felt a Roman Catholic could never be in the Oval office. JFK proved the skeptics wrong. He became the President. The sixties saw a vigorous civil rights movement flourish. Unfortunately, Rev Martin Luther King Jr., who successfully used Gandhian principles to lead the civil rights movement, was assassinated.

BUT today it seems that all the sacrifices were not in vain. There were skeptics even yesterday who felt that notwithstanding all his charisma and the people’s yearning for change in the economic, political and social climate of the country, a Black American’s chances of winning were remote. However, today all that has changed. Barack Obama is the President-elect and people expect far-reaching changes in US policies. During the election campaign the Iraq war and the fighting in Afghanistan took precedence over other issues. But in the closing weeks, the collapse of the financial institutions brought the economic problems on to centre-stage. It is here in the economic policies that people have great expectations.

The major differentiating feature between the Republican and Democratic agendas on economic policies has been in the regulation of financial institutions. While the Republicans were by and large associated with deregulation of financial institutions, Obama has been speaking of greater responsibility on financial institutions and consequently the need to regulate the financial institutions. While McCain had been talking about reducing taxes across the board, Obama had been promising to reduce taxes for 95 per cent of the tax paying population. In fact, his talk of spreading the wealth had been used by the Republicans for denouncing him as a socialist. Socialism is anathema to most Americans.

For some years now the USA has been criticised the world over for not joining the Kyoto agreement by refusing to put any restrictions on the use of fossil fuels. Obama has been constantly talking about the need to make massive investment in scientific research and development of renewable sources of energy. People expect a surge in the investment of scientific research and technology especially in the field of energy. In foreign policy, Obama has promised that the US would support efforts for peace and reconstruction by any country. Additionally, he has firmly asserted US opposition to war and destruction anywhere in the world. So it is fair to predict an end to pre-emptive wars such as was seen in the Bush regime by the US.

The hopes and expectations of the US citizens are high and yet these are only expectations on the promises made to the electorate. As the saying goes, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. The coming days months and years will show how much the USA has changed.

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