Is there hope beyond cynicism?
There are several policies espoused by US President Barack Obama that I do not agree with, but this notwithstanding I intensely like the man. Whenever I see him I get positive vibes; hope is the emotion he instils in me more than anything else. Mitt Romney never impressed me one little bit and, anyway, it would be difficult for me to vote Republican.
I love to listen to Obama speak. The images he conjures and the words he uses together with his impeccable delivery style result in fantastic speeches.
Last Tuesday I listened to his victory speech while I was stuck in the traffic on the way to University. I was lucky that the transmission of the speech – thanks to the BBC retransmission on Campus FM – came in the nick of time, saving me from a potential attack of road rage. Cooped up in my car I calmed myself to listen to all his speech.
He realistically gauged the weariness of the electorate at the end of the campaign.
“I know that political campaigns can sometimes seem small, even silly. And that provides plenty of fodder for the cynics that tell us that politics is nothing more than a contest of egos or the domain of special interests.”
It is true that many are cynical about politics. People in the US are no exception. Half of America does not bother to vote and the other half is split between the reds and the blues. This time round the blues had a little margin in its favour; and won. This means that the President of the world’s most powerful country represents only one fourth of its population.
The country is further divided as most of the white population voted Republican while most Latinos, blacks and other minorities voted Democrat. The Jewish vote went mainly for Obama; the majority of mainline Protestants went for Romney and the Catholic vote went 50/50 (some polls say it went 52/48) for Obama despite the strong anti-Obama stance of many bishops.
In his speech Obama promised to work with the Republicans, the hopeful will say. But the cynic will surely retort that Obama has no other option since the Republicans hold sway in the House of Representatives. He needs the Republican votes.
The cynic will also say that the campaign can be described more as the selling of the President than the making of the President. When all the sums are added up, the total spending for the 2012 election (presidential, federal and state elections) could top a record-breaking $6 billion. A whopping $4.2 billion were spent on the presidential campaign. This astronomical figure is leaps and bounds beyond the $1.2 billion spent during the 2000 presidential campaign.
A detail of particular interest is the fact that according to analysis by the Centre for Responsive Politics and the Centre for Public Integrity, $290 million of the funds were donated by 149 super-rich people. Do they do it just for love of country?
And what did all that money buy? The President, the Republican majority in the House and the Democrat majority in the Senate were there before the election and are still there after the election.
The cynic will also point to the coverage given by the media. A study by the Pew Research Centre (www.journalism.org/print/31438) showed that what is described as horse-race coverage (stories about strategy and tactics and the question of who is winning) was larger than the coverage of any aspect of the campaign, garnering 38 per cent of all coverage coded.
Besides, the coverage of the debates was much more about who won than about what the candidates said. You see, the cynic says, form triumphs over content.
A veritable chink in the wall of the frozen attitude of the cynic does not evade the careful eye of the hopeful. During the 2008 campaign, horse-race coverage amounted to 53 per cent of coverage studied compared to this year’s 38 per cent. That’s progress by any standard.
One should also note that the media coverage of the candidates this time round was more critical of, and negative about the candidates. Criticism of the candidates on the social media was even harsher. The media’s watchdog role was fulfilled; at least to a certain extent.
Hope springs eternal and this is reflected all over Obama’s victory speech. He gives one example after another to show that the cynics present just part of the picture and that in the holistic view of things those of a hopeful attitude are more true to facts on the ground than the cynics.
I will not labour you with a detailed synthesis of the speech or with myriad quotes. Try reading it for yourselves if you have the time. Sharing with you two particular gems is, however, de rigueur, particularly because I think their validity of the attitude evidenced is important for other political landscapes besides the American one:
“I have always believed that hope is that stubborn thing inside us that insists, despite all the evidence to the contrary, that something better awaits us so long as we have the courage to keep reaching, to keep working, to keep fighting.”
The penultimate paragraph is in a class of its own:
“I believe we can seize this future together because we are not as divided as our politics suggests. We’re not as cynical as the pundits believe. We are greater than the sum of our individual ambitions, and we remain more than a collection of red states and blue states. We are and forever will be the United States of America.”
When all was said and done the Americans opted for the politician who exuded hope, not for him who was soaked in doom and gloom.
• Last Thursday, due to urgent work at the University I could not attend the launching of a most praiseworthy initiative by the Strickland Foundation.
I do not know the details as reports I read were rather short. But what I read is indeed praiseworthy. The foundation will be investing the sum of €300,000 over a period of three years for the advancement of local journalism .
This is the best piece of news the industry has had for many years. A deserved great prosit to the Strickland Foundation is in order.