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Haiti’s Woes Have Nothing to Do with Bois-Caïman

“Ignorance is the mother of all evils,” Francois Rabelais, the French Renaissance writer, once said. This quote immediately came to my mind when Reverend Pat Robertson made a derogatory comment about Haiti on January 12, 2010 as she was under the hecatomb caused by an earthquake of a 7.0 magnitude on the Richter’s scale. Haiti was being punished—I am paraphrasing Robertson—for having entered into a pact with the Devil in order to win her Independence from France on January 1, 1804. Then, I questioned the applicability of Rabelais’s quote to the Evangelist, as he does not strike me as the ignoramus type: Robertson has acquired a significant dose of knowledge, possesses advanced degrees, is well-travelled, well-read, and well-versed in societal and political affairs. So, if not ignorance, what then could drive someone of great intellect to such insensitivity and indecency? The answer is none other than Ideology. When ideological viruses infect knowledge and science, there is no telling how pernicious either can become. Fittingly, Rabelais has another quote that strikes at the heart of this condition, “Science without conscience is the death of the soul.”

Indeed, Robertson’s comment, emitted at the height of a tragedy of disastrous proportions, tells more about himself and the state of his soul than it could ever do about Haiti and the Haitians. Robertson’s derogatory tirade was not the first or only instance of insensitivity Haiti had to endure. But the question begs to be asked: Was God so mad at the Haitians that he threw his wrath on them? Why would God frown on a people whose life in many ways mirrors that of Christ, His Son? The parallel between Jesus and Haiti is rather striking. Like Jesus, Haiti was marked by death at birth. Like Haiti, Jesus was rebuked by the powers-that-be, distrusted by the establishment, betrayed by his peers, mocked by many and respected by only a few. Like Jesus whose life travails leading to his Calvary made him question God, Haiti is being stricken by calamities to the point of wondering whether she is forsaken by God. Like Haiti—the poorest country of this hemisphere, Jesus was the poorest of his group—jobless and homeless. If we look for an epitome of Jesus’ life, look no further than Haiti.

That Pat Robertson has aligned himself with a sector of the media that has injected much vitriol in the political and social debate in this country is a well-known fact. The Southern Baptist minister has travelled for some time the path of religious self- righteousness, and used his ministry to proselytize and spread the venom of intolerance. Robertson’s comment proceeds from a mentality perhaps retrograde yet alive and well, that highlights an attitude of superiority based on culture and race–precisely the mentality that granted cover and comfort to slave owners and conferred protected status to the institution of slavery. On that count, one cannot understand Haiti’s present without referring to her past, which is inseparable from slavery–an institution blessed by the religious hierarchy and the politico-economical establishment. The former had deemed the slave a fraction of a human being, deprived of a soul, and able to accede to human status only through conversion to Christianity, while the latter treated him as a communal property, an object whose very existence was tied to the exploitation of his master’s plantations.

Needless to say that slavery was a brutal state of affairs. Nowhere was it more so than Saint-Domingue, the colonial name of Haiti. Nécessité oblige! For, after all, this French colony was by far the richest in the New World, and probably the richest colony in the history of the world, which “by itself… generated some 75 percent of French tropical commodities” (Corbett). It accounted for forty percent of France’s foreign trade (Lundahl). Sugar was the great commodity of the time. Saint-Domingue’s was of great quality and efficiently produced. To preserve this coveted crown jewel, France relied on a ruthless regime that, at its peak, used the labor of half a million slaves. The abominable working conditions on the plantations led to various forms of resistance by the slaves—from a high mortality rate mainly due to suicide to the phenomenon of “marronage,” whereby slaves escaped then harassed the plantations via raids and acts of sabotage. To remedy this turnover and keep their production afloat, the French relied on an annual influx of some 50,000 slaves from Africa. Early on, under the aegis of Jean-Baptiste Colbert –then King Louis XIV’s minister of finance, they enacted a comprehensive set of rules to regulate colonial commerce and their slavery regime. The Code Noir (Black Code) encapsulated the essence of the French regime of slavery and systematized its practices. Article XLIV states, “We declare slaves to be charges, and as such enter into community property.” The Code prescribed stiff retribution for fugitives in its Article XXXVIII: “The fugitive slave (…) shall have his ears cut off and shall be branded with a fleur de lys on one shoulder. If he commits the same infraction (…), he shall have his hamstring cut and be branded with a fleur de lys on the other shoulder. The third time, he shall be put to death.” As appalling as this treatment may sound, it was mild in comparison to the eccentricity and sadism the planters demonstrated in the treatment of their slaves. They proved to be wickedly ingenious in the improvisation of barbaric methods of abuse, such as detonating gunpowder charge inserted in the anus of slaves, or burying them up to the neck and imbibing their head with cane syrup and watching honeybees devour their face. So harsh was the French slavery regime that other colonies routinely exiled their activist and restive slaves to St-Domingue to be straightened out on its sugar plantations. “In the pecking order of slavery one of the most frightening threats to recalcitrant slaves in the rest of the Americas was to threaten to sell them to Saint-Domingue” (Corbett). Henri Christophe, one of the heroes of our Independence, dubbed “the genial builder,” was one such slave exiled from his native Grenada. The founder of the Haitian nation, Jean-Jacques Dessalines, was a plantation slave. As such, he witnessed and suffered the worst atrocities of slavery. The indelible scars that were inflicted upon him due to his rebellious nature instilled in him a deep hatred vis-a-vis the French and radicalized his views and approach toward them. This was the tableau facing the slaves in 1791 when they took on the French slavery system. Would God punish a people for rising against a brutal system that reduced certain human beings to an animalistic state? It is true that a servant of God, the priest Bartolomé de las Casas, an advocate on behalf of the Amerindians, christened the African slave trade by proposing the introduction of Africans to replace the native islanders as a labor force.

If one Catholic priest was credited with the advent of the African slave trade, another one, L’Abbé Raynald, was a fierce proponent of the abolition of slavery and predicted the rise of a black leader “who will lift up the sacred standard of liberty.” Of course, France took preemptive measures to thwart the possibility of concerted action among the slaves. As a corollary to the inhumane living conditions on the plantations, the colonists engineered a system whereby the slaves were divided into heterogeneous groups bereft of tribal and linguistic commonalities. However, that proved to be of no avail. For, the French could not discern that, underneath the sensible tribal differences, there was a coalescing agent that made a cohesive unit from the seemingly heteroclite slave mass: their millennia-old religion, Vodoun (or Vodou.) In effect, from Dahomey (now Le Benin) to The Congo, from Guinea to Nigeria and throughout Sub-Saharan Africa, irrespective of tribal and dialectal divergences, Vodoun (or its variants) was a popular religion. And the slaves were determined to preserve it as their connection to the motherland. They used all sorts of subterfuge and an intricate system of concealment to hide their religious practices from their masters. Behind the façade of Catholicism, they created a duplicitous reference system designed, on the one hand, to fool their masters and, on the other hand, allow themselves the latitude to go about their rituals in all quietude. In Vodoun, they found the power to resist and a psychological boost to initiate and sustain their battle against oppression. In Bois-Caïman, they found the locale where, after months of careful planning and surreptitious nightly meetings, it all came to fruition. In August 1791, under the auspices of Boukman, a slave exiled by the British from Jamaica and Vodoun priest himself, the slaves gathered in Bois-Caïman to perform a religious ceremony paving the way to an all-out war against the French. In keeping with traditions of worship as ancient as the world itself, the Bois-Caïman Ceremony afforded them a platform to atone, pray to God, and appeal to celestial blessings on their enterprise. Alongside Boukman, a priestess was officiating. She sacrificed a pig and offered it to the gods. She delivered a passionate harangue to her brethren, wherein she exhorted them to unite and battle for the eradication of slavery. In return, the slaves pledged solidarity toward one another and swore a solemn pact to remain united and fight the French to death: “Live free or die” was their credo. To seal the pact, the priestess administered them the blood of the sacrificial pig. Bois-Caïman is credited with bonding a dysfunctional mass of slaves, galvanizing them into action, and firming up their belief that, though a tall order, victory against the atrocious French regime of slavery was achievable.

The Bois-Caïman Ceremony has been decried and equated to a satanic rite by Christian zealots. In reality, Bois-Caïman followed a tradition deeply embedded in peoples’ consciousness and bears extraordinary significance in a ritualistic and a military context. Ritualistically, it was commonplace in ancient times to accompany worshipping with animal sacrifice. The solemnity of this act was enhanced by the sacrifice of a favorite animal. The Holy Bible, itself, is replete with animal sacrifices as a means to appease God and secure his blessings. The Book of Genesis (15:9-17) revealed the earliest of such sacrifices when God demanded, as a token to seal his covenant with Abraham, the sacrifice of a “heifer, a goat, a ram, a dove, and a pigeon.” For its part, the Book of Leviticus, the repository of Biblical rules and laws, contains graphic instructions on animal sacrifices, the type of animal (“unblemished”), the recipes for the burnt meat to yield “a sweet savor unto the Lord”. Furthermore, when the Israelites were held in bondage in Egypt and Moses was tasked to lead them out of captivity, he received a daily dose of recipes from God as to the type of animals to sacrifice and their preparation. This was a sine qua non condition for them to atone and secure their exodus from servitude. In keeping with that tradition, Judaism practiced animal sacrifices until the Romans destroyed the Temple Mount in Jerusalem in 70 AD. Have such practices ever been equated with Satanism? It would be an aberration to go that route. Blood had a particular significance in that tradition. According to the Scriptures, offering the blood of a favorite animal is a sure way of appeasing God, getting sins expiated, and, furthermore, of sealing covenants and pacts with God (Exodus 24:1-8.) In the New Testament, this sacrifice is still alive, but rather symbolic, as Jesus is, metaphorically, the Lamb of God, whose body was sacrificed on the cross and blood spilled for the remission of sins. The Holy Eucharist symbolizes the new covenant, whereby humankind’s sins are expiated and eternal life is promised through the sacrifice of Christ’s body and the sharing of his blood. An eminent exegete and professor of Old Testament opines, “it is possible that the Israelites developed their sacrificial system by using some of the same practices found among other Semitic peoples.” (Mariottini). There is plenty of evidence that Vodoun, this 10,000+ year-old African religion, permeated the practices of countries from the Middle East to the Far East or Asia Minor (present Turkey), and the Mediterranean. Its priestesses are credited with shaping the religious world of Ancient Greece, as artifacts in the Palace of Knossos from the Archaeological Museum of Heraklion in Greece testify. So animal sacrifice is anchored in the religious traditions to which current religious thought, trends, and practices are tributary.

From a military perspective, traditionally, religious ceremonies preceded, or were held concurrently with, military campaigns. Bois-Caïman finds itself in that lineage. The Greeks would not wage war without invoking the spirit of their gods—Hermes in particular, god of war– and offering libations in their honor. According to Claudia Beresford (“Religious Influence in Ancient Greece”), King Agamemnon before the Trojan War, and Agesilaus before his Asia Minor (now Turkey) campaigns, performed sacrificial rituals. She went on to say, “Leaders would sacrifice almost continuously to whichever god whose specialty was needed most until the outcome was suitable.” Alexander the Great brought the full impact of religiosity into his military campaigns, as he felt imbued of the divine attributes of Heracles, Achilles and Dionysus—the gods that assured the success of the Greeks over the Trojans during the Trojan War. The Persians, other military power of ancient times, associated religious ceremonies to their campaigns. Xerxes, the “Great King” who set out to avenge his father’s defeat by the Greeks, engaged in profuse libations before crossing the newly refurbished bridge connecting Asia Minor to Greece to wage war on the redoubtable Spartans at the Pass of Thermopylae (Bradford 24). As for the Romans, it is well known that they paid special tribute to Mars, their god of war. At the beginning of their annual military campaigns, they held lavish ceremonies in honor of Mars. The Equirria, as those ceremonies or festivals were known, were religious celebrations designed to ensure Mars’ protection and boost morale. In addition, during the Punic Wars that opposed Rome to Carthage and the great strategist Hannibal, the Romans sacrificed animals to ensure their deities’ protection against Hannibal. Had all this ever been equated with Satanism? Closer to us, we know what part religion played in the Crusades and Charlemagne, the French emperor of the Renaissance era, received Papal blessing and received communion prior to battle.

While these events in other cultures have been deemed acceptable, many in the Christian community, by ignorance, hypocrisy or bigotry, see it fit to paint the Haitian event in derogatory terms. Whether innocent or malicious, this depiction of the Bois-Caïman ceremony results in the vilification of a Nation, a religion and a people. In the eyes of the Pat Robertsons of the world, it is the omen that stamped the fate of the nation and explains its predicaments. Unfortunately, such parsing of the facts discards the historical root causes of the problem. On January 1, 1804, Haiti won her independence on the battlefield against the mightiest army of the time, la Grande Armée of Napoleon Bonaparte–the culmination of a twelve-year process epitomized by battles of epic proportions, and worthy of the world’s historical and military annals. The Haitian Revolution, the world’s only successful slave revolt, was altogether anti-slavery, anti-racial, anti-colonialist. Every trick has been tried to minimize this achievement. Haiti’s “sublime bare-footed,” who only recently had been tied down in chains to the sugar and coffee plantations of Saint-Domingue, acceded to a formidable structured military force and took on a superpower freshly victorious of the Campaign of Egypt. Everything has been tried to deny the Haitian heroes a place in the pantheon of world military leaders. Chief among those deserving of such distinction is a Toussaint-Louverture who, in the Battle of Ravine-à-Couleuvres (February 23, 1802), distinguished himself as a premier military strategist. Also deserving is Jean-Jacques Dessalines who, under siege in the fortress of the Crête-à-Pierrot with 1500 troops (March 4-24, 1802), held the fort for a week against 12000 of the French forces, and in the end managed to slip through the enemy lines unscathed. Dessalines went on, as General of the insurgent army, to hand Napoleon his first defeat. The black revolutionary poked a hole in Napoleon’s myth of invincibility and foiled his hegemonic ambitions—most notably, he forced Napoleon to scrap his North American plans and sell the Louisiana territories to the United States (now 13% of the U.S.). The epic battles that led to Haiti’s independence have but been stricken out world history books or, at best, reduced to a paragraph or a footnote. The Haitian victory was a hymn for the emancipation of the black race and a slap in the face of the proponents of the eugenics theory, which held the white race as superior and was getting traction across Europe. This sentiment reached its apex when the philosopher David Hume reversed his stance on the matter and declared in 1753, “I am apt to suspect the negroes and in general all the other species of men (for there are four or five different kinds) to be naturally inferior to the whites.” (Essay XXI, Of National Characters). Coming from the very influential empiricist whose “wrecking ball” smashed the rationalism of Plato and Descartes, this statement was significant. The Haitians’ victory dismantled the white supremacist theory and proved that they could top the best and the brightest of the white race. This humiliating defeat at the hand of barely literate former black slaves did not sit well with the superpowers of the time. They set out to denigrate and demonize the Haitians’ grandiose achievement. Robertson’s words are the latest and most strident echo of those retrograde views portraying the Haitian victory as unnatural, as a manifestation of Evil triumphant over Good. For those holding these views, the earthquake was payback time.

But the destiny of a nation has little to do with faith and devotion. It is fashioned by geopolitical considerations, historical circumstances, and economic interests—by what philosophers like Karl Marx call dialectical or historical materialism. In other words, we must look at it in the context of economic interests, types of relations of production and their influence on the course of history. When Haiti became independent in 1804, she had no model, no blueprint to follow to rebuild a devastated place, a burnt land. Haiti could not rely on international partners with whom to conduct normal trade. In fact, the powers at the time viewed her with suspicion. The British who, during the Independence war, blockaded the route to the Caribbean Sea, thus hampering French reinforcement efforts, joined forces with France and the other powers to quarantine Haiti. They orchestrated a de facto embargo against the first Black nation, despite her assurances that her gripe was solely directed against France and that she had no intention of exporting her revolution. Regardless, Haiti had dared put herself in the crosshairs of European colonialist countries as well as the slaveholders of this hemisphere, who were all resolute in their will to turn her into a failed state, so that her example would not spread. The Americans, whom Haitian fighters helped secure Savannah against the British in October 1779, never developed kinship with the small nation and steadfastly refused to recognize her independence, despite the fact that the Haitian victory, as afore-mentioned, helped reconfigure America’s landscape. It took Abraham Lincoln to recognize Haiti as a nation in 1863, 59 years after her independence. Until then, the American South, in particular, blocked every effort toward normalizing relations with Haiti. As it relied heavily on slave labor and race discrimination for its economic survival, the South viewed Haiti as a dangerous precedent. That the Haitian revolution inspired the activism of a Nat Turner or Denmark Vesey in the U.S. did not help Haiti in the eyes of the Americans. Moreover, Dessalines’ overt policy to grant safe haven to American slaves whom ship captains would bring to Haiti in exchange for $40 apiece did nothing to assuage the distrust of American policymakers towards him. Furthermore, that he offered to buy African slaves en route to Jamaica from British traders to set them free rendered him suspicious in the eye of the British powers. Dessalines’s abolitionist stance extended to his successors all the way through the 1850’s. But no one pursued this legacy with more vigor than Jean-Pierre Boyer, under whose presidency an estimated 13000 African Americans emigrated to Haiti in the 1820’s (Jackson and Bacon). Haiti endured an implacable campaign by the powers of the time aimed at hindering her aspiration to be a beacon for the Black race. The small country had to fend for herself against the joint forces of the power axis. No opportunity to ostracize and humiliate her would be spared. Perhaps the most hurtful instance of humiliation occurred in 1826, when the United States opposed Haiti’s participation in the Congress of Panama. Organized under the auspices of Simon Bolivar, El Libertador of Latin America, this gathering was convened to initiate a collaborative framework among the newly independent nations of this hemisphere. Ironically, Haiti bankrolled Bolivar’s war effort against Spanish colonial rule and provided him with much military assistance. The only demand Alexandre Pétion, then Haiti’s president, made of Bolivar in return was that he abolish slavery in all the countries he would have liberated. Bowing to U.S. pressure, Bolivar did not deign dignifying Haiti with an invitation.

A pariah–this was the epithet that described Haiti after her independence. That epithet translated into unfavorable trade terms, causing a hemorrhage of foreign exchange and putting a stranglehold around the new country’s neck. The steadfast refusal by the nations of the world to deal with the First Black Republic on equal footing and the trade blockade they imposed on her were designed to strangle the new nation. This panorama prompted President Jean-Pierre Boyer to agree to the 1825 French royal edict in exchange for the recognition by France of Haiti’s independence. This edict enjoined Haiti to pay France a whopping 150 million gold francs as indemnity for the 800 sugar plantations and the 3,000 coffee estates lost or burnt to the ground during the revolutionary war. Comparatively, the Louisiana territories, which Napoleon sold to the U.S. for 60 million francs, were 74 times the size of Haiti. Yet we had to pay two and a half times more than the U.S. No country intervened in favor of Haiti or offered to broker a deal between her and France. This was all part of the international conspiracy that made the small Black Nation a pariah in the international community. The aim was to dissuade would-be followers of Haiti’s example and expose the perils involved with antagonizing the interests of the western economic powers. Boyer was ill-equipped to deal with the sophistication of international trade and finance. Although highly educated –a rare commodity within Haiti’s High Command at the time, at the exception of Pétion, Boyer was above all an army man. A habile general who led a successful unification campaign of the island of Hispaniola under Haitian Flag–something that had vexed both Toussaint and Dessalines, he did not have the administrative wherewithal of a Toussaint or the progressive genius of a Henri Christophe. (The latter’s reign in the North can be termed as the golden age of post-colonial Haiti, thanks his construction programs, his educational standards, the work ethics he instilled in his region, and his industrial endeavors.) Boyer was no genius when it came to administrative affairs. The state of the economy was stagnant. The agrarian question, which doomed Dessalines, was not resolved. As a matter of fact, he continued Pétion’s populist policy of granting small parcels of land to the populace—the result of which was the making of the Haitian economy into an economy of subsistence, geared toward internal consumption, a marked difference from the plantation system established by the French during their colonial rule. The low level of exports exacerbated a situation already precarious and caused a severe shortage of reserves. Boyer resorted to printing money, lots of money, which created hyperinflation… Lack of internal resources to satisfy the contractual obligations vis-à-vis France forced Boyer to contemplate other alternatives. He found none other than borrowing on the world financial market. The risks associated with a small emerging country with no history of international borrowing, no reserves to collateralize the debt, no guarantor on the high finance scene, with a stagnant mono-cultural economy centered on coffee, called for borrowing at exorbitant rates. Boyer would soon find out that the debt service (interest on borrowed funds) was a colossal undertaking. The country’s economic apparatus could not adequately respond to this additional challenge. The history of Haiti’s international debt originated from this point in time. That put a damper on her economic prospects for generations. Let us fast forward, a century later, to the time of the U.S. occupation of Haiti. One of its ideas to reform Haiti’s finances was to accelerate the payments to France and, in fact, pay off that debt. In today’s terms, the payments we made to France are the equivalent of $20 billion.

Haiti’s economy was in a shambles after the independence. The international hostility the new nation faced, forced her to shift her priorities. The defense of the independence against the incessant threats of invasion was paramount. The generals who knew no other training ground than the battlefield found themselves at the helm of a barren country beset by challenges of all sorts. For them, the choice was clear: the defense of the country’s territorial integrity and their forever sacred liberty preempted all other considerations. Financial administration and economic planning took a backseat to the erection of fortresses designed to withstand any attempts by a foreign power to invade the new nation. Except for Christophe who balanced the security concerns with the economic needs of the country, no leaders could marshal the existing resources and put the country on the path of normalcy and stability. While foreign tampering and interference are to blame for Haiti’s woes, we need to acknowledge the part our politics played in this equation. As aforesaid, Henri Christophe was probably the only leader with sufficient vision to implement a coherent economic policy, despite his extravagances. There was a marked difference between his prosperous northern kingdom and the poverty-stricken western and southern region of the country governed by Pétion, then by Boyer; between his Draconian rule and Pétion’s/Boyer’s laisser-faire; between his tough law enforcement policies and the lax and paternalistic style of the latter. In Haitian politics no one picked Christophe’s progressive legacy. He stands out as an oddity. A former slave, barely literate, he made education along with defense his priority. He instilled in his subjects a heightened sense of ethic and responsibility—punishing harshly the slightest infraction, imprisoning parents whose children were guilty of truancy during school hours, among other things. His reign signified the golden age of post-colonial Haiti. His lavish courts, the monuments he erected (The Citadelle, Sans-Souci Palace), his economic achievements, his sense of order are testament to a society able to thrive even under adverse circumstances. His success was due to the standards he imposed around him, and that were so manifest in all his undertakings. For instance, the Citadelle, for long dubbed the Eighth Wonder of the World, defies imagination and shows how far ahead he was of his epoch. His Draconian regimen of work made laziness punishable of imprisonment. It could only come from someone of former slave credentials to institute such a labor system. Christophe understood that only hard labor on large-scale plantation-like land domains would take the young nation to the pathways of economic growth and stability. Neither Pétion nor Boyer could have established this system; as sons of French colonists, they would be viewed with suspicion; this system was too reminiscent of slavery time. At the dawn of the new nation, the choice was between two systems of governance: an enlightened autocracy in the form of the one promoted by Louis XIV in France or a democratic republic. In that battle of ideas, Christophe prevailed. However, after he killed himself in 1820 and Boyer unified the country under his rule, all the gains and advances the North had experienced were reversed and the kingdom’s wealth was dilapidated. The exuberance caused by the newly found freedom led to excesses and even dereliction of duty. This spelled the demise of the golden age of post-colonial Haiti.

No subsequent government picked up Christophe’s legacy. Boyer, the longest reigning head of government in Haiti’s history (25 years), did not possess the builder‘s genius of Christophe. His tenure proved disastrous on many counts. Also the agrarian question remained unresolved. The land settlement issue was what doomed Dessalines. The large land domains his generals had expected as reward for their successful campaign for the independence did not materialize. Furthermore, Dessalines’ attempt to distribute land to the poor folk “whose fathers were in Africa,” in pursuit of an egalitarian society, was in a collision course with his generals’ class interests and may have led to his assassination in 1806. The decades that followed Boyer’s death in 1843 were marked by the institution of uninspired, despotic, and obscurantist governments, mostly military rulers.

Haiti’s predicament is the product of geopolitical factors that inspired heavy-handed tactics of foreign powers to safeguard their economic and financial interests, and our internal politics marred by amateurism, corruption, and a penchant for despotism. We Haitians will have to sort through our internal contradictions and find our own route. A route that necessarily goes through our past which, instead of distancing ourselves therefrom, we must fully assume. For, in it are valuable lessons of harmony, solidarity, collaboration, common good, higher purpose, transcendence, and pragmatism—notions that have continually eluded our politicians, but, contrastingly, are integral to our peasantry’s way of life. In fact, no concepts better encapsulate these notions than: “Têt Ansanm,” “Kombit,” “Kòve (Corvée).” Strangely enough, while our peasants have long practiced the synergies derived from these concepts, the latter have yet to make it into our politicians’ lexicon. That the Bois-Caïman legacy is lost on the Pat Robertsons of the world is no cause for alarm: we cannot expect more from their narrow-mindedness. But that it is lost on those who are called upon to unify and lead the nation in the pursuit of common good is unconscionable. By the way they govern, our politicians seem to equate Bois-Caïman to just a relic from a distant past, devoid of any symbolism and no longer relevant to our times. If that were the case, what a mistake it would be! In fact, what is Bois-Caïman, if not a lesson in bonding, the affirmation of unity within diversity toward the realization of a grand purpose? What is Bois-Caïman, if not the avatar of “Têt ansanm”; if not the supreme manifestation of “Kombit”; if not the highest expression of “Kòve (Corvée)”? Ultimately, how we avert the looming political cataclysm I referred to in the opening may just rest on whether we have internalized the symbolism of Bois-Caïman and managed to keep it aflame; whether we heeded the cues from our peasants’ best practices; whether our politicians stop indulging in their futile self-fulfilling narcissistic exercise, or giving in to their megalomaniacal tendencies of self-anointing Saviors of the Nation; whether they finally understand that they are simply called upon to SERVE THE PEOPLE; and lastly whether they will do so along the line of these true Haitian concepts: Têt Ansanm! Kombit! Kòve!


Selected List of References

Beresford, Claudia J. (2009, Sep 19). Religious Influence in Ancient Greece: Life in A Time When Religion Was Law. Retrieved from
Corbett, Bob. The Haitian Revolution of 1791-1803, An Historical Essay in Four Parts. Retrieved from

Mama Zogbé. Mami Wata West African Diaspora Vodoun, Celebrating the World Oldest Religions.
(A suite of web articles and reference materials on Vodoun). Retrieved from
Mariottini, Claude. (2006, May 4). Why Did God Ask for Animal Sacrifice? – A Rejoinder. Retrieved from
Why Did God Ask for Animal Sacrifice? – A Rejoinder
Parry, Robert. (2010, Jan). Haiti and America’s Historic Debt. Retrieved from

Haiti and America’s Historic Debt

Shen, Kona. The Haitian Revolution 1801-1802. History of Haiti 1492-1805. Brown University Library,
Department of Africana Studies. Updated 2015. Retrieved from
The Code Noir (The Black Code) (1865). Web Version by Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and
New Media, George Mason University. Retrieved from

Mc Intyre, Ben. “The fault Line in Haiti Runs Straight to France.” The Times [London], 21 Jan 2010.

Bradford, Ernle. Thermopylae: The Battle for the West. Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Press. 1980. 24.
Cobbett, William. Cobbett’s Political Register-Annual Register from January to June 1802. London: Cox
and Baylis. 1802. 462-466. Available via Library of the University of Michigan.
Fanning, Sarah C. “The Roots of Early Black Nationalism: Northern African Americans’ Invocations of
Haiti in the Early Nineteen Century.” African Americans and the Haitian Revolution: Selected
Essays and Historical Documents. Ed. Maurice Jackson and Jacqueline Bacon. New York and
Oxon (UK): Routledge, 2010. 39-51. Print.
Hume, David. Essays, Moral, Political, and Literary. Revised edition. Ed. Eugene F. Miller. Indianapolis,
IN: Liberty Fund, Inc. 1987.
Lundahl, Mats. The Political Economy of Disaster: Destitution, Plunder and Earthquake in Haiti. Oxon and
New York: Routledge, 2010. 3-29. Print.

The Corporate Arena: No Place for Faintness of Heart or Naïveté

The Impromptu Meeting

        Stefan walked in my office and gently closed the door behind him.  He approached my desk, cautiously rolled back one visitor’s chair and sat down.   For the year-and-a-half since he promoted me to assistant-controller, I could not recall a single instance when he had done that.  Typically, he would stop at the door to exchange greetings or make a request, and leave shortly thereafter.  “Something must have gone awry,” I thought, struggling to keep my composure amidst the heavy thumping of my chest.  I stared at him intently, anticipating some unpleasant news.  He responded with a facial expression that looked like a cross between a grimace and a smile–yet not a word.  I managed to crack a smile so as to reassure him.  It must have come across as contrived, judging by his puzzled look.  He pulled up closer, laid his wrists on the desk, and reverted to a grave expression–speechless, still.  “Words are not easy to come by in situations like this; they always fall short, never sound right,” I reasoned. I tried to scrutinize his demeanor for clues.  Nothing much, save for a hardly discernible frown…  “Get on with it, Pal,” I urged him on from within, a bit annoyed by what I perceived to be theatrics to drive the drama to its climax—as was often the case before the “executioner” swooshed down the axe of unemployment. Truth be told, Stefan never struck me as the type to indulge in such theatrics.  But that he would not utter a word left me no choice but to entertain those unsavory thoughts.  I surveyed my desk and its perimeter for a sense of what I would leave behind.  Quite a mess:  ledger printout binders strewn on the floor; in-and-out tray reeling under correspondence of all sorts; stacks of checks and purchase orders awaiting signature amidst bulky file folders claiming the lion’s share of desk space; and at the upper right corner of this cramped real estate, insulated from that insanity, my family picture–“the first family” as one of my colleagues dubbed it—looked on.  I took an oblique peek at the jolly faces, as a sort of reality check.  I visualized their incredulous reactions.  This thought, in itself, sent a chill down my spine.  With this in mind, I summoned a resolute gaze and directed it at Stefan. His face took on a somber expression as if some ailment was gnawing at him.  This awkward moment was in sharp contrastHHhHhhhhhhhhhhhhjjjj with an encounter we had a couple of hours earlier, when we bantered about the weather, sports, and the like.  Nothing prepared me for this drastic change, for this silence—a silence that felt an eternity long and a ton heavy. Well, enough of the drama!  I scratched my throat. Stefan heeded the cue.  As if he finally came to terms with himself, he raised his head, looked me straight in the eye, and decided to cut to the chase.

            “Well, I came in to let you know that today is my last day with the company.”

            “What!” I exclaimed. Read More…

¡Usted, Ladrón! (You, Thief!)

At the time, I was in graduate school at Roosevelt University in Chicago.  A full-time student with a stringent class schedule, replete with research papers, class presentations, and volume reading, I took up cab driving as my means of support.  Getting my MBA was my priority.  Any job that did not involve a boss breathing down my neck or interfere with my academic schedule qualified as a great one. Hacking my way through the streets and expressways of the Windy City fit exquisitely that job profile, while providing me altogether with a rich experience. 

           A cab is a cosmopolitan place, where the rich and famous cross paths with ordinary mortals; where decent and well-meaning passengers trade places with obnoxious and pretentious parvenus.  Some passengers would care to engage in conversation with you, inquiring about your background, while others would harbor an aristocratic air, looking down on you as if you were unworthy of attention, invisible at the bottom of the social barrel, and referring to you in the derogatory term of “cabby.”  Some would, out of heart-felt concern, ask about your goals and be pleasantly surprised that you were pursuing graduate studies.  Others would chastise you for being late for some important meeting, because you did not drive fast enough.  Some would arrogantly display their symbols of success; boastfully refer to the hefty bonuses they stood to get for successful due diligence work on recent mergers and acquisitions.  Others with modest means would keep their eyes riveted on the fare meter, each incremental ticking of which felt like a dagger into their stomach—in one instance, a passenger deemed the pressure too intense and asked to be dropped off one block before destination.  Some would, from some myth portraying cab driving as a lucrative business, inquire about your profit margin only to realize that, as a rookie, you could barely break-even—as you have not developed the acumen conferred by years of experience, nor cultivated special relationships with dispatchers, which would guarantee problem-free cabs.  Others came on board with the deep-seated preconception that cab drivers were crooks who tampered with meters, and let that point across bluntly.  Obviously, they did not realize that it was more beneficial for the cab driver to drop off a passenger as quickly as possible, that the few bucks he would be gaining were outweighed by his opportunity cost.  Most riders understood that tipping was an important part of the business; some did it wholeheartedly, others grudgingly.  One guy I took to destination to a “forbidden” part of the city was so grateful that he offered me apologetically, in lieu of a tip, a weed cigarette.  In one other instance, I blew a chance for a hefty tip because I was unable to accede to a customer’s special request.  That executive from Texas, who was in Chicago for a convention, made his wish known unequivocally:  “I want to see hookers.”  He was quite incredulous, a bit upset when I confessed my ignorance—feigned, in his view–of their whereabouts. Suffice to say that passengers were from all walks of life. 

                    Drivers as well came from all walks of life, ranging from the veteran, who had not held another job since his discharge from military service, to the part-timer who saw in the profession a means to supplement his income; to the displaced industrial worker whose job was phased out and who was looking for a second lifeline; to the immigrant doctor preparing for his “matching” exam–which would allow him entry into a residency program; to the immigrant lawyer who gave up all personal ambitions and, instead, dedicated himself to
sending his kids to Ivy League schools. Some intended cab driving to be a transitional occupation between jobs, but ended up taking it up full-time. Others took it up to complete their schoolwork.  One such individual was so enamored with the freedom he enjoyed that he did not return to corporate America, three years after receiving his Master’s.   He particularly
relished the ability to monitor his investment portfolio on a full-time basis.  I met him in the line-up at the O’Hare cab pool, in the midst of my required reading for an evening class, awaiting the famous “Front Row!” calls from the dispatcher to pick up fares from incoming flights. 
 Work habits among drivers varied widely.  One career driver boasted about working on an “executive” schedule.  Judging by the high-pitch tone of his voice, if he were talking out of view behind a curtain, one would think of a six-foot two, two-hundred-plus pound man. None of that!  He barely stood five feet and weighed no more than one hundred thirty pounds—the tiny kind with big presence and strong convictions! “Executives go home at five, so do I.”   According to him, before eight a.m. and after five p.m. pickups were fraught with trouble.  He backed its claim with “true” stories.   Always dapper, clad oft-times in a leather blazer, he only leased his cab for twelve hours—half a day.  As a rookie, I knew I had to toil through late nights to make ends meet, so a twelve-hour lease would
not work.  Yet, to pay homage to the skinny veteran’s acumen, I would acknowledge that anything bad that ever happened to me did after five p.m.  First day on the job, doing my last pickup, I was rear-ended by another cab that coveted the same fare.  What an omen!  A friend in the business recommended an accident lawyer who secured me a sum just shy of one thousand bucks.

Cab driving was quite an experience. I saw up close the noble as well as the infamous side of human nature.  I got cheated by fare beaters, who scampered through back alleys after I dropped them off. On the other hand, a lawyer from New York stood up for me against a police commander, who deemed my shaking my head after a stop derogatory.  The most unforgettable experience occurred a couple of weeks before my graduation on a Christmas’ Eve, one of the coldest days in Chicago’s history.  The forecast called for a record-breaking low of minus 260 F and a high of no more than minus 110.  Usually, cold days had a potential for big payoffs.  I figured that day would live up to that expectation, if only I could
manage to find a vehicle in good condition to lease.  Apparently, none was available from the pool.  Undaunted, I settled for one of the few that were parked in a remote corner of the garage.  I soon realized why it was left in that corner:  to get that old rag to pick up speed, I had to push on the gas pedal down to the floor and gradually release it.  I had issues with the cab throughout the day; but I rationalized that, as long as my fares consisted of trips within city limits, I could safely call it a day by 5 p.m.  However, at 4:30 a fare to the west suburbs put me in a dilemma.  It meant trekking the old cab along the Eisenhower Expressway at the rate of heavy pumping on the gas pedal.  I pondered whether it was worth the hernia I feared I would wind up with from the pumping and the risk of being stranded in some unfamiliar territory miles away from home.  Yet tempted by the opportunity of a $35 fare and closing business with a bang, I took the gamble.

       The way out was relatively uneventful.  I made the drop-off, pocketed $40 bucks, and circled back onto the main road with a plan to go straight home.  All of a sudden, my headlights and dashboard lights went out.  The accelerator was unresponsive.  The heater was off.  It was clear:  The old cab collapsed on me… some sixty miles away from home… and at the worst possible time.  Darkness had already set in.  Traffic was reduced to a handful of cars sporadically dashing by.  The temperature was inexorably sinking to its predicted low.  The car continued to advance, but was gradually losing speed.    I reckoned, rather I hoped that, Chicagoland being flat, I should be able to roll on and reach a place where I could place a phone call to the cab company; that is, as long as I did not come across a stop sign or a red light.   However, surely enough, about a quarter of mile away, a green traffic light stood like a gatekeeper.  I pressed on the gas pedal once more, to no avail. I would have to brake soon, unless by miracle the green light ahead froze in time.  Alas!  I watched in despair the green light turn to yellow, then to red.  I had to brake.  The car stopped.  No power! No heat! A deserted boulevard! No help in site!  The barometer from a nearby bank read minus 180, but the whizzing wind made it feel twice as cold.  My feet and hands were already numb and heavy from the cold.  Unable to budge, I watched the lights turn back to green.  I was besieged by macabre thoughts about my wife and my young kids waiting through the night and worrying.  They were still asleep when I left earlier that day.  If only I had a chance to hug them before I left…  What a terrible death to die!   I visualized the headlines:  “Cabby Frozen to Death on Route…”   I thought about my obituary, about what it would say…  So close to graduation.  Only days away from the promise of a better life. No, I was determined to hold on.   For my boys and my wife.  I thought about the skinny veteran with strong convictions.  He was right:  I had no business being out there past five.  The blistering cold was marching on, permeating all the tissues of my body.  A lone pick-up truck stopped at the red light.  A young man in the passenger seat rolled down his window.

“Need a boost?” he shouted.

I could only nod.

“Give us five to ten minutes.
We’re dropping off our mom at work at the hospital.  We’ll get back,” he went on.

 Sure, I thought, two white boys coming to a black cabby’s rescue!  I was doomed.  The ten minutes seemed interminable.  No car headed in my direction.  I knew it!  Yet I was holding onto that straw of a chance, scrutinizing the westbound traffic.  Suddenly a couple of headlights emerged from the darkness.  They had to be from the pickup truck; but my hope vanished when they crossed the intersection and proceeded.  I was resigned to my fate, as I could feel no part of my body. Soon a pickup truck stopped parallel to my cab.  Two young men came out.  They flashed a smile I found reassuring.

“Pop the hood open!” one shouted.

My frozen hand could not cooperate.   It felt like an inert mass with no grip.  Sensing my problem, he opened my door and pulled the hood cable himself, while the other brother brought out a jump start cable and attached it to the cab battery poles.  They signaled me to crank.  For the life of me, I could not feel my hand, let alone turn the key.   The younger brother jumped in, moved me to the side, handed me his gloves, and tried to crank.  Nothing happened!  He paused for a few moments, blew in his cupped hands:

          “Let’s give it a bit more time” he reassured me.  As a way to allay my despair, he tried to engage in small talk, asked me about the cab business.  I was so cold that my speech slurred into incoherence. It took three tries for the engine to start.  I could see the relief in the faces of my two young Samaritans.  Overwhelmed by gratitude, I was ready to pay them whatever they would charge.  Surprisingly, they refused to take any money.  Upon my insistence, so as not to hurt my feelings, they only took $5.  On top of that, they gave this salutary advice:

“Don’t stop along the way.  Don’t turn the engine off and wait a while before turning on the heat!”  Thereupon I bade farewell to the two angels who saved my life and brought me back to my family. 

 On my long way home, I thought about Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s perceptive remark about human nature being fundamentally good.  I related the brothers’ action to the bravery
of those white
firefighters who, at their own peril, fended off the raging flames of a burning building to save the life of a trapped black kid.  Likewise, I equated their noble sentiment to the magnanimity of that slave, who jumped into the river to save his master’s drowning son, while his back was still dripping blood from a recent whipping.  People such as these are made of the finest cells of the human specimen. 

 My experience had not always been that dreadful.  Once, I had a hearty laugh out of a fare.  That day, I picked up a woman in the Loop, Chicago’s downtown.

¿Habla Español?”  She inquired.

Un poquito.”  (A little), I responded. 

Her destination was City Hall.

, Señora, ¿Cómo no?” (Sure, Ma’am), I proceeded, braggingly.

 She was visiting from Chile and had to run an errand to City Hall.  I picked her up at the corner of Wabash and Roosevelt.  For those who don’t know downtown Chicago (Chicago Loop), one entrance to City Hall is on Clark Street; Wabash is three blocks east of Clark, with State and Dearborn Streets running in between.  From what I recall, State Street at that time was closed to traffic, except for CTA (Chicago Transit Authority) buses.  The most direct way was to go westward from where I was; however, it was not the quickest way due to some road construction.  I figured the best route was to go further east on Roosevelt, north on Michigan, west on Randolph and south on Clark.  Apparently, she knew where City Hall was and could not fathom the detour.  Now picture yours truly , trying to explain in broken Spanish my convoluted scenario to this incredulous passenger. 

“No es lejos de alli!” (It’s not far from here), she insisted.  I assured her that I took the most efficient route, given the flow of traffic and the better green light sequence.  Sitting on the edge of her seat, peeking at the meter, she definitely thought I was trying to defraud her.  When we arrived at destination, the meter read some $3.50.  She thrust the money into my palm, exited the cab, walked up to the passenger window and blurted out:

¡Usted, Ladrón!” (You, thief!)

¡Yo Ladrón!”  (Me thief!)  I retorted, stupefied.

¡Si, si, si, Usted, Ladrón!”  She stressed, with disdain and indignation.

 Thereupon she assuredly walked away with an attitude bordering on insolence.  Incensed, I tried to reach for a Spanish curse to counter her affront before she disappeared from view.  None came readily to me, but I was determined not let her get away with a sense of victory.  In my desperation, the only word that came to mind was “Maricón”.  Oh, No!
One side of my brain pleaded with me not to violate the Taxi Commission’s code of ethics.  The other side was equally forceful about not getting the effrontery go unpunished.  The sight of her derrière, bouncing left and right as lasciviously as tauntingly, was unbearably offensive, and won over my naughty side.

¡Usted, Maricón!” I lashed out at the top of my lungs, confident I had the last word. 

 Oops!  Upon hearing it, she made a one-hundred-eighty-degree turn, walked back toward me, shaking her head from shoulder to shoulder.  That time, her indignation gave way to a wry smile.  Obviously, she sensed her victory and came for the coup de grace.  When she reached the passenger door, she bent down in full view, her face still harboring the sly
smile and glowing with cockiness, wagged her index finger, then pointed it at my chest.

         ¡No, no, no!  Usted, Maricón!”  She punctuated it with a wink and walked away more assuredly than ever, savoring her triumph.

 I was speechless.  Impressed with her guts, I couldn’t help bursting out laughing.

 By the way, “Maricón” is a pejorative word, exclusively used for men in the Hispanic culture.  It is slang for “Sissy.”


Copyright 2008 Etzer Cantave


Barack Obama Re-Elected President—The Anatomy of Mitt Romney’s Defeat

It did come down to Ohio’s 18 electoral votes to push President Obama over the hump of 270 electoral votes and seal the deal for his second term.  How sweet!   A grateful state delivered a stunning blow to Governor Romney and sent a powerful message to his clique of plutocrats that money does not buy the Office of President of the United States of America.  Ohioans proved that, no matter how insidious the combination of money, voter suppression, the circle of untruths could be, these tactics could not shake the gratitude of a people whose livelihood was positively impacted by the Stimulus and auto bailout, two initiatives of Obama’s much decried by his opponents.  Last-minute outright lies and other acts of desperation, and manipulations of Secretaries-of-State could not deter the people of the Buckeye State.  If anything, these shenanigans energized them.  This sense of urgency was echoed in other states such as Florida, Virginia, Colorado, New Hampshire, Wisconsin—states on which Romney heavily counted but which dashed his hopes of acceding to the most powerful job in the world.  That these states followed suit to Ohio and denied Romney access to the White signified an emphatic rejection of a skewed political message and a flawed strategy that elevated big money as the panacea to elective office.  The lesson from Ohio and the other battle ground states was clear:  Big Money does not vote; people do.  The title of this article may sound ambitious; it is rather a modest attempt at understanding Mitt Romney’s defeat.

After their crushing defeat in 2008 by then-Senator Barack Obama, the expectation among many observers of the political scene was that the Republicans would go through some therapeutic introspection to determine what had gone wrong, and charter a new way forward.  Had they genuinely done so, they would have discovered the errors of their ways, i.e. that they ran an uninspiring campaign bereft of a cogent strategy and predicated on a hunch that the specter of a President Barack Obama was enough of a “threat” to woo the electorate in their favor.  Unfortunately, they looked elsewhere for the root cause of their failed attempt.  Led by a radical fringe blinded by its self-righteousness, they could not bring themselves to the realization that they were outsmarted by a candidate whose resume included an genial campaign in the Democratic primaries in 2008 leading to the general elections which he marshaled through with great efficiency and skill.  Lost on them was the fact that Obama had crafted a strategy that changed the dynamics of political races in America thanks to a judicious mix of fundraising, demographic appeal, technological leverage, savvy data mining, inspiring message, and personable demeanors.  But the Republicans were unrepentant:  they blamed their loss not on their inability to read, or their reluctance to embrace, the changing landscape of America but on an alleged fraud… perpetrated by record fundraising and massive voter registration.  They reduced the root cause of their
loss in 2008 to two factors:
 Obama’s prodigious fundraising which, by the way, they deemed most suspicious, and the activism of the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), an advocacy organization that registered millions of first-time voters—did I say fraudulently?  In their view, Obama’s accession to the presidency in 2008 was an illegitimate act brought about by the $750 million he raised, and that John McCain could not match, given that private donations were capped at $2,500.  Conspiracy theories were plentiful to discredit these funds; the Republican National Committee (RNC) alleged “possibly illegal foreign donors” (Washington Post, Dec 5, 2008) and even attempted a lawsuit with the Federal Electoral Commission against Obama’s possible middle-eastern money connections.  Furthermore, the Republicans were convinced that the 2008 elections were rigged by illegal schemes and massive voter frauds concocted by ACORN, which succeeded in mobilizing an unprecedented number of poor or disenfranchised voters whose suffrage overwhelmingly went Democratic.  So, from their “introspection” emerged two overarching goals to win back the White House:  Curb, or at least match, Democratic voter enthusiasm and surpass Obama’s fundraising machine.

  The election of Barack Obama as the 44th President of the United States of America was a bitter pill for the Grand Old Party (GOP).  From the start, fringe elements of the Party dismissed this historic event as an anomaly. When Chief Justice Roberts botched the oath of office by mingling the words of the Constitution (unintentionally), some groups were ready to use this gaffe to contest the legitimacy of the new president on constitutional grounds.  The repeat of the ceremony in the White House defused this plan.  The opposition to Obama was not constricted to fringe elements.  Reportedly, the leaders of Republican congressional caucus made a pact over dinner in the wake of Obama’s inauguration to derail his agenda.  Already some factions of the GOP were lining up in lockstep to make life difficult for the new administration.  Their behavior in the months that followed showed how quickly they dusted off their loss and readied themselves for battle.  First and foremost, they aimed their fire at ACORN.  Under the auspices of some vigilante “reporters”, the right ring media vilified the organization by way of a wave of negative reports aired
with great fanfare and supported by infamously doctored videos.  The wide audience that the assault against ACORN received in conservative circles led Congress to defund the organization
in September 2009.  This was a  major tour de force  engineered by the Republicans.  For, they were a minority in the House of Representatives; yet they managed to cow the Democratic House into submission:   with a vote of 345-75 all federal funding to ACORN was suspended.  This vote caused a chain of reactions in the sponsorship community, whose defunding administered the coup de grace to ACORN and the social causes it espoused for the empowerment of the poor and disenfranchised.   But they hungered for more.  Something else had to be done on this side of the equation to galvanize their forces.  Enter the Tea Party!   Labeled at first a grass-roots movement that supposedly sprang to action thanks to ordinary citizens’ concerns, the Tea Party focused its activism on fiscal responsibility, budget cuts, and reduction of government spending.    The movement’s sudden burst onto the scene, only weeks after Barack Obama’s inaugural, was all the more puzzling that these deficit hawks were silent when George W. Bush ran monstrous deficits resulting from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and his drug benefit program.  Actually, the Tea Party’s newly found activism was not all that spontaneous after all:  from the onset, powerful conservative interests rode the movement’s coat tails, high-jacked its momentum, co-opted its preoccupations, crafted its agenda, and steered it totally to the right.  For one, Americans for Prosperity (AFP), an organization funded by oil magnates David and Charles Koch, ran a crusade against Obama through the Tea Party as early as April 15, 2009.  Backed by AFP’s logistical support, the Tea Party adherents turned out in droves against the Stimulus package, then  against the Healthcare proposal at rallies and town halls remarkable by their fanatic overtone, accented by vitriolic outbursts against the President in a buoyancy rarely seen in Republican circles. The Tea Party, the GOP’s Enfant Terrible, brought back to the Party the enthusiasm that was so glaringly lacking at previous gatherings–an asset the GOP wished to turn over into a healthy turnout in future elections.

 With the ouster of ACORN and the rise of the Tea Party, the Republicans scored a twin success in that, on the one hand, they shut down an important conduit to the Democratic voter turnout and, in the other hand, their angry base’s deep-seated dislike of the President propelled it to action. Yet, all that would not amount to significant leverage in future electoral campaigns, if their ability to raise fabulous sums of money remained restrained by existing legislation.  Fortunately for them, they didn’t have to engineer schemes to circumvent said-legislation.  The U.S. Supreme Court spared them this inconvenience when in January 2010 they issued their landmark decision on the case Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (FEC).  The High Court reversed a ruling by the Federal Court of the District of Columbia, which denied the group Citizens United’s request of an injunction against the FEC’s Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act
(BCRA).  By reversing the lower Court’s decision, the conservative Supreme Court of John Roberts lifted the limitations on “big money” imposed by Section 203 of the BCRA, which prevented corporations and labor unions from funding political advertisements from their general treasuries.  In a five-four decision, the Court argued that the injection of money in campaigns by moral persons such as corporations and other entities was an exercise of free speech guaranteed by the First Amendment, and that, as such, this exercise could not be impeded.  The High Court’s ruling, in such peremptory terms, gave free rein to “big money.” For the GOP, this was manna from Heaven.  They could count on their coterie of rich donors’ large infusions of cash into their campaigns to neutralize, better yet surpass, Obama’s efficient fundraising machine.

By the time of President Obama’s first anniversary in the White House, it was clear that the march through the wilderness that Liberal Democrats had gleefully predicted for the GOP in the wake of John McCain’s resounding loss to Obama had not materialized.  On the contrary, the Party demonstrated extraordinary survival skills.  The “threat” of an “arch-liberal,” proponent of big government, a “socialist,” an imposter of dubious origins in the White House unified their factions under the banner of the Tea Party, rallied centrist or center-right voices to the stridence of a far-right hysterically vowing to “take (their) country back.”  Such heightened militancy  together with astute maneuvering and caustic rhetoric by the Republicans caused the Democrats to recoil.  And during that window of paralysis, Congressional Republicans seized the initiative and engaged in all manners of parliamentary tactics to block the President’s agenda and key nominations to cabinet positions, agencies, and judgeships.  Their rapid resurgence and newly found power brightened their campaign prospects to a degree that bordered on arrogance and cockiness—as epitomized by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s stunning statement, “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be one-term president.”  This sense of optimism and inevitability would be tested in  November 2010 two years before the presidential election.

Indeed, the mid-term electionsof November 2010 lived up to the Republicans’ expectations. They confirmed the undeniable ascent of the Tea Party on the American political scene.  Campaigning on an agenda rife with a Tea Party flavor, the Republicans administered, in the word of President Obama, a “shellacking” to the Democrats:  they won the majority in the House and improved their minority position in the Senate.    Their success swept through the political spectrum.  For, not only had these elections succeeded in changing the make-up of Congress, they also changed the gubernatorial and state legislature landscapes across the battleground states—Virginia, Wisconsin, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Colorado, Florida.  This reality opened up an avenue for newly elected governors, state legislatures, and secretaries of state to embark on a new brand of activism.   These structures of local governments would act in unison to scuttle the Democratic agenda, finish the job that started with the demise of ACORN, and alter the course of elections in America.   In a divide-and-conquer strategy, these actors staked out their fields of action:  the governors targeted the trade unions and other Democratic constituencies, while secretaries of state and legislatures eyed a sector of the electorate sympathetic to Obama—chiefly African Americans and Latinos, young voters, women.  Under the guise of cost cutting and job creation initiatives, the governors introduced pension reform and right-to-work legislations (Wisconsin, Ohio, Indiana, among others), whereby laborers could opt out of union membership and dues.  In fact, these acts were geared to financially cripple the unions, emasculate their electoral power play, and ultimately limit their ability to drive the “get-out-to-vote” effort that proved so instrumental in Obama’s success in 2008.  Likewise, state legislatures and secretaries of state enacted laws aimed supposedly at curbing electoral fraud (remember the beef against ACORN)–new voter registration law, voter ID requirements, and other restrictive measures affecting absentee ballots, early voting, voting days and hours. Yet again, these measures were devised to suppress, through intimidation and disenfranchisement, the minority vote in contravention with the letter and spirit of the Voting Act of 1964.  These actors could hardly conceal their intent, as exemplified by Pennsylvania House Majority Leader Mike Turzai, a Republican, who stated that the goal of the Voter ID Law was to “allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania.”   Moreover, in their zeal to transform the nation and impose their radical views, the legislatures in the Republican states got carried away by pressing forward on a crusade to promote the sanctity of life, and introducing amendments drawing on their extreme positions—the personhood amendment in Mississippi and the ultrasound legislation in Virginia were examples of infringement upon women’s rights by a Republican extreme right bent on reshaping the world in the mold of their passions and intolerance, and paving the way to the reversal of Roe v. Wade and making abortion unconstitutional. 

 Such local efforts found an echo in Congress, where Republican gamesmanship was in full gear. The Republicans read their victory in the November 2010 mid-term elections as a referendum on President Obama, a repudiation of his policies, and a gratification of their obstructionist stance.  In the Senate, filibustering–a dilatory parliamentary tactic designed to prevent the passage of legislation, short of the 60 required votes, by using endless motions–reached unprecedented proportions.  In the House, where they became the new majority, the Republican legislators blocked such Administration’s initiatives as the Jobs Bill and the Infrastructure Bill, at a time when the nation’s economy was plagued with high joblessness and they themselves had been clamoring the necessity to focus on job creation.    While the recession President Obama inherited technically ended as early as the third quarter of 2009 when the economy grew for two successive quarters, unemployment had persistently hovered above 8%.  Understandably, given the abyss to which the economy had plunged, a 2% annual growth rate would not be enough to keep up with massive state and local government as well as industry layoffs and, at the same time, accommodate new entrants (college graduates) into the labor force.   The economic growth was much too modest to significantly reduce unemployment.  The passage of the Jobs and Infrastructure Bills would have provided the stimulus the economy needed to grow at a faster rate, in the absence of a robust engagement by the private sector. But this would go counter to Republican politics, whose single-minded objective was to refrain from anything that would end up helping Barack Obama.   They had a vested interest in a languid economy plagued by an 8%+ unemployment rate—a bonanza for campaign slogans and bumper stickers.  History was on their side:  no President ever won re-election when the unemployment rate was above 8%.

The Republicans mapped out their road to success with great care.   Yet, they figured that their success would only be marginal without a propaganda machine.  They needed to leverage the power and far-reaching arm of broadcast media to ensure that their constituencies had unfettered access to sources of information that hyped their world view. They had to keep their base in a cocoon-like universe, away from the cesspools of the “Liberal media” for fear of contamination.   They needed a news media of their own that could feed their followers’ paranoia vis-à-vis “mainstream media”, which they deemed in cahoots with the left of the political spectrum and sold on Obama’s policies.  They needed a trusted, “fair and balanced” voice that paralleled the Left Ring Press.  Enter FOX News!  This network had done wonders to advance the cause of Republican politics and probably been the main reason why the Republican brand had not faded away after the 2008 debacle.  FOX was their voice.  Without Fox-News, the coalescence of the Republican Party around the Tea Party’s conservative agenda in stout opposition to Obama would not have been possible. Under Fox-News’ nefarious orchestration, the Tea Party’s intransigence swept through the GOP and stymied any attempts at compromising;  moderate and conservative voices of the GOP united in an increasingly scathing anti-Obama rhetoric that has not abated since the 2008 Democratic Primaries.  By going all-out on a relentless attack on a sitting president in the United States of America, Fox has made itself into an anomaly in the annals of broadcast media; it has cast itself apart in an ecosystem where its line-up of anchors and guests indefatigably spread a round-the-clock anti-Obama narrative destined to a viewership already pre-disposed against the President.  In this light, this news media outlet’s motto (Fair and Balanced) proved to be a caricature of the journalistic credo, a betrayal of the objectivity tenet championed by Edward Murrow.  Fox was not alone in this endeavor:  it was aided by some powerful voices on radio, most notably Rush Limbaugh, whose virulent rants never ceased targeting the President.

Strengthened by the power of unlimited fundraising, of unrelenting obstructionism in Washington driven by Tea Party-backed lawmakers, of an enthusiastic base revved up by a visceral dislike of the President, of activist governors, state legislatures and administrators bent on suppressing the vote of Democratically-inclined constituencies, of a media outlet dedicated to defeating the President, the Republicans had reason to celebrate.  To top it all off, new polls taken in the beginning of summer 2012 indicated that Obama’s support among white men had slipped by some 4%.  It all came at a time when the President was wrestling with a stubborn 8% unemployment rate, yet had the audacity to run on a platform of higher taxes and lower defense expenditures—all losing propositions for any candidates for the past three decades.  Such a tableau set the stage, in the minds of the Republicans, for an upset in November 2012.  Yet, they faced a conundrum:  they were not enamored with their nominee.  Governor Romney’s brand of conservatism did not meet their test. Despite his claim to the contrary, he did not strike them as a credible challenger, a candidate firmly grounded in conservative principles.   That he convincingly overpowered his adversaries towards the end of the process did not sway conservative Republicans. This group, in particular, has always lamented that the Party in recent decades had strayed from its core values by nominating candidates with mild conservative credentials such as George H. Bush (Sr.), Bob Dole, John McCain–all moderates who were trounced by their Democratic opponents in presidential races.  These past candidates could never energize the conservative base because either they were middle-of-the-road politicians willing to form alliances with the other side at the expense of their social values, or because they were not fiscally conservative enough.  In 2012, the call was for a “true” conservative to face President Obama. This quest opened up a race within a race among the candidates during the Primaries.  In the process of promoting themselves as the “perfect” candidate, they pushed themselves irremediably to the right, making claims and counter-claims catering to the far-right appetites of their Party.  It turned out that the candidates who could tout their conservative credentials (Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum) did not have the economic gravitas of Mitt Romney, dubbed derisively as a “Massachusetts moderate” adept at flip-flopping on every social issue of importance to the base–to which Romney took exception, proclaiming his “severely conservative” background and backing it up with outlandish declarations, notably on immigration. Yet, the Republicans could not shake their reticence towards Romney, for they kept being reminded that he wavered in so many instances:  he failed the abortion litmus test, having been on all sides of the issue; he made damning statements about the “killing” effect of coal during his gubernatorial bid; on guns, he was never solidly committed to the issue.  In the
primaries, while Santorum and Rick Perry touted their gun-toting abilities or played up their hunting skills with great fanfare, Romney had to admit that he wasn’t a “great hunter” and stitched with great pain a story about hunting elk or pheasant—perhaps a step up from his “rodent” or “small varmint” hunting experience he related during his 2008 campaign, but quite unconvincing.  So, three major constituencies of the Republican Party were not sold on Romney’s “severe” conservatism:  the crusaders of the abortion issue; the Appalachian Belt America so dependent on coal extraction; the gun enthusiasts, a fraction of whom had been feverishly arming themselves since Obama took office out of deep distrust of the federal government and for fear that it would
defer to the United Nations (UN)—for these folks, the Republicans represented a stalwart against a “big brother” government, whereas Obama would take away their guns and surrender to the UN.   To that crowd Romney was a thorn on the side.

Up until the last minute, the Republicans longed for a surgeon to get rid of this thorn.  When Sarah Palin, Mitch Daniels, Indiana’s governor, and their last hope, Chris Christie, removed themselves from the list, they resigned themselves to the reality that the Governor of Massachusetts, after all, won the nomination even though he labored through the long and protracted Primaries, and should not just be dissed.  Yet the trust deficit that plagued his relations with the electorate was too great to be ignored.  He had to have a co-signer to close the deal.  The base needed a guarantor who could vouch for him (big gamble for any taker, given the flip-flopping thing!) or, at the very least, a watchdog who would make sure he did the conservatively correct thing.  Hence was born the idea of flanking Mitt Romney with a politician of stellar conservative credentials and impeccable Tea Party grades, and whose categorical positions on life issues and
Medicare earned him rave reviews by the conservatives.  Enter Paul Ryan!  The Party tapped the controversial Representative from Wisconsin, the avatar of neo-conservatism, to chaperone the former Massachusetts governor. Ryan was the rising star of the Party–smart, charismatic, and restless on budget slashing measures mostly directed at social programs.  The move was bold, indeed, and not inconsequential for Ryan whose legislative record, radical ideological stance and actions as Chairman of the Budget Committee in the House came under scrutiny.  Interestingly, in its desperation to reoccupy the White House, the Republican leadership in the House decided to sacrifice their child prodigy.  The move was all the more puzzling that it could potentially make of him a casualty of presidential politics, as no vice-presidential candidate on a losing ticket has been elected president at least in the last two generations. Ryan might end up being a perennial conservative candidate a la Barry Goldwater, whom the White House had continually eluded.  But these future considerations were for another day.  A distant day…  Now was the time for jubilation—more so for the Republican base, which greeted the news of the pick with great excitement.  In effect, when the tandem showed up in Ohio for their first joint campaign appearance, the crowd was ecstatic.  Quite different from a year ago!  Or from a week ago!  The apathy, which was so palpable during the primaries—judging by the record low turnout–and had been unabated since, morphed overnight into unprecedented buzz.   From that point forward, all the murmur and frown over Romney’s deficient conservatism dissipated.  Throngs of supporters packed the venues of campaign stops.   Rallies featuring the candidates side by side had the allure of rock concerts.  Stump speeches, replete with “red meat”, kept the crowd agog.  So strong was the antipathy to the President that a dose of “Obamacare” together with a sprinkle of “birtherism” adroitly inserted into a stump speech would work its magic onto the crowd and send it into a delirium reminiscent of the mood that animated town halls during the healthcare debate in the summer of 2009. Paul Ryan’s pick as Romney’s running mate coincided with the rally of the Independents to their camp.  From the onset, pundits predicted a race to the finish that would be decided by the Independents, for both parties were so firmly entrenched in their respective base that, in a 48-48 neck-and-neck race, they would have to look outward for the edge.  So, both Obama and Romney actively courted the Independents.  These “neutral observers” of the political scene, supposedly, held in contempt the familiar mudslinging and “trash and burn” politics, gratuitous attacks, and dishonest claims.  Instead, they favored a healthy debate of ideas, a measured and balanced exchange that toned down divisive rhetoric and led to a pragmatic approach to governance.  One would think that they would be Obama’s natural allies.  However, as Election Day drew near, that
group sided with Romney and proved again to be worthy of the epithet of “closet Republicans” who would, at the end of the day, come home to roost. Moreover, the Independents, often lauded by the pundits for their thoughtfulness and savvy, were willing to break with an age-old tradition in American politics that kept the Rockefellers, the Duponts, Morgans away from the White House.  The American people have consistently been leery of entrusting the destiny of the Nation to business magnates, and the wealthiest among us.  In their wisdom, they have always thought that the wealthiest among us would institute a plutocracy, whereby their elite peers would hold sway over their administration; well-heeled and well-connected stakeholders’ voices would drown out those of ordinary folk, thus polarizing the nation and deepening the divide between the haves and have-nots, in contrast with its motto “E Pluribus Unum” (“Out of Many One”). They have always feared that business magnates would not level the playing field and dignify the toils and travails of the working class with their utmost concern, but rather would bend to the ultimatum of rapacious
influence peddlers or impose a one-way traffic in the corridors of power in favor of wealthy contributors and unscrupulous profiteers.  The Independents were ready to hand over the tiller of the Nation to Mitt Romney, a member of the plutocratic class, and flip this revered tradition—a tradition safeguarded, as it were, by such eminent Republicans as President Theodore (Teddy) Roosevelt who passed stiff regulations to hold in check the power of big business, and promote a climate of fairness in the economy.  Such was the “état d’ame” (the state of the heart) of the Republicans at the approach of their Convention in Tampa, Florida in the summer of 2012.  It was a summer of high expectations, in the wake of the transformation that turned their apathetic mass of yester-years into an enthusiastic corps of energized supporters.  This transformation, which went through a laborious four-year maturation process, could not have come to fruition at a
better time.  Indeed, four years had lapsed since the eyesore of St Paul, Minnesota, where the Party revealed how out-of-touch and out of tact it was.  Four years to wipe out these bad memories, these rueful visuals…  Yet, from St Paul to Tampa, some things did not change. From one convention to the other, the attendance still struck by its monolithic make-up, looking more like an
exclusive club of middle-aged white men.   At a time when the country opened up to its changing demographic tapestry, the Republicans would not accept the notion that their pathway to the highest office of the land ran through minorities.  Their platform doubled down on the intolerance displayed during the primaries, contained no overture toward the constituencies that made 2008 a banner year for the Democrats, and made no attempt to curb the extremism that permeated the social discourse of some prominent members of the Party.  In order to appeal to, or appease, the far-right wing of the Party, they chose to antagonize a segment of the population (the Hispanics) whose ascent in the political arena was a fact to reckon with, and to depart from the compassionate conservatism” championed by former President George W. Bush.  The anti-immigration outbidding in which the candidates engaged during the primaries was symptomatic of the GOP’s reluctance to integrate large swaths of new entrants into the fabric of their Party.  After all, these were members of the 47% whom Romney admitted he did not care about.   What they settled for were a few prime-time spots reserved for high-perched minorities–which, in their infinite wisdom, should palliate the lack of representation of minorities so embarrassingly evident on the Convention floor.   They waged a war on issues that were dear to women and supported controversial measures of activist governors and state legislators that infringed upon women’s economic, social, and personal rights.

                The Republicans decided to placate their base at the expense of other constituencies.   They were of the mindset that America was a center-right country, and that their anti-immigration, anti-gay, anti-abortion views were representative of those of a silent majority—a majority supposedly cowed into silence by the oppressive power of a federal administration spellbound by Barack
Obama and his altogether ultra-liberal, socialist and “foreign” policies, which they reduced to a handful of sound bites.  For instance, they got much mileage on “You did not build that!” phrase of Obama’s taken out of context, distorted, and paraded as the President’s credo for big and intrusive government, while he was making the case that the “incredible” American infrastructure provided a platform for business to thrive.  Equally disingenuous was the patently false claim according to which Obama “gutted welfare reform.”   These examples epitomized an attitude that turned truth and facts into casualties of campaign rhetoric.  Camp Romney could not care less!  A top adviser of his chided reporters’ criticisms in this regard and vowed not let his campaign be constrained (or dictated) by fact checkers.  For, their aim was to rouse their base by all means.  In their calculation, if their base turned up in droves to vote, why would they ever want to compromise with other constituencies whose ideology of big government, welfare, illegal immigration with a pathway to citizenship, abortion and gay rights, was antithetic to their value system? Why would they settle with the 47% who felt entitled to rights and privileges and would not take responsibility for their actions? Certainly not at a time when they stood to realize a net gain of 4% of the white man vote, when the so-called independents rallied to their camp, and also at a time when  Rasmussen and Fox polls predicted a comfortable win for their candidate.  The GOP might have had reasons to jubilate over some notable tactical successes.  However, their stay-the-course strategy was not lost on a masterful strategist named Barack Obama. Who can better turn opponents’ strengths into liabilities? What politician—let alone a presidential candidate–would have the audacity to run on a platform of higher taxes while the economy was reeling under an 8% unemployment rate, of reduced defense spending?  Both moves would spell suicide for anyone.  But Barack Obama is no ordinary politician.  He is one-of-a-kind, gifted, strategist in American politics.  Those who doubted his abilities in this regard did so at their own peril.  His victims will live long to tell the story of a freshman senator from Illinois who routed a rival of touted pedigree, backed by a political ace husband, and moved on to defeat a war hero, a veteran politician whose time seemed to have come.   Romney would soon learn how much of an uphill battle he faced in challenging Barack Obama.  For, the President understood the tilt to the right that has shaped Republican politics, and set out to expose it in such a way that they could not walk back from it, but were forced to embrace it.  In so doing, he drove a wedge between mainstream Americans and the Republican Right.  He dared them in June 2011 when he repealed Don’t Ask Don’t Tell–the compromise act President Bill Clinton signed into law to allow gays to serve in the military.  He teased their intransigence over the sanctity of matrimony in a public statement in May 2012 in favor of marriage equality, which in effect numbers the days of the Defense of the Marriage Act (DOMA).  He challenged them in June 2012 when he signed his version of the Dream Act–an executive order to stop the deportation of young undocumented immigrants and make it possible for them to legalize their status. He irked them in August 2012 when he stood by the mandate, under the Affordable Act (Obamacare), that employers (including religious organization affiliates) provide contraception coverage to their employees.   While this change of tactics was deftly crafted to bait the Republicans and nudge them further to the right, it allowed him to mend fences with Liberal Democrats whose support had been waning since the early days of his administration for allegedly caving in to the Republicans’ intransigence.  He baited the Republicans; and, sure enough, they fell in the trap. Extremists in the Party could not resist the temptation to interject their controversial social views in the discourse.  The standard bearers of such views, Representative Todd Haykins of Missouri (Paul Ryan’s co-sponsor of anti-abortion legislation in the House) and Senator Murdock of Indiana, among others, made disparaging remarks in support of their unconditional stance on pro-life issues, which the Party was forced to disavow… half-heartedly.  Obama was out to prove how far away from mainstream their views were.  But they were so obstinate and felt so righteous in those views that they could not or would not muffle them or ignore Obama’s teasing.  But, in the end, what mattered to the Republicans was not as much how the public at large perceived them, but how these developments would galvanize their base and the donors.  On both counts, the GOP scored big. Romney’s campaign chest was awash with cash–money, indeed, flowed into his coffers to the point where he surpassed Obama in the months of June, July and August.  In addition, his campaign saw an excitement that reached its paroxysm by the time his first debate between President Obama took place.

The Republicans felt confident they had produced a perfect storm that would burst open the gate of the White House.  Putting final tactical touches to a campaign that saw a sea change, judging by the effervescence that marked its final days, they left nothing to happenstance.  All the bases were covered—from state legislators and secretaries-of-state circumventing court injunctions blocking the enforcement of these law to a pool of lawyers standing ready to challenge the results in places like Ohio, Florida, Virginia, Wisconsin, or Colorado, should Obama’s victory in these places be by a slim margin.  The flow of money into the campaign conjured up a sweet reminder of the way Romney obliterated Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum in the primaries.  Images of vexations and impotence of these two rivals in the face of such overwhelming force by a merciless Romney called for a repeat. They were prepared to unleash a Blitzkrieg the magnitude of which had never been seen before to close the show in grand fashion, with shock and awe.  But Obama is no Gingrich.  He is no Santorum.  He is a student of History, endowed with a
prodigious sense of perspective and incomparable foresight.  No matter how much Romney would saturate the airwaves, this could hardly be a formula for victory.  Never mind how much venom and mud the Republican smear machine, supped up by Super-Pac money, would sputter; how much the spin masters would distort facts and distorting records, he knew that air campaigns have never been able to vanquish a resolute enemy.  In 1942, Hitler unleashed a brutal air assault, a Blitzkrieg, upon London with the aim of subduing the indomitable Churchill.  These overwhelming and relentless bombardments blanketed the English capital for days, yet they could never break the spirit of the Londonians.   A frustrated Fuhrer vowed to pulverize the city and reduce it to rubble, but London never surrendered and fought back.  Israel learns that, while air assaults can have a punitive end, they could not guarantee victory against Hezbollah or Hamas.  The USA learned as well that, as spectacular as the “shock and awe” campaign during the first Iraq War was, the air assaults that pilloried that nation for days could not have assured Operation Desert Storm of total victory.  This is where the infantry comes into play.  As Commander-in-Chief of the U.S. Armed Forces, Barack took a page from military strategy and applied to his campaign. He understood that, regardless of how awesome air campaigns can be, their successes may turn out in the end to be Pyrrhic victories, if not backed up by well-coordinated ground operations.  Boots on the ground!  He understood this metaphor and made it a part of his overall strategy. His ground game is nothing short of spectacular.  Nothing of such depth and magnitude has ever been seen in American politics!  There is no substitute for a well-articulated ground game.   Obama’s was utterly sophisticated; it advanced at a superior pace, in a well-trained, disciplined fashion, canvassing the territory.  For a sense of the magnitude of the operation, Obama had more than 800 field offices across the nation, compared to about 300 for Romney; for instance, in three
important swing states, Obama commanded an impressive lead over Romney in terms of their ground game:  Obama had 131 offices in Ohio compared to Romney 40, 106 in Florida versus 40, and 60 in Virginia versus 30.  The difference is not just numerical; The Obama is known for better targeting of voters.  As Sasha Issenberg (“The Victory Lab”) noted, in 2008 Obama’s data-based voter targeting was brought to unprecedented levels; but in 2012, he perfected this technique by integrating field techniques with digital operations.  This was data mining in proportions unheard of in American politics.  How do you beat that!  While his opponents bask in tactical successes or Pyrrhic victories, Obama outclassed them by his forward thinking, and strategic endeavors.

In the end the camp that could tout a better strategy was victorious.  Despite the faux-pas of the first debate, there was never panic in Obama’s camp.  Their internal polling showed a
continuous resilience by the swing state voters, particularly Ohio, where Romney spent significant time and funds, yet could never wrest it out of Obama’s columns.  All the while, Fox News
and its pollsters went on record to predict Romney’s victory, dismissing all other polls.  The Republicans were again in denial.  Twice they suffered defeat at the hand of Barack Obama.  In the
aftermath of their second loss, they lamented the fact that 23% of their base did not turn out at the polls.  Mitt Romney attributed his defeat to gifts President Obama distributed to his
followers.  Others argued that Super Storm Sandy stalled Romney’s momentum and cost him the election.  This was one more conspiracy theory for them; only this time it was Mother Nature.  So
be it!  Nature must have empathized with the American people and spared them a colossal gaffe, and did so in dramatic fashion.  After all that fuss over big government, the Feds remain the savior of last resort.  After all the ridicule the Republicans had strewn on the Feds—inept, inefficient, profligate—they remain the deep pocket everyone turns to in times of need.  If there is any evidence for why we need a federal government, it is during this episode of Mother Nature’s furry that ravaged the east coast.  One is grateful in such circumstances that the government can spring to action, rapidly deploy assets to service the needs of trapped citizens.  The sight of an embattled, subdued Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey, the darling of conservative Republicans and the Tea Party, alongside President Obama, their nemesis, has all the hallmarks of an odd couple.  Aside from the contrasting physical appearances, evident in all shapes and forms, there was on one side a Republican governor known for his pugnacity, his acerbic verbiage, but sobered by the magnitude of the devastation plaguing his state, and on the other side President Barack Obama standing tall, gracious, and… looking presidential.  But this was justice.  Justice to the notion that Government has a role to play in the country’s internal affairs, in its citizens’ welfare! Super
Storm Sandy was a potent reminder that it would take more than a businessman to run the United States of America, regardless of what the Independents thought in the end.

After all, the Republicans’ biggest mistake in 2012 may have been that they did not factor in the formidable assets Barack Obama brought to bear in the battle for the White House in support of a message that resonated with large swaths of the electorate.  They failed to understand that Obama’s message touched the 47% that Romney derided, gave a voice to the many who felt
slighted by deliberate attempts to temper with their voting rights, reached out to those who were neglected or written-off by the Republican Party–a Party most enraptured with the intransigence of the Tea Party and subservient to the diktat of its conservative base; a Party that, naively or cynically (whatever the case may be), thought it could top it all off with overwhelming air power thanks to the largesse of its multi-million donors.  No wonder that the initial reaction to their defeat was a cry from the heart and… disbelief–from the candidate himself who until late into the evening did not concede, to Fox-News and consorts notably Karl Rove who challenged their analysts’ call about Ohio.  No wonder that, in the aftermath of their loss, they scrambled for an explanation: 23% of their base who did not turn out, Obama’s gifts to the 47%, Super Storm Sandy.  Whatever it was, the Republicans showed they were still in denial.  Such a cry from the heart will be hard to overcome.  In all likelihood, a long march in the wilderness awaits them.  They will only see the White House… from afar.

Mr. President, It’s All About Respect!

           For supporters of Barack Obama, the past seven months have been quite a roller-coaster.  They bounced from the height of elation to the depth of disappointment, from victory laps to the ignominy of capitulation, from the peak of euphoria to the pits of rage.  It is hard for them to fathom that the man who freed the American psyche from the Osama bin Laden syndrome was the same one who buckles time and again when faced with the whims and diktat of Republican lawmakers, whose stated aim is his personal demise and his failure as chief executive of the nation.  Unfazed by their overt opposition, the President (“No Drama Obama”) nonetheless tries his hardest to be the “adult in the room”, seek bi-partisanship, and stave off their indulgence in brinksmanship.  Is it naïveté or die-hard optimism that leads him to think he can win them over? 

            In my piece “America Will Be Just Fine” written shortly after President Obama’s election, I presented him as an eclectic, a Hegelian, and a pragmatist, who would not cling to dogma or rigid doctrine to govern.   I predicted that, as an eclectic, he would demonstrate a bee-like industriousness, whereby he would glean the best from various sources, transform it into a new brand, and use it in his program of government.  I surmised that, as a disciple of Hegel–the German philosopher who introduced his famous triad (Thesis-Antithesis-Synthesis), Obama would base his dialectic or reasoning method on synthesis, i.e., on reconciling the thesis (the argument for) and the antithesis (the argument against)—in other words, my assessment of his position on issues was that no side has monopoly over truth, but that in reality truth is arrived at from the clash of ideas, through compromise between conflicting sides.  I also argued that he would lead as a pragmatist prone to strike alliances with opponents, should their ideas prove to sustain the test of feasibility, balance, or reasonableness.  All in all, I predicted that Obama would govern in the middle.  In the center.   Away from party dogma. Now, half-way through his presidency, the prevailing sense is that he has lived up to this profile.  While suffering setbacks in his pursuit of common ground, he does not relent.  In so doing, he eyes the support of the Independents–the sector of the electorate whose centrist views he shares, and who traditionally holds the key to close elections.  Such tactical choices are perplexing to those who have subscribed to Obama’s change message and rooted for his success; they fear that the President has veered too much to the center and mince no word to let him know of their concerns.  If they were to send an open letter to their President to convey their displeasure with his tactics, I suspect they would go at it as follows.

           Mr. President, the thrust of your campaign for the White House was to change Washington’s culture, to wrest it from the grip of special-interests groups, and to promote bi-partisanship.  In this endeavor, you have been seeking an interlocutor with whom you could dialogue, another pragmatist who would be willing to meet you half-way and bridge the divide. You have tried sublime as well as trivial gestures in behalf of bi-partisanship.  A tangible case of sublime gesture was the olive branch you tendered to former Bush officials at the dawn of your presidency.  Specifically, you went out of your way to preempt the attributions of your attorney-general and thwart any volition on his part to prosecute these officials; you went ahead and absolved them of their misdeeds in the run-up to the Iraq War, their manipulation of intelligence, their encroachment of Constitutional guarantees and violation of the Geneva Conventions insofar as the practice of rendition and torture.  You feared that their prosecution could be viewed as polarizing.  Instead, you opted for forgiveness (this very Christian act, indeed!), hoping that it would be seen as a goodwill gesture that would secure the Republicans’ cooperation on your domestic agenda.  Mr. President, you must admit that this act of forgiveness came out of left field; no one from your Party saw it coming.   Did President George W. Bush make a plea to you in favor of his cronies in the letter he left you on the day of your inauguration?  Hmm!!! Based on his loyalty towards his team, such a request from Bush would hardly be surprising…  No need to answer, we understand.  From one President to another, there are State secrets that cannot be divulged, especially if they involve a rogue vice-president, the wild-card Dick Cheney…  We understand.  In any event, the immunity that you had secured on behalf of Cheney and his acolytes did not win you their gratitude, earn their trust, or translate into Republican support for your recovery program.  This has left some from your camp seething.

       Mr. President, you also tried less grandiose gestures, from Super-Bowl party at the White House to golf game with the Speaker; at the end of the day you could never win their support.  You went it alone on the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of 2009, dubbed Stimulus; they deserted you on the auto industry revival plan; they balked at your financial regulatory reform.  You watered down your initial healthcare reform bill, scratched out Public Option, incorporated Republican sweeteners in the final bill… for the sake of compromise, specifically to win bi-partisan support in Congress for the bill. Yet, not one single Republican voted for the Health Care Reform & Accountability Act of 2010. Consistent with your eclectic instincts, you altered your proposal also to placate the Independents.   You court them because, supposedly, their pragmatic approach bears no allegiance to Party politics, because they symbolize the middle ground, and, above all, because they prove to be a force to reckon with.  You did all that at the risk of sacrificing ideals that are sacred to Liberal Democrats.  Mr. President, do you really believe that your courtship of the Independents is worth alienating those in your Party who remain faithful to the liberal cause, considering the Independents deserted the Democrats in the mid-term elections?  The Independents gave as much as a ten-point advantage to the Republicans, despite the obstructionist role the latter played during the 111th Congress.  This was quite unexpected, as conventional wisdom holds that the Independents abhor grid-lock and obstructionism.  Their behavior during the mid-term showed otherwise.  In fact, they rewarded the GOP.  Does it occur to you that they might just be closet Republicans, and actually that they follow no grand theory of governance
or a particular philosophical line of thought?  

            Mr. President, as you know, it takes two to tango.   You are desperately looking for a partner.  You have got to resign yourself to the fact that there is none to be found.  You have adversaries for whom nothing is out of bounds, who have used every trick in the playbook to keep you off balance and off message.  One common theme of the Republicans’ wall-to-wall assault is your personal defeat and the failure of your Administration.  As a person, they seek to dehumanize you, to make you feel that you are not one of them.  In their view, you are a fraud–a Black, Kenyan, Socialist, Radical, Muslim, Alien, Antichrist, (pick the order!),  who usurped the rights bestowed on natural born Americans and, out of some nefarious plot, found your way to the Nation’s tiller with a secret plot to dismantle the American way of life.  And they want their “country back.”  Sadly enough, no voice of reason rose from their hierarchy to dismiss such demented talks as worthy of the trash can.  To the contrary, they cater to those toxic effusions, hoping to score political points, and forcing you to engage in the futile exercise of proving or disproving the absurd.

            Mr. President, since the mid-term elections there has been a recrudescence of the Republican assault against you—this time, better orchestrated, more sharply focused, but equally vicious.  From politics to policy, from the birthers’ challenge of your citizenship to the raucous resistance of the Tea Party (the “enfant terrible” of the 112th Congress), to the threat of government shutdown during the period of Continuing Resolution, or to the continuous blocking of nominations to key administrative posts, or lately to the squabbling over the debt ceiling, the assault is relentless.  From radio personality Rush Limbaugh to Senator Mitch McConnell, to businessman Donald Trump, there is unity of message. From a cross-section of the American power structure—the media, the political establishment, the business community, the message cannot be any clearer and is articulated in a way that unveils a visceral aversion not just to your policies but also to you personally:  You must fail. To this bold statement they make no caveat.  Seemingly, they would not mind seeing the country fail as long as YOU fail.  Yet, you still illusion yourself that you have a partner in this venture. This is the culture—or rather, the cult—you are up against.

            Mr. President, it is about respect.

            Around the world, you enjoy adulation and respect.  You repaired the damage caused by the rowdy policies of the previous administration, and restored our foreign policy to its pre-9/11 standards.   At the same time, you show steely resolve vis-a-vis friends and foes alike.  You put everyone on notice —from friendly governments to enemy regimes, from Somali pirates to Al Qaeda-Taliban fighters and hierarchy along the Afghan-Pakistani border–that whenever misdeeds and harm are committed at the expense of the American people, you will bring the awe and might of the formidable American military to bear.  They all heed the warning and take you seriously.  The word for that is:  Respect.  However, on the domestic scene, you are not the same man.  The Republicans do not feel the courage of your convictions.  They do not feel the firmness and power of your grip.  At their hands, you are like a domesticated pet, predictable, and ready to roll over.  And after you do, you walk proudly to the microphone, praising your so-called “partners” on a wonderful work of bi-partisanship, instead of castigating them for brinksmanship.   Why, then, don’t you show the same resolve in the domestic arena?  Why is it that, when the Republicans dare you and stare you down, you blink?  It was most outrageous last December to witness the fact that you let the Republicans get away with murder.  They threatened to vote against extending unemployment benefits for another year to provide relief to the army of unemployed, while at the same time, they went all out to prolong the Bush tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires.  Coming from folks who garnish churches’ pews every Sunday, this passion exhibited on pleading the case of the well-to-do at the expense of the little guy was antithetical to the pillars of Christ’s doctrine—his embrace of the poor.  Such hypocrisy lets one wonder whether the Jesus these guys pray to is the one who said (paraphrasing), “Whatever you do for the smallest amongst us you do it for me,” or the Jesus who said to one of his followers:  “If you want to follow me, get rid of all your wealth.”  Their stance did not make sense from an economic viewpoint either, as there is no evidence that those billions would translate into jobs in the United States.  In India and China, for sure, but not here!    Their hypocrisy and wicked policies were not lost on the American people, as evidenced by all polls. The stage was set for a showdown between the wisdom of ordinary Americans, the venality of our politicians, and the greed of big business lobbyists.   It was a clear victory for ordinary folk, with you on their side:  there was no rhyme or reason why the unfunded Bush tax cuts should have been extended, thus causing the deficits to worsen.  This, again, showed the extent of the Republicans’ hypocrisy, as they made the fight against deficits their new battle cry.  A bit of populism would not hurt.  Surely, they would accuse you of promoting class warfare.  What would be new?  You should in no way recoil from your position and become defensive?  After all, Alan Greenspan, the Republican former Chairman of the Federal Reserve, was (and still is) against extending the tax cuts.  So, Mr. President, by agreeing last December to their terms against your principles, you set a dangerous precedent, which the Republicans capitalized on.  They read the agreement NOT as an exemplary case of bi-partisanship BUT as a blue-print for capitulation.  In effect, emboldened by their success, they tried again during the Continuing Resolution, when they threatened to shut down government.  Once more, they showed how less they cared, as long as in the process you would look bad.  So is the state of their politics.

            Mr. President, when it comes to policy, it has been obvious for some time that the Republicans have not much to show for.  All they have is a credo:  No taxes!  Less Government!  You mus
t engage them on that front.  You must relentlessly call them out on the fact that they cater to the high power of big business whose unfettered freedom they advocate, whose hefty contributions they rely on for their reelection campaigns.  They complain about the supposedly high corporate tax rates at a time when corporations are raking in astronomical profits and sitting on trillions of idle dollars.  Yet the Republicans want them to have more through tax cuts.  Their model is (actually was) Ireland.  Not too long ago, they championed Ireland as a free-market haven with stellar economic outlook, fueled by its excessively low corporate rate.  Ireland was the model the new supply-siders showcased as the future of the free market economy, where government is relegated to the sideline, public spending cut to the bone, and a corporate rate as low as 12.5%. Once again the conservatives succumbed to the fallacy that tax incentives or tax cuts would spur economic growth and bring employment to optimal levels.  For reasons the Republicans do not comprehend, the multiplier effect does not work as well on the supply side as it does on the demand side.  A dollar ploughed into the economy, say in an infrastructure renovation project, triggers a chain of reactions upward and downward in terms of demand for goods through the multiplier effect, and translates into hiring.  A dollar cut from corporate tax expenses goes straight to the bottom line and does not necessarily translate into hiring or into higher wages for workers.  The reason for that is multi-fold:  corporations enjoy the higher profits; technological advances spur higher productivity, which makes it counter-intuitive for businesses to engage in any wholesale hiring; especially in an environment that calls for workforce and product line downsizing.  Low corporate tax rates coupled with draconian cuts in public spending are a recipe for disaster.  There was one miscalculation on the part of the supply-siders:  Ireland, the crown jewel of the new conservative economics, has defaulted on its debt and their bonds are relegated to junk status.  The Republicans like to point to Greece as the looming disaster that awaits us.  In reality, our case is closer to Ireland’s.

            Mr. President, take your case to the American people.  The policies that supply-side economists have implemented in Ireland are the very ones these Republicans want to impose on the nation, in the name of conservative orthodoxy.  The Ireland medicine to cure the economic ills of the country would be catastrophic. The result would be a magnified version of a bankrupt Ireland. The American people’s proverbial common sense tells them that there is something fundamentally unsettling about the Republican position.  They just cannot articulate it.  But you can. Do it with passion, with analogies they relate to. Let them see you as the roadblock against the GOP’s one-sided, simplistic, and failed economic policies of the past.   For, in the fall of 2008, the US was on the edge of the precipice as a result of reckless handling of the economy, inept governance, and skewed priorities …We dodged the bullet thanks to the Stimulus.  It is unfortunate that the stimulus package was modest (5% of the gross domestic product–GDP).  For, countries that undertook bold interventions, such as China whose public spending was about 15% of its GDP, enjoy unparalleled growth at 9%, while we are trudging along with a measly 1.5%, susceptible to any little bump on the recovery road.  As if they did not do enough, the same culprits are coming back for more… equipped with the same policies, backed by the same special-interests groups, inspired by the same credo, with the only difference that, this time, they cloak themselves under the mantle of deficit-busters.  Let it be remembered that these recidivists were the deficit mongers of the past decade, who passed unfunded tax cut legislations and drug benefits, waged two wars without funding, and turned billions of budget surpluses they had inherited from the Clinton Administration into record deficits.  Mr. President, you have to call them out in vigorous terms.  You cannot let these hypocrites have their way.  You cannot let the country follow Ireland’s path.   

            Mr. President, the month-long showdown on the debt ceiling exemplified once more the Republicans’ brash attitude, their disregard for fairness, equity, and common sense when these values do not square with the interests of big business.  America witnessed their opposition to closing tax loopholes and slashing subsidies to Big Oil and other big business concerns as part of the scenario to curb government spending and close the deficit.  At first, this new showdown looked like a scene replayed to satiety, where the outcome was known in advance–i.e.,  you were going to buckle once again.  But when you drew a line in the sand, threatening to veto any bill that would not contain revenue increases, your supporters cheered.  The point you made was clear and consonant with the desiderata of the American people—not a one-sided approach to the problem (spending cuts only that would hurt only the poor and elderly), but a balanced approach that would take into account tax increases and spread the pain across the board.  We applauded your unequivocal stand.  For, at issue was the United States’ default on its debt—an unprecedented event in the annals of the country’s history.  This alone should be sufficient to deter the gamesmanship and puerility of the Republicans’ posturing.  At stake was the prestige of the United States, along with the irreversible consequence of a financial meltdown that would exceed by far the darkest hours of the fall 2008 crisis.   Facing such nonsensical behavior, we expected the man who took out bin Laden to stand tall and respond in kind.  Mr. President, why did you rule out exercising your executive privileges under the Fourteenth Amendment, which in case of grave danger to the nation and inaction by Congress allows you to invoke presidential powers and take appropriate action.  That Republican lawmakers made light of this event and dragged the process till the eleventh hour bordered on irresponsibility.  This should not have stood.  A Lyndon Johnson or a Harry Truman would not have allowed such tantrums on the part of Congress to stand.  Likewise, the man who freed America from the specter of Osama bin Laden, at the very least, should have never taken off the table his Fourteenth Amendment prerogatives.  It is a matter of respect.  The fact that you did emboldened them.  And once again…  we all know the rest all too well:  you blinked again.  The Republicans had their way once more:  It was all cuts and no revenues–no balanced approach!  And once again you walked up to the lectern and praised the spirit of bi-partisanship, consoling yourself that no one got what they wanted. 

            But, guess what, Mr. President, it was not all good news.  This last defeat added insult to injury. On your watch, for the first time in its history the credit worthiness of the greatest economy on earth has been downgraded from AAA to AA+ by Standard & Poor’s, one of the rating agencies.  Your presidency is forever tainted by this ignominy.  Fast-forward and picture the relation of this event in history books.  Do not illusion yourself, Mr. President:  in this setback you have no partner; you share this infamous distinction with no one—not with John Boehner, not with Mitch McConnell.  By the way, they will be laughing all the way to the Republican Convention, congratulating each other over the fact that they got you where they wanted—in the pits.  Be prepared for insidious presidential slogans against you.  Be ready for renewed cries of nostalgic folk wanting their country back!  How many times are you going to let yourself duped by these Republicans?  

            Mr. President, allow this boxing analogy.  The bout is half-way through and your belt is at stake.  Yet, the contender has not felt the sting of your jab and the power of your punch.  And, looking in your eyes, he does not feel the heart of the champion… or the steely resolve of the man who had the better of bin Laden.  How then could you be surprised that he shows you no respect?

Osama bin Laden Is Dead–What’s Next for President Obama?

         On the Sunday evening of May 1, 2011, the American people breathed a sigh of relief when President Barack Obama stood behind the White House lectern and reported the killing of Osama bin Laden, the Al Qaeda leader responsible for the September 11, 2011 acts of terror that took some three-thousand American lives.  Thus ended a seven-year pursuit, fraught with frustrations and disappointments, and accountable for thousands of deaths in combat and billions of dollars.  A testimony to the staying power of the American mighty military, the audacious May 1 operation inside Pakistan was also an outright success for its Commander-in-Chief, who approved the operation, decided on its timing, and watched it unfold to completion.    One would have thought that such a seminal event would ever be present on the political scene, and occupy the forefront of American consciousness.  How comes it that, only a couple of months after it occurred, this milestone in the war against terrorism is eclipsed from the national conversation, relegated to near-oblivion?  How comes it that the President does not pivot from it to achieve badly needed successes on the domestic front?

         The elimination of Osama bin Laden is the high point of Obama’s presidency. Indisputably, the success was his.  While there could be a philosophical or a policy debate on whether the Stimulus, for instance, worked (which did, in my view), there is no dispute that the Special Forces acted on his watch and got rid of America’s public enemy number one.   That is, unless one is a hard-core Republican…   In that case, the Democratic President only receives partial credit. This clear victory of Obama’s was discounted by Republican pundits who claimed co-paternity for President George W. Bush.  This brings to mind Count Ciano’s famous thought, which President John F. Kennedy made proverbial, “Success has many parents but failure is an orphan.”  At no
time in recent memory has this proverbial thought been more fitting than on this occasion.    Whoever entertained the hopes that this milestone would rub off on the President’s domestic agenda
clearly underestimated the strength, efficiency, and versatility of the Republican spin doctors.  In effect, in no time the latter gathered their forces and launched a campaign to redeem the
so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques” performed on Guantanamo detainees during Bush’s tenure, which they put at the source of the intelligence that led to the Al Qaeda leader.  Inasmuch as the Republican strategy rests on Obama’s failure as Chief Executive of the nation, it is understandable that every inch of the political scene shall be contested, and every possible success denied him.

         The homage to the former Republican President was not the monopoly of Grand Ole Party (GOP) faithfuls, conservative devotees, or right-ring lunatics.  Media personalities joined in
the chorus as well.  Most unexpected was the voice of the venerable David Gergen, reputed for even-handed analyses and judicious opinions on CNN.  In an interview on this news outlet right before Obama announced bin Laden’s killing, Gergen punctuated his final remarks with an emphatic “Thank you, President Obama, and Thank you, President Bush.”  I do not take issue with his accolade of the former president per se.  But that he uttered his gratitude to both Obama and Bush in the same breath was unfair and, in my view, aberrant.  I am certainly not about to attribute to the distinguished commentator any of the negative sentiment that has filtered through the political discourse, aiming at delegitimizing Obama and undermining his presidency.    However,
his statement gave me pause.  Likewise, CNN’s John King in the moments preceding the president’s address gave an oblique recognition to George Bush’s policies when he said, “Bin Laden is dead, and Barack Obama happens to be the president”– a suggestion that Obama was just an opportunist who was at the right place at the right time.  Coming from a cable outlet that touts
its non-alignment, such assertions tell the extent to which the malaise vis-à-vis our 44th President has metastasized.  By contrast, they testify to the immense political capital George W. Bush still enjoys. The question, then, begs to be asked:  What more does Obama have to do to be relevant in the eyes of many or even have the benefit of the doubt?  In fairness to George W. Bush, he deserves credit for distancing himself from the brouhaha, leaving the dirty work to the unrepentant Dick Cheney, Don Rumsfeld, & Co.  The former President is to be commended for staying out of the limelight.  He could have accepted Obama’s invitation to accompany him to New York’s Ground Zero and lay a wreath in memory of those who perished on September 11, 2001.  Understandably, he chose not to.  Unlike the Republican revisionist clique, hard at work rewriting history, Bush understood.  He understood that bin Laden hit the Homeland on his watch, and that he failed to deliver on his solemn promise to the American people to bring the Al Qaeda leader to justice—summary justice, Wild West style (“Dead or Alive”.)  While his lieutenants counted on the American people’s amnesia regarding their Administration’s failures, he understood that when the six-foot-four bin Laden was within striking distance, sighted and virtually trapped in Torah Bora in the waning days of the 2001 Afghanistan campaign, they let him slip away—a gaffe that will go down in history as a stunning case of tactical malpractice, as an act of stupidity of the highest order.  Bush took it to heart.  But his impenitent factotums did not.   At a time when one would expect them to put their tails between their legs and walk away unnoticed, there they are, back with a vengeance, reinventing themselves as the ultimate stewards of America’s security and engaging in crass competition for credit for the success of the operation.  They wish the American people would forget that they shifted their focus, assets, and resources from Afghanistan to Iraq, which they considered then, by some delusion, the focal point of the “war on terror”.  Compounding this fiasco, they entered into a dubious cooperation with Pakistan, under which the Taliban-Al Qaeda axis grew unchecked along the Afghan-Pakistani border, while they poured
billions into Pakistan’s coffers and let General Pervez Musharraf and his duplicitous security forces (ISI) call the shots under the guise of national sovereignty.  Bush understood–but his henchmen would let believe otherwise–that he allowed bin Laden’s myth to grow and fuel fanatical activism within fringe Islamic groups, to the detriment of America’s national security.

          Dismissive of the cost the misguided tactics imposed on the Nation in terms of lives, treasure, and international prestige, the Republican spin machine goes on to herald George Bush as the real architect of bin Laden’s demise.  They do concede one thing to Obama:  he was “gutsy”, they said.  So absurd!  Such an epithet does not do justice to the cerebral President and downplays the thought process that has guided most of his decisions since his ascension to the presidency.  In fact, it is an insult to his intellectual capacity.  His strong confidence in his deductive ability should not be equated to “guts”, which gives primacy to impulses over rational inference, and refers to an instinctual drive fueled by adventurism and bravado, irrespective of risks involved.    Obama’s
decision-making model is all about rational inference.  As exemplified by the raid, his model suggests a mix of patiently gathered facts (intelligence), unbiased analysis of the facts (intelligence), insightful reading of human behavior, mitigation of risk, and utilization of optimal resources.  In his interview with “60 Minutes” in the days following the operation, he said there was no absolute certainty—a “55/45 chance”–that bin Laden was in the compound.  That he decided to go in, over the objection of some trusted advisers, was not a reckless or “gutsy” act.  It was a lucid decision, driven by rational inference, supported by painstaking preparation and shored up by a rare sense of timing.  Yes, timing—Obama’s other great asset.  Whoever has followed his trajectory can testify to his sense of opportunity and timing, his ability to discern the equilibrium point where facts, opportunity, and optimal resources intersect to yield the best possible course of action. As details emerged about the conception and execution of the raid, Obama’s decision-making process came to light. No doubt this operation will be studied in academia as a case study in executive decision-making.   Obama’s process is the polar opposite of that of a George Bush, who embarked the Nation on a bloody war in Iraq on the basis of faulty intelligence and an ill-conceived plan.  The jury is still out on whether he actually tampered with the intelligence or bent it to suit his flawed premise that Saddam Hussein was stockpiling or developing weapons of mass destruction.

           President Obama earned the right to celebrate this milestone.  He could have touted it with fanfare, celebratory fist-pumping or sarcastic scorn.   He chose none of that.  His “report to the American people” was humble.  With a touch of pride. Yet, humble.  And magnanimous.  Magnanimous even vis-à-vis his worst enemy.  It was telling that bin Laden’s burial was done in accordance with the Islamic Faith and Arabic traditions.  By so doing, he appealed to our noblest sentiments, transcended the pettiness of parochialism to reach in for the greater humanism within us. Realizing that much of the anti-Americanism that has spread across the Middle-East was driven by symbols and perceptions inspired by our actions, he figured that symbolism of a different sort could mitigate the damage.  For, intangible as they may be, the costs incurred due to those symbols are nonetheless high.  There are no metrics to gauge, for instance, how much our image has suffered from the desecration of the Koran, from our troops’ allowing the vandalization of the Bagdad Ancient library, from the dehumanization of the Abhu Graib prisoners in Iraq, from the waterboarding of the Guantanamo detainees, from the practice of rendition by the CIA.  Yet, as immeasurable as they may be in tangible terms, these acts have a potent symbolic value and weigh heavily on the perceptions towards the US.  By showing sensitivity in this instance, Obama sought in a small way to offset the impact of these intangibles, and set a new standard for future occupants of the Oval Office.  For, in world relations that are becoming increasingly complex, the President of the United States of America ought to be culturally literate.  Obama is perhaps the first President to integrate these intangibles in the national security model—a model that counterbalances the “carrot” approach in American foreign policy, which seeks allegiance through financial incentives.  Let’s note that this approach has been emphatically rebuked in the mountains and valleys of the Middle East and the Persian Gulf, where a $25 M bounty on bin Laden’s head failed to turn him in.  There, the piety of the locals, coupled with strong tribal affiliations and a different value system, has proven to be impervious to the appeal of the dollar.

          Additionally, as Obama’s acts are often marked by a dualistic aspect, the decision to dispose of bin Laden’s remains at sea was to ensure that the myth does not endure, to deny sympathizers, followers, and potential recruits of a worship and pilgrimage place.  Again, this is a testimony to the thoughtfulness and minutia that went along with the planning of the raid.  Obviously, that painstaking preparation was lost on the cynics of the Cheney & Co. school of thought, who reduced the elimination of bin Laden to some low-grade information obtained five or six years ago, precisely at the time when Bush himself dropped the pursuit of bin Laden from his high priority list; at the time when he confessed not knowing about the latter’s whereabouts.   The far-fetched scenario links the killing of the Al Qaeda leader to his courier, whose name was revealed under harsh interrogation.  Though such information had since been declared unsubstantiated, they continue to herald it as the crux of the intelligence.  The question is:  if that intelligence was as actionable as they claim it to be, why did it take five years to use it against bin Laden?  The strategic significance of Al Qaeda’s decapitation is preempted by the debate over “enhanced interrogation techniques”—a euphemism for torture.   Their technique of choice is waterboarding, which
subjects a prisoner to episodes of simulated drowning in order to obtain information from them. The religious-right ultra-conservative former Senator and presidential candidate Rick Santorum gave an unequivocal endorsement of torture in a May 17, 2011 radio interview:  “I mean, you break somebody, and after they are broken, they become cooperative.  And that’s when we got this information.”!  Such insanity is revealing of the moral decrepitude some would-be leaders stooped to, and of their hypocrisy vis-à-vis the religious standards they so often boast.  At the height of their sadistic craze, the waterboarders subjected one guy, Khalid Sheik Muhammad—the architect of September 11, to 183 sessions of waterboarding. Ironically or rather predictably, the waterboarders still could not “break” that guy.

          Yet the Party of waterboarding drives the conversation and might even be scoring points.  Yet again, always deft at turning defeat into opportunity, the Republicans are putting the Democrats on the defensive.  They make no apology for breaching our values, for breaking our laws, for going against international norms and conventions, even against the tenets of their Christian faith.  Despite reports challenging the effectiveness of waterboarding, they steadfastly champion this technique as the ideal means for extracting information from prisoners.   Mr. President, you
cannot afford to let the waterboarders drive the conversation, set the agenda, and define you and your politics.  You earned your stripes.  You shattered bin Laden’s mythical aura.  You are the one who brought down the symbol towards whose demise we have sacrificed thousands of young lives, the man who haunted the American psyche for years–the man who achieved what Hitler and his U-boats, the Japanese and their kamikazes, the Soviets and their nuclear arsenal could not have done:  forcing us to retreat inward and give in to a wave of inner insecurities.  After 9/11, for the first time in their history, Americans felt vulnerable within their own borders despite the guaranteed protection of the most powerful military the world has ever known.  That was bin Laden’s ultimate victory:  he made us live our insecurities daily to the point where any innocuous malfunction makes us think first of an act of terrorism.  As it were, he awakened in us a terroristic reflex, which went on unabated as long as he was alive.    You provided the catharsis America’s subconscious needed to overcome these insecurities.    Mr.  President, you eviscerated Al Qaeda.  Of course, this organization will not cease being lethal overnight, but it will never be the same… thanks to you.

         Mr. President, conventional wisdom holds that Democrats are weak on National Security.  You have crippled this narrative, and burnished your credentials and those of the Democratic Party.     You have defeated the Republicans, the Party of Waterboarders on their territory, in their sacred fiefdom—National Security.   You have accomplished what the most hawkish elements of the Bush Administration could only dream of.  If anything, the event of early May 2011 should put this narrative to rest for good.   Certainly, the demagoguery on the other side will persist regarding the so-called softness of the Democrats on foreign policy and military matters.  Your opponents will try to blur the lines, co-opt the true meaning of the demise Osama bin Laden, or even
insinuate that it is an isolated act of a government lucky to be in office and beneficiary of the hard labor of its predecessor.  You must not let them succeed in this desperate attempt.  This success is
yours! But you cannot take for granted that it will speak for itself, or that the American people will remember it and give you credit for it.   One lesson you may learn from George W. Bush was that he kept 9/11 at the forefront of the American consciousness.   It is not the time to be modest.  You may be worried that the big “A” epithet—Arrogant—be affixed to you, if you boast this
achievement.  Frankly, this should be the least of your worries!

         Lastly, Mr. President, there is political leverage to be gained from the May 1, 2011 act that you authored and the execution of which you successfully directed.  You cannot stand by and watch its impact fizzle, or let it be relegated to the annals of history. You must make this success the cornerstone of your re-election strategy; use it to contextualize your political message.   As domestic politics is heating up over issues of seminal importance to the nation and posturing by your opponents is testing your leadership, you must stand up and stand out as the one credentialed to successfully tackle such issues.  After all, you are the man who took bin Laden out.  As elusive and frustrating this pursuit was, you nonetheless never lost your focus.  You were committed to the cause of relieving the American people from the nemesis Osama bin Laden represented.  You were determined not to let one man frustrate the might of our powerful military and hold the American psyche hostage.  In the end your commitment paid off.  You must not let this achievement go by the wayside, or be co-opted by opportunists from the other side.  You must adroitly pivot from it to achieve other successes on the domestic front.  The American people are now faced with a nemesis of a different kind that has bred new insecurities in cities and communities across the nation.  These new insecurities are shaking the American people’s belief in their proverbial capacity to overcome adversity.  This nemesis is as powerful, as elusive, as damaging, as frustrating as the threat of terrorism posed by bin Laden.  Seven years after 9/11, America was struck in the fall of 2008 by an event of cataclysmic proportions, which brought it to the brink of annihilation as the world economic superpower.  The severity of that shock, caused by a decade of economic neglect and flagrant lack of oversight coupled with reckless fiscal policies, was such that the structures of our economic edifice were badly damaged.  The damages reverberated throughout all the sectors down to poor and middle-class kitchen tables across the nation.  This new nemesis—the state of the economy—is your new challenge.   You must draw for the American people a parallel between the insecurities of post-9/11 America and the uncertainties of post-2008 Financial Collapse America.  Do it in terms they relate to.  You have the power, the credentials to triumph over this new nemesis.  It will take patience, focus, decisions that rely on rational inference—the type of decision-making that led to the May 1, 2011 successful operation.  You need to convey it to the American people with passion.  The same passion you displayed during your presidential campaign.

         After all, you are the man.  The one who took bin Laden out.  No small feat, indeed!  Washington should be reminded of it.  And America should be grateful for it.

The 2010 Midterm Elections, a Referendum on Obama?

Two years after the historic elections that brought Barack Obama to the White House and conferred control of Congress to the Democratic Party, the American electorate is called upon to decide on the future make-up of our legislative body.  It is a contentious race marked in particular by the rise to the political forefront of a new phenomenon, the Tea Party.  Catching onto the fervor and anger that animate this movement, The Republicans vowed to make this race a referendum on the Obama Presidency.  This is an age-old tactic used against incumbents to force them to run on an indefensible and unpopular record.  As recently as two years ago, the Democrats used it with much success against George W. Bush and his Congressional allies.  This time around, the Grand Old Party (GOP) is trying to administer the same medicine to Obama and his Party and hopes to triumph at the polls this November.  What is it about the President’s record that makes the Republicans believe they can succeed?  And why are the Democrats running away from his record? What is it about Obama’s politics that electrifies the Republicans against him and cools his relations with the Democratic Left?

 The Crisis

The four months that preceded President Obama’s inauguration were rocked by a financial crisis, the impact of which was so sudden and profound that it sent all sectors of the economy into a frenetic downward spiral.  America’s economic and financial hegemony was called into question.  Some twenty years after the fall of Communism, the dissolution of the capitalistic system appeared ineluctable.  The fate of Capitalism and the world’s largest economy rested on the shoulders of a young president, a former junior Senator from Illinois who only served a half-term in Congress.  No presidency has had, upon its inaugural, to face such monumental challenges.  But as his successful campaign for the White House suggests, Obama had no shortage of ingenuity, decisiveness and calculated risk-taking in his arsenal.  Right off the bat, his Administration sent signals that a do-nothing Congress was not an option.  He engaged the 111th Congress early on by relentlessly pushing through his high-stake legislative agenda.  Quite a contrast with Congresses of the past two decades, when major legislations were scarce–welfare reform, immigration reform, and tax cuts being a few of note. These past Congresses were famous for passing trivial pieces of legislation such as a “National Corvette Day” bill on June 26, 2008 introduced by Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill).

 It all started in September 2008.  All too often, people seem to forget the chain of events that preceded the fatidic date of January 20, 2009.  To put things in perspective, let’s briefly recap the salient features of that period.  Specifically, the banking and financial system was in tatters; stock markets from all over the world plunged; Lehman Brothers went under, leaving Washington scurrying to the rescue of other mega financial institutions.  The mortgage-backed securities that reigned supreme until a few months prior plummeted and dragged the fortunes of our financial institutions to the ground.   The Federal Reserve Bank and the US Treasury intervened to save eight major ones from imminent bankruptcy.  Major disruptions occurred in the industrial sector of the economy, asphyxiated by the sudden credit drought.  Cash-starved companies scrambled to finance their working capital needs, even to make payroll.  Massive layoffs took place overnight.  The auto industry, a staple of American know-how and industriousness, was in a shambles. GM and Chrysler were bankrupt and needed strong cash infusion to survive and salvage the economy of cities and towns that depended on the auto industry.  Washington finally acknowledged the recession that started almost a year earlier.

 President Obama’s First Twenty Months

 How quickly do we forget!  From Candidate Obama to President Obama, in the span of three months, the economic situation deteriorated so that, in January 2009, the nation lost some 600,000 jobs.   Massive layoffs of teachers, police officers, and firefighters were forecast by state and local governments; GDP for the quarter that ended on 12/31/08 fell to a dismal -6.3%, the lowest since the first quarter of 1982. That was the tableau staring at Obama:  a situation that called for not a band aid but for a scalpel to surgically remove the tumor that drove the American economy to the brink of catastrophe. Decisive action was necessary to ward off the looming depression, stem the flow of layoffs, and prop up demand.  A month into his presidency, Obama signed into law the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) or “Stimulus” to infuse $787 billion into the economy and stabilize it.  In addition, Obama moved swiftly with a rescue package for GM and Chrysler and the installation of a new management team for GM.  With the economic effect of the multiplier, the demise of GM and Chrysler would have trickled down to other sectors of the automobile secondary markets, dealerships.  While the Republicans criticize the Stimulus and blame the 10% unemployment rate on Obama’s policies, most economists agree that the Stimulus has had a positive impact on the economy and argue that unemployment could have doubled, had teachers, police officers, firefighters, and construction workers been laid off.  This is what was at stake.  No responsible government should stay idle in the face of such catastrophic events and leave it to the invisible hand of the markets to cure the ills that they are responsible for in the first place. Even George W. Bush got this right, despite the unbridled brand of economics he was practicing.  To his credit, he initiated the bailout.

Obama’s measures restored America to its status of preeminent economic power.  In fact, while many economists predicted that the recession would last until 2011, by all economic measures it ended in June 2009. Real gross domestic product (GDP), the ultimate measure of a country’s economic activity, has been growing quarter after quarter since, rebounding remarkably from the -6.3% Obama inherited.  According to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, real GDP grew 3.7% in the first quarter of this year and 1.7% in the second quarter America remained indisputably and by far the largest economy and the envy of the world, though some would like to make believe otherwise.  The auto industry was saved from extinction.  GM repaid its entire $8 million loan portfolio plus interest and is profitable.  The banking industry has fully recovered; the banks have paid back $170 billion of the $245 billion loaned by the Fed, including dividends and interest.   By the end of next year, they are on pace to repay the loan in its entirety, and buy back their securities from the US Treasury.  Such exploits, achieved against all odds and even against experts’ predictions, should be heralded and trumpeted all over America.  The U.S. was the first country to come out of the recession and, once again, led the world on the path of economic recovery.  However, except for China and Germany, the world’s economy had not significantly recovered from lingering recessionary pressures.  Greece’s default, along with the woes of Spain, Portugal, and Italy served as a painful reminder of the frailty and instability of world economic realities, and in a way slowed the pace of our recovery.

Healthcare reform is another milestone in American politics.  For decades, the reform of the health delivery system in the United States had vexed many Administrations—the latest being Bill Clinton’s.  The rise in insurance premiums, the growing number of uninsureds, the use of pre-existing condition as criterion for denying coverage, the increasing healthcare share of the GDP and impact on the Federal deficit called for the overhaul of our healthcare system.  To that end, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010, later amended as Healthcare and Education Reconciliation act of 2010 is note-worthy, as it makes insurance more effective and affordable, extends coverage and eliminates insurance companies’ discriminatory practices based on pre-existing condition, guards against their abuses that have led to high personal bankruptcy rates.  Not well known about this legislation is its education rider.  In effect, this act has an education component which provides for cheaper student loan packages, by cutting commercial banks out of the lending business and empowering the Department of Education to undertake those loans.  It also increases Pell grants for less fortunate students.

The economic crisis exposed the flaws inherent in our system of governance, the inadequacies of our financial rules and regulations. That is why financial reform had to go in lockstep with other measures.  The promulgation of the Restoring American Financial Stability Act of 2010 is an important step ensuring the reform of the financial sector and safeguarding against the corporate greed and risky practices that brought the economy to its knees.  In the previous decade in particular, the financial sector evaded all regulations.  Though the SEC was chartered to regulate the industry, it had no teeth to enforce existing regulations, to rein in the speculative tendencies of Wall Street analysts, to stem the flow of new instruments supposedly designed to hedge against risks (“derivatives”).  The excessive use of financial leverage, which glorified debt as a success formula for growth and earnings-per-share, made it possible for companies to rely solely on borrowing as a financing mechanism.   Commercial banks strayed away from margin requirements and ventured into areas of risky loans.  Credit cards companies used creative finance fee schemes to gouge their customers. The institution of a Bureau of Consumer Protection within the Federal Reserve is a welcome move to call out such practices and remedy the torts caused to individuals and families.

Another legislative success of Obama’s is the Small Business Jobs Act of 2010.  Acknowledging the importance of small businesses in the structure of our economy, the Act aims at making financial resources available to them in a universe marked by credit drought, and propping them up as growth engine of the economy.

 President Obama’s Other Successes

By all standards, Obama has had a successful presidency so far.  Aside from his astounding legislative successes, he took decisive actions to assert his position as the Chief of the Executive branch and the Commander-in-Chief.  He ended combat operations in Iraq, technically ending the war—as he promised during his campaign for the presidency.  He restored the image of American diplomacy abroad by forging a new partnership with our allies, based on mutual respect and equity.  One of his first acts as President was the announcement of the dismantlement of the Guantanamo Prison, a symbol of a United States estranged from its famed principles of due process.  From Cairo, he tendered the olive palm to the Muslim world and engaged it in the struggle against AL Qaeda, hoping to throw a wedge between the majority of the Muslims and the few radical elements of Islam.  From his first trip abroad to Canada, he showed the new engaging side of the American diplomacy.  While his presidency was in its infancy, he showed the world how prepared he was to engage the international press corps and his command of facts.  Later on, his trips to Europe and Asia unveiled a side of the American presidency these countries had not seen for a decade…   He brought America back to the world as a reliable, respectful, confident partner.  Notable successes marked his foreign policy; the historic treaty he signed last April with President Medvedev of Russia on the reduction and non-proliferation of nuclear weapons—something that eluded many an American Administration before him—is noteworthy.  He redefined our strategic relationship with Pakistan, making that country a more reliable partner in the fight against Al-Qaeda and the Taliban.  He scored more successes against these two organizations—Al-Qaeda, in particular, whose leadership has come under increasing attacks from our military.  More Al-Qaeda leaders have been struck By Obama than Bush.  Pakistan has never been more cooperative, thanks to his pressure and new standards for accountability.  The Middle East is relatively calm.  There have been no eruptions or punitive incursions into Gaza, Ramallah, or southern Lebanon–the likes of which we witnessed during last decade and brought along utter destruction to these populations.  There is still a standstill in Iran, but through diplomatic pressure, he is rallying more international support to his position toward sanction.  North Korea is still at the negotiation table.  In Soudan, Congo, and Nigeria, the situation has not escalated.  We are not living the heightened state of nervousness that was so predominant in the past decade, when conflict hotbeds sprang from the world over and made the international scene into a keg of powder ready to explode at any moment…  If anything, Obama’s approach to foreign policy has calmed spirits down.  This approach is more strategic than tactical, attacking the terrorist network from all angles, cutting supply routes, obliterating their safe havens, etc.  Other domestic successes have been relegated to oblivion.  How can we forget the fanfare that surrounded H1N1, the porcine flu crisis of 2009?  H1N1 was christened by the World Health Organization (WHO), an agency of the United Nations, as a pandemic and took the lives of some 17,000 people worldwide.  The airwaves were invaded by media organs poised to make it Obama’s crisis and to draw a parallel with Bush’s Katrina.  This was a test for Obama’s preparedness. So swift and deliberate was his response that the crisis never reached the pandemic proportions that were predicted:  vaccines were developed, stocks of them made available, vaccinations scheduled.  The whole thing died down and dissipated from everyone’s memory, so that in August 2010 WHO declared the crisis over.  How quickly do we forget!  Obama’s command of the issues was on display when he faced the House Republicans’ questions on healthcare at their retreat.  When they invited him on short notice at the heart of the healthcare debate to the lion’s den, there was no telling that the Republicans’ intent was clearly to embarrass him.  However, analysts were unanimous in their assessment that Obama schooled John Boehner and consorts in their own backyard.  That episode showed how knowledgeable, confident, secure and brave he could be, and that he had what we expect of a President.  Never mind that Carl Rove thought he was arrogant!

 The Conservative Opposition Axis

Despite these stunning successes, President Obama’s Party stands to lose its majority in Capitol Hill; the Republicans are winning the message battle. Recent polls suggest that the American electorate favors them over the Democrats 55% to 45%.   That the GOP managed such a reversal two years after suffering a crushing defeat at the polls is a testimony to its craft.  And that the voters suddenly became oblivious of the fact that the Republicans’ unruly policies brought the country to the edge of the abyss is incomprehensible.   Most disheartening is the timidity shown by the Democrats to the point of letting the GOP steal their thunder.  By the time of President Obama’s inauguration, the Democratic camp was beaming with optimism and exultation:  technically, they enjoyed a filibuster-proof majority of sixty votes in the Senate—58 Democrats plus 2 independents who caucus with them—an advantage that would guarantee legislative passage of the White House agenda.  Alas, the Democrat’s elation proved to be short-lived.  The Republicans, who emerged from the 2008 debacle as a decapitated Party, saw that void quickly filled by right-wing radio personality Rush Limbaugh.  The conservative commentator found himself at the helm of the Republican machine, vociferating insults and his hope that Obama failed.  His voice was so powerful that no one in the Republican camp showed the backbone to stand to his outrageous remarks and far-fetched theories.  The few who dared call him out on his deleterious rhetoric had to crawl to his feet the next day to make amends and beg for mercy—including the Chairman of the Republican Party, Michael Steele.  Limbaugh’s voice found an echo in the ranks of the Tea Party movement, mobilized against the rescue of the financial sector, the auto industry, and the economic Stimulus package.  The Republicans also benefited from the unequivocal support of the Fox Network to the cause of opposing the Obama Administration.  Rupert Murdoch’s network offered the Republicans a rallying platform from which they could reach out to their millions of viewers.  That was the first time in the media annals of the U.S. a major media outlet has so openly sided with a political party and against a Washington Administration.  To this, the Democrats had no response; they were caught off-guard.  If they thought that their electoral success would have stymied Fox’s influence in the national political discourse, they had then badly miscalculated.  Never before had a media organ so overtly thrown its weight in the balance of the electoral process, and the shaping of policy.  Once again, the Democrats have proven unable to hold a majority in Congress.

The powerful Limbaugh-Tea Party-Fox axis caught the Democrats flat-footed, and empowered the Republican Party to the point that it is in serious contention to reclaim the majority in at least one chamber on Capitol Hill.  This axis acts as the head of the Party.  With such backing, the Republicans could afford to be the Party of NO–No to the Stimulus, No to healthcare reform, No to the dismantlement of the Guantanamo prison, No to financial reform, No to small business credit, No to student loan reform, No to immigration reform, No to energy reform, No to gays in the military, No to extending unemployment benefits, No to closing the tax loopholes benefiting companies exporting jobs overseas.  They have blocked key cabinet level nominations, deferred indefinitely the confirmation of high-level judicial appointees.  They have used the “filibuster” weapon routinely to kill legislations.  In the past, such obstructionist posture was never considered a virtue in American politics; it would have valued the perpetrators the wrath of the voters.   Not this time, however, because their obstructionism is powered by the high voltage of an influential media outlet that makes no apology for openly opposing the White House. 

 Discontent in Democratic Ranks

President Obama’s constituencies, for their part, put up no credible fight against the mounting assaults of the right wing media and their acolytes. They make no secret of their lack of enthusiasm during this election season, in sharp contrast with the mass support they gave Candidate Obama two years earlier and that ensured his Presidency. They are as perturbed by the President’s stubbornly centrist position as frustrated by his courtship of the Republicans despite their overt strategy to torpedo his initiatives.   How did they get to that point?  In the eyes of the Democratic Left, Obama committed some “sins” deemed inexpiable.  That side of the Party is viscerally “anti-Cheney” and longs for the day when the former Vice-President is tried for crime against humanity for being the cheerleader-in-chief of the unwarranted Iraq war. These democrats were dismayed over the President’s meddling in the province of the Attorney-General and preempting Eric Holder’s possible strike against Dick Cheney.   Obama hinted at the very beginning of his Presidency that his Administration should not pursue the indictment of officials of the Bush Administration for falsifying the intelligence in the run-up to the Iraq war.  By extending this olive branch to the Republicans, he was hoping that they would see it as a goodwill gesture on his part and win their vote on key legislations.  Liberal Democrats would have none of it:  indicting Cheney was paramount, as he was the architect of the Iraq folly that cost so much in blood, treasure, and world peace.  They equated Obama’s action to naïveté, pandering to the Republicans, and compromising on the very principles upon which he built his campaign—Change, Openness, Transparence.  For them, this fool-hardy and reckless act that took the lives of so many human beings (Americans and Iraqis) was worthy of prosecution to ensure that never again the Executive abuses its power, usurps the prerogatives of the other branches of government, and bilks the American people to fulfill its fantasies–Dick Cheney was to be put on trial, pure and simple.  That Obama tried to thwart this natural outcome was tantamount to treason.  Treason toward the ideals that animated his campaign.  Treason toward the principles he vowed to uphold as President.  Constitutional Law purists were disturbed by his political posturing on the matter, the more of it that he was a Constitutional Law professor.  By short-circuiting the action of his Attorney-General, he himself over-stepped his constitutional boundaries; he interfered with the activity of the Attorney-General’s office who, supposedly, is independent from the White House.  It was also at a time when a Court in Spain took an unprecedented step in indicting Cheney in absentia for crime against humanity.  Currently, the Spaniards have an arrest warrant against Cheney, if he ever steps foot on their territory.  The left was hoping that the Obama Administration would follow suit.  This pass to the Right has in effect emboldened Cheney himself who was defiant, and taunted the White House at every opportunity he had, leveling criticism against the President and undermining his Administration’s efforts.

The relations between Obama and his natural allies were further soured by the healthcare debate, when he walked away from the Public Option.   The Left was of the opinion that the plenipotentiary healthcare industry, led by insurance companies and pharmaceuticals needed another force to counter their power.  That force was a “Public Option”—a non-profit public insurance company that would be able to compete with the insurance industry and offer a viable alternative to ever-rising premiums, selective coverage and discriminatory practices.  Only a public option, the Liberal aisle of the Party argued, could hold the healthcare industry in check, break its monopolistic power, force it to lower costs and abandon its nefarious practices.  without that, the Liberals go on, it is wishful thinking that the almighty insurance industry will relinquish their profit and voluntarily cut costs.  Obama buckled down under pressure from the united front presented by the Republicans.  To salvage the bill, he renounced the public option to the chagrin of Liberal Democrats.  Aside from the Republicans, Obama had to contend with some restive elements of his own Party:  the “Blue Dogs”, conservative Democrats from Republican and Independent districts who tend to vote alongside the Republicans and boast their independence from party line.  In the Senate, these Blue Dogs held significant sway because they were key to the magic 60 votes necessary for safe passage of any legislation.  Sixty Democratic votes, the so-called filibuster-proof majority, could defeat any Republican attempt to derail the legislative process even when every single one of their members would vote against a bill introduced by the Democrats.  So, the Blue Dogs had considerable political capital, which they used to hold the Party hostage.  Time and again, they aligned with the Republican Minority against the passage of key Democratic legislations.  Obama and Harry Reid, the Senate Majority Leader, courted the “Blue Dogs” especially when it became clear that they would not win the support of a single Republican to pass the healthcare overhaul bill. At that juncture, the Left cried out for Reconciliation—a legislative process that requires a simple majority of 51 votes in the Senate as opposed to the 60, subject to a ratifying vote by the House of Representatives.  Again Obama discarded the voice of the Left and insisted on passing the bill with 60 votes.  One of the Blue Dogs, Senator Ben Nelson of Nebraska, who was instrumental to the passage of the legislation, held out until he obtained special Medicaid concessions for his constituents.  This was denounced by people from all political persuasions as a “backroom” deal, as a symbol of what Washington stood for.  Such a controversial move tarnished Obama’s image of change promoter.  Ironically, the courtship of the Blue dogs proved to be unnecessary:  the fragile majority of 60 was broken by the surprise election of the Republican Scott Brown in Massachusetts to occupy Ted Kennedy’s seat in the Senate.  This humiliating defeat of the Democrats almost threw healthcare reform out the window.  To save the bill, the Democrats were forced to resort to Reconciliation, after having so vehemently opposed it.  The bill passed and signed into law by the President in March 2010.  However, it was a watered-down, emasculated bill that was more an insurance reform than true healthcare reform.  This left a sour taste in the mouth of the Democrats to the left, such as Howard Dean. 

The Left’s disillusion with Obama was exacerbated by his decision to allow oil drilling in some coastal areas of the countries.  In their estimation, he caved in one more time to the criticism of the “Drill, Baby, Drill” choir headed by the Sara Palins, Dick Cheneys of the world.  This was a clear breach of the understanding he had with his supporters not to go that route.  The mantra of his energy policy was to reduce our dependency on fossil fuels, move away from drilling, and develop new sources of energy.  Liberal Democrats find it difficult to grant him attenuating circumstances as regards “Don’t ask don’t tell”, still in effect in the Military.  If anything, they are confused by the mixed signals he has sent lately regarding the fate of the policy of admitting gays to the Military.

 The Republican Alternative

 Obama’s public stand against the desiderata of the Left did not sit well with the latter, who threatens to sit out the election.  If such threats were to materialize, what would it mean for the Obama agenda? What is the alternative proposed by the Republicans?  What do they stand for?

One clear thing is the penury of Republican ideas.  Their panacea to the woes afflicting our economy is none other than… Tax Cuts.   Against the number one economic issue marking the slow recovery of the American economy—an unemployment rate of almost 10%–they are again proposing the Almighty Tax Cuts to the top 2% of the population.  In their thinking, such tax benefits should trickle down to the common mortals in the form of jobs and personal income growth.  Recent history of the decade just past proves this to be a fallacy.  Two rounds of tax cuts enacted by George W. Bush did virtually nothing in net job creation and were marked by a decline in net personal income.  Yet again, the GOP is asking for a chance to do it over. The tax cut formula has not worked before and will not work this time either.  These tax benefits incentivize the recipients of big piles of cash to invest in blue chip stocks on Wall Street.  Large and mature corporations such as blue chips do not create jobs; on the contrary, they shed jobs.  Blue chips typically operate in saturated and highly competitive markets, where growth in their core operations is limited due to the shrinking of market share. Their formula for growth relies on mergers and acquisitions.  Once their cash flows or their balance sheets improve, they seek out takeover targets. And as soon the takeover is finalized, they look for synergies. Simply put, in the synergistic model 1 plus 1 equals 3–which may sound aberrant; in fact, it means that, if carefully calibrated, a takeover can be so transformative that 2 people should be able to do a job originally done by 3.  Usually, when put to the test, workers react along the lines of such expectation.  This can be explained by a variety of factors: psychological pressure (fear of being next), personal drive, learning curve effect (productivity gain resulting from experience), and technological advances.  When this mix works, companies achieve the same or higher level of output even with less headcount.  So, the synergistic effect of mergers, acquisitions, buyouts, takeovers is loss of jobs.  Statistics bears this theory out.  Nothing excites Wall Street more than the prospect of headcount reduction or layoffs.  Note that every time a publicly traded company announces layoffs, its stock price follows with an upswing move.  They may use such terms as restructuring, reengineering, rightsizing.  In Wall Street parlance, it all equates to layoffs, early retirement—which will cause stock prices to go up.  As an October 3, 2010 article of the Wall Street Journal “Propelling the Profit Comeback: Retooling, Downsizing” indicated, all those profits have been achieved thanks to layoffs and downsizing.  

The Republicans are rehashing the policies that basically killed jobs in the past decade.  From July 1999 to July 2009, virtually on George W. Bush’s watch, the annual job growth rate declined from 2% to .01%.  Net job creation amounted to a paltry 121,000 out of a labor force of 109 million, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics.  Still according to the BLS, from 2000 to 2008 (the Bush years), 369,000 new private jobs were created.  Compare this to the 1.7 million created from 1992 to 2000 during the Clinton era.  In terms of jobs lost during the Bush years, the manufacturing industry topped all sectors with a whopping 3 million (Source: Reuters, State of the Union 2008:  By the Numbers).  This article shows some revealing statistics that make one wonder, “What are the American people thinking?”  This was happening while mergers and acquisitions were at their heyday, and Bush “demanded a refund on behalf of the taxpayers” and filled the pockets and coffers of rich Americans and Blue Chips.  All this happened at the height of an Administration reputed for its pro-business stance, its penchant for an unregulated economic environment, for its laissez-faire attitude that brought the country to the edge of the precipice.  If jobs were created during the Bush years, they were overseas.  Bush’s economic policies  eased the way for these companies to ship jobs overseas—manufacturing to China, services to India– and allow them to move from the high costs of doing business here (mainly due to the increasing costs of healthcare) to low-wage, environmentally-deficient, non-unionized overseas labor markets.  What it all means for the Republicans—and that is why they are fighting tooth and nail  to make these tax cuts permanent and promote even more of them–is the prospect of increased profits, higher dividends for their rich constituencies.

Playing up the populist card, the Republicans accuse the Democrats of promoting class warfare and resort to such buzzwords as “Socialism” or “Socialist medicine” to rally gullible folks to their inflammatory rhetoric. The fact of the matter is, under Obama, corporate profits have risen to historic proportions.  Quarter after quarter, corporate profits have risen.  According to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, a unit from the Commerce Department, corporations posted an increase in profits of $196 billion in the first six months of this year.  In absolute terms, corporate profits are on pace to reach $1.2 trillion by year’s end.    Corporate cash flows increased by $61 billion in the second quarter and $33 billion in the first.  It is estimated that companies are hoarding some $1.6 trillion in cash (New York Times, October 5, 2010).  The argument in the opposing camp is that the anti-business climate instituted by the Obama Administration makes it difficult for companies to invest at this time.  How disingenuous!   Larry Summers, Chairman of Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers, protested the anti-business label the Right and Wall Street attempt to affix to the President’s image, and affirmed that since 2008, corporate profits have grown 65% (Business Week, June 24, 2010.) But do not expect these companies to engage in any investment spree or hiring anytime soon.  They are hiding behind all sorts of pretexts.  First, it was the healthcare legislation which was stuck in Congress.  Healthcare has passed; yet no action on their part.  Secondly, they could not do anything until the financial reform bill was enacted.  Financial Reform was passed in the summer; still no action on their part. At this juncture, these companies are sitting on the sidelines, with their list of take-over targets, waiting for the situation to clear.  They are not venturing into the economic fray, convinced as they are that the Obama Administration’s current focus on regulation deters their corporate ambitions and that they will receive their tax cut from the Republicans. They see no value in aiding Obama’s economic initiatives.  In fact, they are not exactly sitting idle, relying on heavenly manna; they are actively working toward the downfall of the Democratic Congress.  The Supreme Court gave them the tools to do so when earlier this year it rendered its infamous decision on Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission allowing unrestricted flow of corporate funds into the electoral process, thus affirming the “First Amendment rights” of corporations and rich individuals. These two groups are throwing the weight of their treasury into the race and supporting en masse Republican fundraising efforts.  Rupert Murdoch, Fox News Chairman, for his part injected an unprecedented $1 million into the coffers of the Republican apparatchik.

 Turning the Clock Back vs. Moving Forward

One thing remains certain:  unemployment will remain high for at least for another year, regardless of which Party gets control of Congress in January 2011.  The real choice is between yesteryear rehashes and tomorrow’s solutions.  The economic landscape is quickly changing and calls for new growth paradigms.  The problems confronting us are structural.  Short-term gimmicks will not address the long-term challenges of a global economy.   To use an analogy, the scars are so deep that many reconstructive surgeries will be necessary to bring the face back to normal.  To tackle tomorrow’s challenges and ready ourselves for the new economy, now is the time to work on the necessary structures.  The jobs of the future will not necessarily be in the traditional sectors.    Through proper structures put in place, the U.S. can position itself for competitive advantage in the search for, and commercialization of, new energy technologies.  Already, China and Germany, two countries that came out of the recession in a relatively strong position, are heavily investing in new energy areas.   A “Drill, Baby, Drill” 112th Congress with a Republican majority is out of step with this reality.  A Republican Congress, whose economic plan revolves only around tax cuts, is bound to miss out on tomorrow’s economic opportunities.  A Republican Congress with strong ties with the Tea Party movement will likely view government spending as a heresy.   In this context, however, government has a role to play in chartering a new course for the nation’s future, in channeling resources towards areas of real growth and economic prosperity, yet mindful of environmental impact.  Let us forget not that the history of the internet goes back to government involvement—smart government.  The Republicans want to turn the clock back.  We need to move forward with healthcare reform and not repeal it.  Our infrastructures need to be upgraded; the painful specter of collapsing bridges, the likes of which we witnessed in Minnesota some three years ago, will continue to haunt our memories and possibly recur.  Tax cuts, in and of themselves, do not fix bridges, or build roads.  In this climate, it is incumbent upon government to make the structural changes susceptible to prepare the United States for the challenges of the new world.  This preparation involves significant investments in research–medical, environmental, energy, spatial, technological.  The other tenet of the preparation lies in educational reform. Never mind that the Republicans, in their retrograde thinking, want to wrest education out of Washington’s purview to put it within the States’.  That would work:  fifty separate and for sure unequal standards–Can’t beat that!

 Shed No Tears!

No Administration counted so many high-stake legislative achievements in its first twenty months in the White House with so little preparation time:  the Stimulus package, health insurance overhaul, tax cuts for incomes under $250 thousand, rescue package of the auto industry, financial reform, small business jobs bill, among others.  Yet, Obama faces challenges from all sides of the political spectrum.  Various interest groups from his own Party take issue with him.  They feel that their agenda was preempted by his focus on the economy and healthcare.  Gays and Latinos do not hide their displeasure that “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” and Immigration had been slighted.  The Liberals take exception to the unwarranted concessions he made to the Republicans on healthcare and financial reforms.  The fact of the matter is that taking on immigration and gay issues at a time the country was reeling from its economic woes would not be a good way to expend political capital.  The most strident criticisms of the President come, of course, from the Opposition axis—Republicans, Tea Party, Fox News.  This Axis showed how prolific and effective it can be when it comes to personal attacks on the President’s legitimacy, to giving large audience to the idiotic Birthers movement, or to opposing his agenda.  By contrast, in terms of its political and economic arena, the right wing Axis displays a striking penury of ideas.  (Remember the flimsy Republican healthcare plan in response to the Democrats’:  a few pages.)  There are, for all practical purposes, two themes that are dear to the Republicans.  They emerge from their positions: the ubiquitous tax cuts and reduction of the size of government.  Their contention that tax cuts can resolve the unemployment problem is fallacious.  Statistics on the Bush years contradict such assertion.  Federal deficits are an important issue to contend with.   At the heart of their hypocrisy is their fight to prolong George Bush’s tax cuts to the wealthiest, which will add to the deficits.  Most disappointing is the attitude of the incumbent Democrats who chose not to run on the President’s and their own achievements.  They are reluctant to stick to a cause, no matter how noble.  Reforming healthcare, reducing the ranks of uninsureds, offering the little guy well-deserved protection from the abuses of the all-powerful insurance industry—that is a cause worth fighting for.  Holding Wall Street accountable, protecting consumers from the exactions of credit card companies, implementing much needed regulations to insure against executives’ greed and reckless risk-taking—that is a just cause.  Extending unemployment benefits for those out of work against the will of the Republicans who at the same time want to extend the tax cuts for the rich—this is the courageous and right thing to do.  Giving college students a break by increasing Pell Grants, cutting the banks out of this business, and granting better payment terms – that is the fair thing to do.   Taking on powerful special interest groups opposed to a new environment policy, new energy initiatives that brighten our long-term economic prospects, while improving quality of life on the planet—that is the intelligent thing to do.  Legislating on shutting down tax loopholes that allow big business to ship jobs overseas and leave large swaths of unemployed in urban labor markets—that is the sensible thing to do.  Instead of campaigning on these achievements and noble attempts, the Democrats recoiled in the face of the uninhibited Republican attacks hell-bent on fixing a socialist epithet on such actions.  But, these are all noble causes worth fighting for.  Worth losing a Congressional seat for.  Should they fall, let it be with a bang! At least they will have the courage of their convictions.  How unfortunate is it that the Democrats, in their infinite cowardice, distanced themselves from the President and the causes that strike at the very core of Democratic ideals!  It is pitiful that, instead of engaging the Republicans on these terrains, they saw it safer to indulge in character assassination—like in Kentucky, where the Democratic candidate revived the silly Aqua Buddha story from his opponent’s college years in an attempt to win votes.  This is a page from Karl Rove’s political smear book, for God’s sake!  On that score, the Democrats deserve to lose.  And no one should shed a tear over their loss.  And, who knows!  President Obama might even do better without them at the helm.  After all, he knows how to succeed against the odds.   He shall triumph.  Again!

In my personal observation, human beings are of two kinds:  those who spare themselves and those who dare themselves.  That President Obama was willing to expend so much political capital on such controversial pieces of legislation so early in his term speaks to his dedication to the task of leading the destiny of the nation in difficult times, irrespective of the consequences for himself.  As such, he belongs in the category of those who dare themselves.  For that alone, he deserves high marks.  If we add the list of his successes, controversial as they may be, his Presidency has so far been impressive.  Any other President with his record of achievements in such a short tenure would have been elevated to the firmament of American politics.  That he, instead, draws the ire, the suspicion, or the unease (euphemism for… hatred) of so many, particularly from the Right makes you go…  Hmmm!  What is behind all that?





Réflexions d’un Ancien du Petit Séminaire Collège St Martial

              Mon très bon ami, Joël Duré, a attiré mon attention sur un article qui a paru sur Pikliz concernant le départ en août 1969 de nos anciens professeurs du Petit Séminaire Collège St Martial (PSCSM), les Pères du Saint-Esprit.  Il sait que je prends cet incident tant à cœur qu’il a suggéré que je lise cet article et opine là-dessus. Duré n’a pas été témoin de cet épisode tragique de l’histoire du Séminaire, car il devait lui-même partir d’Haïti en cette même année, son départ ayant précédé celui des Spiritains de quelques mois. Je lui ai parlé à plusieurs reprises de ce que leur départ représentait pour nous qui étions en Haïti en ce temps-là au cours de nos entretiens à Chicago, où je vis, lors de courtes visites qu’il y a effectuées pour revoir ses parents.  De plus, je viens de lire, par le biais de notre ami Guy Occident, un article du Père Urfié publié sur Haïti en Marche, intitulé « L’Expulsion des Spiritains ».  Ce témoignage émouvant m’a incité à offrir ma perspective sur cet événement combien bouleversant de notre vie d’étudiants.  Mais surtout il m’a donné l’occasion de faire le bilan de l’enseignement reçu au Séminaire, et l’ambiance dans laquelle cet enseignement était fourni.

              J’étais à Marbial, une bourgade de Jacmel, prenant mes ébats de vacancier quand un ami m’annonça que « Duvalier fout Pè’yo deyo pou kominis ».  De prime abord, je ne l’ai pas cru, m’imaginant qu’il s’agissait d’une de ces plaisanteries de mauvais aloi dont il était fameux.  Bien qu’il m’ait affirmé qu’il avait entendu l’annonce « de ses deux oreilles » sur les ondes de sa « radio portative », je n’y’ai pas fait foi pensant qu’il y avait une part d’exagération, que peut-être il s’agissait d’un malentendu, ou, tout au plus, d’un incident mineur.  Ce n’était qu’à mon retour à Port-au-Prince, quelques semaines avant la rentrée scolaire, que j’ai pu me rendre compte de l’envergure de la décision du Pouvoir.  Dans un premier temps, le gouvernement de Duvalier expulsa les prêtres haïtiens (Adrien, Verdieu, Claude, Poux, Dominique, Smarth) pour soi-disant activités subversives.  En témoignage de solidarité, les prêtres étrangers décidèrent de les suivre. Un coup terrible nous fut ainsi assené— à nous qui étions assoiffés de culture et de connaissances. Personnellement, j’ai senti qu’on m’avait coupé de mon passé et ravi mon futur.  Un passé dont j’étais si fier et jaloux.  Et un futur si prometteur.

              Ce passé était fortement imprégné de l’influence des spiritains.  Je revois l’enceinte du Séminaire où  j’avais évolué depuis la Onzième, grandi sous l’égide de professeurs tels que St Louis, Innocent, Thomas à la section primaire et sous l’œil scrutateur du Père Préfet Esrich qui ne se départait pas de son petit gourdin qu’il tenait dans ses mains croisées derrière le dos.  Je revis ce passé émaillé de souvenirs tant heureux que malheureux—s’agissait-il des bagarres ou des scènes pugilistiques aux abords de l’église ou près de la Maison des Pères, ou des matchs de football interclasses sur la cour de recréation durant l’intermède de la mi-journée, ou de mes deux valises d’écolier que j’étais fait voler en jouant aux billes après la sortie de 4 heures moins cinq, ou des courses aux robinets après les séances de sport du professeur Mérimée.  Sans oublier ces moments de rigolade, d’insouciance, d’écervellement passés en compagnie de compagnons tels que Jean-Baptiste (JB, Désinor, Brisson, Martinez, Cadet, Léon-Emile, José, Brunet, Ambroise, Lionel Paul, Legrand, Guirand, Garçon, Lauture, Allen, Vaval, pour ne citer que ceux-là ! Je me souviens encore de mes stations au piquet sur le carreau de mosaïque devant la Préfecture pour infractions à la discipline par suite desquelles j’écopais d’un des matraquages d’Esrich. 

              N’était les cours de religion assumés par les PèresVerdieu et Schmidt, autant qu’il m’en souvienne, notre passage au Primaire n’était pas fortement marqué par interactions avec les Pères.  Sauf, eh oui, une session d’éducation sexuelle en 7ème avec… Esrich lui-même, où nous avons exploré la transition à l’âge pubère et les transformations physiques qui en découlaient. Nous avons découvert avec ébahissement et délectation les descriptions et fonctions des organes sexuels.  A part la classe de religion, tous les cours étaient dispensés par des professeurs laïcs, bien entendu dans le cadre de la philosophie pédagogique des spiritains, à savoir la compréhension par opposition a la mémorisation. En effet, je ne me souviens pas d’une seule instance ou je devais mémoriser des textes entiers pour les débiter en face de mes professeurs. 

              Au Secondaire, le contact avec les Pères était beaucoup plus direct et soutenu. Ils enseignaient pas mal de nos cours.  On se souvient très bien des cours de français, latin et grec dispensés par les Pères Bertho, Claude, Le Gall, Dominique entre autres, de mathématiques par Schneider (Chado) et Schumacher, de chimie par Urfié, de sciences naturelles et espagnol par Gasser, philosophie par Gisler, entre autres. Certes, à leurs côtés évoluaient des professeurs laïcs.  Qui ne se souvient de Ti Baptiste, de sa calligraphie, de ses « Locutions Usuelles », de son sarcasme accompagné d’un sourire moqueur ? Plus d’un était la cible de son humour et de ses railleries-tels un Kerlegrand : « Voilà un homme qui habite à 15 kilomètres de l’Arcahaie et qui se dit ‘arcahaiaque’ », ou l’allemand Helmut Andersen qui dans une de ses classes n’arrêtait pas de chuchoter et à qui il lança : « La ferme, Fritz de malheur ! » Baptiste, qui était un puriste, se plaignait des séances de torture auxquelles mes élocutions le soumettaient.  Il menaça de me dénoncer à l’Académie Française comme « assassin de la langue » tant mon français était « exécrable ». Un des moments les plus prisés et hilarants de ses cours était marqué par « les perles de la semaine ».  Ces perles consistaient en fautes de grammaire et créolismes qu’il avait découverts au cours des corrections de devoirs de français.  Une de ses trouvailles, qu’il a pris grand plaisir à lire pour la classe, était le récit d’un combat entre un chien et un chat décrit par Beaulieu, d’où il a extrait l’expression « Mimi éclaire ses yeux sur Médor » ; ceci suscita un grand éclat de rire.  Nous nous amusions tout aussi bien aux dépens de Tibo, et il l’acceptait volontiers : une des recettes héritées des promotions précédentes était de conjuguer le verbe latin « tibare » (une invention, bien sur) à l’indicatif présent–tibo, tibas, tibat, tibamus, TIBATIS,tibant.  Il souriait de notre ingéniosité. De Ti Baptiste nous avons retenu la perfection du style, l’emploi judicieux des mots, l’usage correct de la concordance des temps dont j’essaie ici de me passer de peur de ne paraître guindé.  Et je suis sûr qu’il en aurait pas mal à redire ici.

              Par contre, personne n’osait se permettre des familiarités avec Lespinasse qui enseignait les mathématiques en 4ème et 3ème.  Surnommé Bibi, à cause de son biceps imposant, l’irascible Lespinasse ne tolérait pas de remous dans sa classe. L’ordre et la discipline y régnaient.  Ils devaient également se manifester dans les devoirs et examens d’algèbre et de géométrie. J’entends encore sa voix répéter son fameux « Par hypothèse ». A l’entendre, on eût dit que le mot s’épelait « hypothèzzzzzz ». Pour comique que cette habitude ait été, personne ne prenait la chance d’en rire ; on ne pouvait qu’échanger des regards furtifs et contenir nos rires pour la fin de la classe. De mon côté, je prenais note de ses tics et expressions favorites en vue de l’imiter durant la récréation.   De Bibi, nous avons retenu l’importance de la démarche logique si nécessaire à la résolution de problèmes, le goût de l’organisation et du travail soigné. 

           Pour ce qui était de l’art oratoire, la palme d’or revenait à Trouillot. Nous étions captivés par ses cours d’histoire d’Haïti, tenus en haleine par sa verve patriotique.  Ce qui nous faisait vibrer, c’était le crescendo qui accompagnait son ressassement pathétique des faits historiques qui ont culminé à notre Indépendance.  Typiquement, il débuterait avec l’Assemblée Constituante, passerait par le symbolisme du Bois Caiman, pour atteindre le paroxysme de l’émotion quand il vint à parler des exploits militaires et du génie administratif de Toussaint Louverture dont il était un fanatique.  Ses prestations étaient immanquablement suivies d’un torrent d’applaudissements, auxquels il essayait de se dérober, feignant l’humilité tout en arborant un petit sourire au coin de ses lèvres : « Vous savez bien que je n’aime pas ça, voyez-vous ? »  Trouillot a attisé notre ferveur patriotique et nous a inculqué l’amour de notre histoire.

              Enfin, que dire de J. Claude dont, soit dit en passant, j’avais aussi la réputation dans notre cercle d’amis d’être l’imitateur ? J. Claude enseignait le latin et le grec.  Il était aussi connu pour ses tirades contre le sport, qu’il jugeait une activité inutile. Il ridiculisait « ceux qui courent après le ballon. »  Sa mine rébarbative avait l’effet de nous tenir sur nos gardes. Je me rappelle qu’au tout début de l’année scolaire, il s’arrêta au milieu de son cours pour lancer cet avertissement : « J’avertis les élèves qui ont l’habitude de crier comme des animaux que, quand ils crient de la sorte—d’ailleurs j’ai déjà averti le père préfet, je les renverrai immédiatement du collège. Ils imitent tellement bien les animaux qu’il y a de quoi se tromper.  Est-ce une métamorphose ?Je ne sais pas. Mais les gens ont eu peur, croyant qu’ils étaient en présence de vrais animaux. » Ce qui nous attirait chez J. Claude, c’étaient ses tics et sautes d’humeur, que je trouvais si marrants que je n’arrêtais pas d’en rire.  Cela m’a valu l’épithète de Niaisus. Une fois, il remarqua que je riais par suite d’un de ces moments hilarants et lança ces propos à mon égard : « Il y en a qui ne peuvent pas ne pas étaler leurs dents.  On leur a surement dit que le Séminaire a besoin de gobe-mouches.  Je ne sais pas, moi ; le père Claude n’en a pas encore parlé. » J. Claude ne tolérait pas de remous dans sa classe.  Un jour, il s’en prit à Wawa qu’il surprit en train de bavarder avec Montasse ; il était tombé des nues: « Wawa qui fait du tapage dans ma classe ! Oooh! Qui aurait cru ça? Un p’tit bout d’homme comme ça!» Comprenez que Wawa était de petite taille (le plus petit de la classe).  Par contraste, Cayard était un grand gaillard (le plus grand de la classe) et d’une voix grave, si grave que ses moindres chuchottements étaient tout de même perceptibles.  Ceci le soumit à la foudre de J. Claude alors qu’il causait avec son voisin: « Mais écoutez, monsieur, respectez-vous ! Vous etes parmi des enfants! »

            Ces professeurs laïcs étaient encadrés par les pères.  D’ailleurs, maints d’entre eux étaient des anciens du PSCSM.  Bibi n’était pas, à l’instar de Baptiste et Trouillot, un ancien du PSCSM, mais il a été formé au creuset de la méthode de Shumacher qui, durant des stages d’été, lui a enseigné ses fascicules de mathématiques.  Baptiste, par exemple, ne ratait jamais l’occasion de payer un tribut de gratitude à Bertho qui lui a enseigné les belles-lettres. Nous autres, qui avions le plaisir de suivre ses cours de latin, faisions écho à l’enchantement de Baptiste.  En effet, dès la 5ème, nous avions couvert sous la tutelle de Bertho toute la grammaire latine, maîtrisé les subtilités de la syntaxe, appris les secrets de la construction latine de sorte que la traduction des textes, même les plus compliqués, ne posait pas de problème pour nous. Pour moi, qui jusqu’à la Seconde remportais toujours le prix de latin, la source de tels succès remontait aux cours de Bertho.

              Je ne peux en dire autant des mathématiques, qui n’étaient pas mon fort.  Toutefois, la base que nous avions acquise de Schneider (Chado) nous a permis une transition relativement aisée au système de Bibi. J’étais plutôt connu pour mes prouesses imitatives de Schneider au point de recevoir le sobriquet de « Chado ».  Son accent était fortement influencé par ses origines alsaciennes.  Par exemple, pour résoudre l’expression algébrique -6 + 18 = +12, il dirait : « six negatiff plus diss-houit possitiff égal douce possitiff. » Outre l’aspect ludique auquel se prêtaient les cours de Chado, notre base était assurée pour continuer notre éducation avec Bibi et Schumacher.  Je n’ai pas eu le plaisir d’avoir Schumacher en 2nde parce que j’ai été promu en 2ndeA à cause de mes démêlées avec la géométrie. J’aurais plus de mal à m’y adapterqu’au grec vu ma prédisposition pour les belles-lettres—c’était du moins l’argument que Le Gall me présenta pour me convaincre du bien-fondé de la décision de la direction des études.  De fait, la voie des mathématiques en 2nde B devait s’avérer ardue pour plus d’un, car Schumacher passait à une vitesse supérieure.  Je me rappelle la réponse que Cadet donna à Césaire qui s’enquérait de sa prestation durant un de ces exercices de Schum,  même les plus doués en math (Larco, Boisson, Mathon, Thomas, Bélisaire) n’avaient pas pu obtenir un score plus élevé que 65. Césaire demanda à Cadet : « Nan bagay sa-a, Cadet, venn konbyen ou fè ? »  Et Cadet, qui n’était pas toujours d’humeur à accepter une plaisanterie, de répondre sans hésitation : « Venn bouda’w ! »

              Je rendrai hommage au Père Le Gall, professeur de français, en 4ème et 3ème.  Il n’était point un puriste ou un technicien du langage, à l’image d’un Bertho ou d’un Baptiste. Avec lui, il s’agissait d’une tout autre conception. Si, en 4ème, il avait mis l’emphase sur l’imagination par le biais du récit et des images evocatives, par contre en 3ème c’était plutôt l’avènement du raisonnement et de l’esprit critique.  Je me rappelle deux de ces sujets, ou nous étions amenés à commenter l’expression « Pierre qui roule n’amasse pas mousse » ou cette pensée d’Anatole France « Les changements les plus souhaités ont leur mélancolie, » Je dois dire que, personnellement, je me trouvais dans mon bain et que cette approche permettait à ma plume de s’épanouir. De plus, Le Gall nous obligeait à lire. Et à lire les œuvres d’auteurs de renom. Cette obligation qu’il nous a imposée, les comptes-rendus écrits quis’ensuivaient et les inévitables devoirs de rédaction du vendredi avaient beaucoup aidé à la maturation de mon style. Et, autant que je sache, je n’ai pas été le seul à bénéficier de cette heureuse transition. Je ne saurais passer sous silence sa contribution à notre journal de classe.  En effet, de concert avec une équipe de rédaction dont je ne me rappelle plus qui faisait partie, il a travaillé à la parution de notre journal de classe, qui était un événement en soi. De très beaux articles avaient paru sous la plume d’un Balthazar, d’un Montasse, d’un Léon-Emile.  En ce temps-là, je n’en étais pas au point de publier des articles de valeur ; ma plume était en pleine période de gestation.

              Ces acquis nous avaient préparés pour la technique approfondie de la dissertation littéraire en 2nde avec le Père Le Thiès.  Ce dernier n’était pas spiritain ; il nous était venu de Jérémie, où il avait enseigné les belles-lettres pendant plusieurs années.  Le Thiès avait la distinction d’être un humoriste. Ses cours étaient dispensés dans une ambiance décontractée, où il utilisait l’humour comme un outil de transmission de connaissances.  Je me rappelle un de ses contes au sujet du mot crétin : « Au 17ème siècle, qualifier quelqu’un de crétin était une grave insulte.  C’était si sérieux que ça conduisait à un duel.  Dès qu’il y a duel, quelqu’un périt–soit le crétin lui-même… » Son talent comique était surtout en évidence quand, à lui seul, il jouait les personnages des pièces de Molière, Le Misanthrope et L’Avare.  De Le Thiès, nous avons retenu la fraîcheur de ses classes et la technique de la dissertation littéraire, surtout l’usage de la transition.

              Toutefois, l’influence la plus marquante sur notre vie d’adolescents a été sans conteste exercée par le Père Claude.  En 3ème, nous avions le privilège d’avoir de Ti Claude comme professeur de latin et de religion. En latin, outre le renforcement de la technique de traduction des textes, Ti Claude institua un concours, une sorte de bataille rangée entre équipes qui dura plusieurs jours et passa par étapes éliminatoires.  Cela nous portait à revoir toute la grammaire, de la déclinaison à la syntaxe et aux locutions latines.  Un des moments mémorables de la compétition survint quand l’équipe de Duré affronta celle d’Edvard Jean-Pierre ; Duré posa la question à Jean-Pierre : « Traduisez ‘Pas le moins du monde’. »  Après maintes réfections, Jean-Pierre finit par répondre, sans conviction : « Non minus mundi. »  La classe éclata de rire et l’équipe de Jean-Pierre fut éliminée.  A vrai dire, si j’avais été en finale contre Duré, je n’aurais pas gagné le premier prix parce que moi non plus je ne savais pas la réponse à cette question. Mais cela n’était qu’un aspect de l’esprit innovateur de Ti Claude.  C’était durant ses cours de religion que nous avons fait l’expérience la plus enrichissante de notre carrière d’étudiants.  Ces cours de religion prenaient plusieurs formes.  Car, avant tout, Ti Claude entendait former des hommes.  D’abord des « honnêtes hommes » ou « gentilhommes » qui , pour emprunter un terme de Montaigne, possédaient « des clartés de tout » ou qui fissent leur cette phrase de Térence « Homo sum ; nihil humanum mihi alienum. » (Je suis un homme ; rien de ce qui est humain ne saurait m’être étranger.)  En effet, il nous incitait à approfondir nos connaissances.  « Lisez », disait-il « tout ce qui vous tombent sous la main. » Ses cours de religion reflétaient cette diversité et curiosité intellectuelles.   A titre d’exemple, à une de ses classes sur le comportement humain, Ti Claude nous introduisit à la psychanalyse de Freud et aux concepts de « moi social », « subconscient » ou « ça ».  Il dédia une autre classe à la théorie des « archétypes » d’Adler et à la notion « fonds commun universel » de Carl Gustav Jung. Une autre s’attacha à la génétique de Mendel, au concept de l’hérédité.  Une autre s’adressa au processus de reproduction humaine, où il nous enseigna les concepts de XX et XY chromosomes, les processus d’ovulation et de fécondation. Son objectif primordial était la formation d’individus appelés à vivre en communauté et dont le devoir était de comprendre cette communauté.  Mais surtout, Ti Claude visait à la formation d’hommes.  D’hommes « à part entière ». D’hommes tant soucieux de leur épanouissement personnel qu’imbus de leur mission sociale. Pour lui, l’éducation ne devait pas être seulement un outil d’adaptation ou de promotion sociale de l’individu à son milieu ; elle se devait d’être un catalyseur de changement, un instrument de conscientisation, de sensibilisation aux problèmes sociaux qui nous entouraient. L’homme ne saurait atteindre la plénitude de son épanouissement personnel, de son humanisme, si en même temps il ne prenait en mains ses responsabilités sociales, s’il faisait la sourde oreilles aux cris des démunis, s’il se désolidarisait de la condition des « laissés pour compte », des « damnés de la terre. » Voilà ce qu’un cours de religion de Ti Claude signifiait.  Une foire d’idées.  Un forum où l’on pouvait débattre de tout, remettre en question les idées reçues, comme il l’avait fait lui-même. (Il n’était pas particulièrement enthousiasmé par les changements liturgiques que Vatican avaient instaurés ; il nous l’avait fait savoir.)  Qui aurait cru que la crainte de Ti Claude durant les premières années du Secondaire eut pu céder le pas à l’aisance dans nos rapports avec lui ?  Rapports tels que nous pouvions apprécier son sens de l’humour.  A l’un de ses cours où le thème de l’ordre devait être étudié, il commença par poser la question : « Qui est le responsable de l’ordre dans cette classe ? »  Nacier et un autre (dont je ne me souviens pas) se levèrent. Et Ti Claude de dire, l’air pensif : « Ah bon !  Vous êtes deux ordres ! » Derrière cet humour subtile et ce jeu de mots judicieux, il y avait néanmoins un message sérieux sur l’importance de la coordination des efforts pour mener à bien l’objectif visé.  C’était un moyen pour rappeler à ces « deux ordres » que le désordre pourrait s’établir s’ils ne coordonnaient pas leurs efforts. Sans doute le moment le plus mémorable de notre expérience avec Ti Claude était celui ou nous devions élire notre conseil de classe. Je me souviens que Léon-Emile était en lice pour la présidence contre Martinez (Louis-Charles m’a rappelé qu’il s’agissait de Martinez et non de Montasse, comme je l’avais antérieurement rapporté.)  C’était en filigranes une expression d’engagement politique, où les brigueurs des sièges se livraient à une vraie campagne électorale et les votes au scrutin étaient tenus secrets.   Il s’agissait d’une course acharnée où, programmes à l’appui, les deux antagonistes se livraient à fond à la bataille électorale. Enfin de compte, Léon-Emile devait finir par l’emporter. Pour Ti Claude, la capacité de choisir était un des attributs fondamentaux de la liberté humaine. Cette leçon a été bien retenue par l’une de nos promotions ainées.  Un jour, il lui laissa la liberté de choisir de rester dans sa classe.  La majorité des elèves se levèrent et sortirent.  Ce geste l’avait frappé au point de le pousser à démissionner de son poste de préfet ; cependant, par la suite, il avait compris qu’il avait accompli sa tâche d’éducateur d’hommes.  Cette marque que Ti Claude avait imprimée sur nos jeunes années est indélébile.

              Notre passage au PSCSM était aussi marqué par les solides amitiés que nous y avons formées. A St Martial, il y avait deux points d’entrée au Secondaire : la 6ème et la Philo.  Les pères avaient institué un processus de décantation en 6ème et 5ème, de sorte que si l’on avait survécu la 5ème, on était pratiquement assuré de poursuivre sans interruption avec les mêmes copains jusqu’à la philo. Rares étaient les cas où des compagnons étaient tombés après la 5ème. (Pour ma part, j’avais redoublé la 5ème).  La 4ème représentait un tournant dans ce processus de raffermissement des liens d’amitié que nous avions tissés entre nous.  Cette classe occupera toujours une place de choix dans ma vie d’étudiant au PSCSM. Jusqu’à la 4ème, il n’y avait pas de véritable unité entre nous.  Nous étions un amalgame, des groupements disparates qui se formaient sur la base de nos extractions sociales.  Tout cela allait changer en 4ème.  Le catalyseur de ce changement était notre retraite à Kenscoff chez les Wawa en vue de notre Confirmation.  Ces trois jours à Kenscoff où l’on vivait ensemble, mangeait ensemble, jouait ensemble, priait ensemble comme frères avaient fini par nous rapprocher les uns des autres et nous avaient donné l’occasion de nous apprécier mutuellement. Ce rapprochement était plutôt manifeste durant les moments de divertissement. Je me rappelle la joute équestre entre Duré et Laplanche qui s’étaient fait procurer deux chevaux un après-midi, s’en donnaient à cœur joie, alors qu’ils m’avaient fait attendre mon tour en vain.  Mais monter à cheval à poil et lancer à fond les pauvres bêtes au galop pendant une vingtaine de minutes avaient ses retombées : le lendemain, Duré ne pouvait marcher que les jambes écartées ; en revanche, c’était mon tour de m’en donner à cœur joie.  Le clou de la retraite était le concours de blagues auquel se livraient Balthazar, Césaire et Léger après le souper.  C’était l’évènement le plus attendu de ces soirs frisquets dont seuls nos éclats de rire troublaient le silence et perçaient la brume épaisse. La soirée d’adieu devait sceller ce renouveau de façon irréversible.  Elle a commencé avec une séance de jeux et de loisirs auxquels tout un chacun participait à un degré ou un autre pour terminer autour d’un cercle que nous avons formé, les mains entrelacées, tout en entonnant cette chanson d’Enrico Macias : « Enfants de tous pays et de toutes les couleurs, vous avez dans le cœur un vrai bonheur. »  Cette retraite a dessillé les yeux á plus d’un. Nous en sommes sortis un corps uni, solidaires les uns des autres, un tout cohérent, insoucieux des tabous ridicules du temps.  Revenus au Séminaire, nous étions animés d’un esprit d’inclusion et d’une maturité qui nous permettaient de transcender l’inanité de certaines attitudes.  Cette retraite nous a transformés en un corps nouveau, sain, depouillé des stigmates de divisions sur bases superficielles—si bien que, quand Cayard, notre grand gaillard, devait nous fausser compagnie à la fin de l’année, nous étions tous consternés.

              Il est difficile de faire un bilan de cette classe de 4ème sans faire de personnalités. Comment ne pas parler de Bélisaire qui, après être promu de la 6ème à la 4ème, n’avait cédé la première place que pour le mois d’Octobre ?  Et ce, jusqu’à la philo.  Comment ne pas souligner les exploits en mathématiques de Larco et Péguy Boisson, la plume superbe de Montasse (dont, à titre de plaisanterie, Césaire disait que l’éloge revenait plutôt à son père), le sérieux de Nacier, le style soigné et succinct de Balthazar, le sarcasme de Fabien, l’humour d’Hudicourt, de Cayard, de Guirand (pince-sans-rire) et de St-Phard, la bonne humeur de Turnier, de Louis-Charles et de Mathon (que je surnommais « manojo de hiero » à cause de sa poigne de fer), le tranchant de Loiseau, le rire fracassant de Thomas, qui un jour lui attira la foudre de J.Claude (« Vous n’êtes pas de la race chevaline, bien que votre tête porte à le croire. ») ?  Je ne peux terminer sans dire un mot de l’emmerdeur par excellence, grand taquin devant l’Eternel—celui dont le sourire narquois, le sarcasme dévastateur et les railleries incisives semaient l’émoi dans nos rangs et causaient le cauchemar de plus d’un ; à vrai dire, lui et moi, nous étions partenaires à part entière dans cette entreprise maligne.  Par contre, ceci ne nous empêchait guère de nous en prendre l’un à l’autre quand le moment s’avérait propice : lui à propos de ma valise de cuir épais qu’il appelait « djakut », moi à propos de son pantalon « abaco » aux jambes évasées.  Evidemment je veux parler de Duré.  Il y a tant à dire de ce passé, de noms à citer que je n’en finirais pas.

              Que dire de nos loisirs ? De ces vendredis après-midi où l’on se donnait rendez-vous pour voir évoluer nos équipes de volley-ball face à nos rivaux de la Rue du Centre—je veux parler de Saint-Louis de Gonzague.  On se souvient bien des matchs opposant nos Pape, Dougé, Fritz Pierre à leurs Danache, Argant, Ti Milfort, Piquion, d’où le plus souvent nous étions sortis les vaincus.  Qui peut oublier le service acrobatique de Calixte ?  Notre classe avait également des joueurs comme Larco, Thomas, Léger. Comment ne pas se rappeler les scènes hystériques de Bibi quand
les décisions de l’arbitre n’allaient pas en notre faveur ? On craignait fort qu’il n’en vînt aux mains avec les juges de ligne. On ne saurait oublier les championnats interscolaires de football où le talentueux Castor, les cousins Legros, les frères Vorbes et Vaval nous représentaient au cours des rencontres au Stade Sylvio Cator, alors que des écervelés ridiculisaient le Père Adrien au son de « Ti Piqué » à cause de son postérieur prononcé. 

              L’un des actes les plus audacieux qu’ait posés la congrégation spiritaine était la célébration d’une messe entièrement en créole, en présence des gens huppés de la capitale, qui, ce dimanche-là, avaient garni les pieux de la chapelle.  C’était là une indication que les pères tenaient à témoigner publiquement de leur solidarité avec les classes démunies et que, pour eux, il ne saurait y avoir de dichotomie entre la mission de l’école et celle de l’église de promouvoir le bien-être des défavorisés. La liturgie, les hymnes et l’homélie, tout était en créole dans cette messe concélébrée.  Quand le Père Adrien se leva et, de sa voix de baryton, débuta son homélie par ces mots « Jodi-ya se yon gran jou pou nou », il donna une accolade publique à travers l’espace aux déclassés et accorda ses lettres de noblesse au créole au sein de ce bastion de la langue française que représentait le PSCSM.  Nous autres de la Seconde avons pris part à la célébration, interprété des chansons tirées de notre répertoire folklorique, telles que « Anita nou lan kan lévé. » Dans l’esprit du Pouvoir, il s’agissait d’une de ces activités subversives qui ont valu à la congrégation le statut de « persona non grata » en Haïti.

              C’est ce trésor que le nom de Petit Séminaire Collège Saint Martial évoque pour moi.  C’est ce défilé de noms, ce cortège d’évènements et images associatives qui me viennent à l’esprit quand je pense à mon passé d’ancien du PSCSM. Ce passé revitalisant et thérapeutique. Dès lors, on comprendra l’effet dévastateur que les évènements de 1969 ont eu sur nous.  C’était comme s’ils nous avaient coupé nos racines.  En plus qu’ils nous avaient coupé nos liens avec le passé, ils nous avaient aussi dérobé notre futur, nos deux dernières années à Saint Martial sur lesquelles nous avions tant misé. Nous en étions, en fait de notre éducation, à la dernière main.  Pour les pères, passer le bac n’était pas un but en soi—c’était un acquis.  Leur but coïncidait avec celui du Père Claude : la formation d’hommes avant tout, au-delà du baccalauréat.  Nous brûlions de fouiller l’histoire d’Haïti sous l’égide du Père Adrien, un spécialiste de l’histoire de notre pays.  Nous étions sûrs que l’esprit critique que nous avions antérieurement développé nous permettrait de saisir les rapports historiques qui ont façonné notre vie de peuple, en particulier l’importance de la question agraire qui fut la pierre d’achoppement de bien de nos gouvernements.  Nous attendions avec anticipation la classe de littérature haïtienne avec le jeune Père Dominique dont l’approche nous était connue en 2nde.  Nous aurions l’occasion d’approfondir la richesse du mouvement indigéniste, de parcourir les romans de Jacques Roumain (« La Montagne Ensorcelée », « Gouverneurs de la Rosée »,de Jacques Stephen Alexis (« Compère Général Soleil ».  Avec lui aussi, nous allions explorer l’effervescence des idées qui ont animé les débats du 18ème siècle français et l’assaut à la tradition qu’ont opéré les enfants terribles du 19ème.  Pour ceux qui étaient avides de pénétrer les secrets des asymptotes, hyperboles, division harmonique, logarithmes, équations exponentielles, ils avaient raté le rendez-vous avec Schumacher.  Perdue également était notre chance d’explorer la philosophie, les grands courants de pensée et les grandes questions métaphysiques avec Gisler.  Nous aurions tant aimé aborder les courants de la pensée moderne de Marx, Kafka, Kierkegaard, Sartre, Nietzsche, Camus.  Cependant, les vues étriquées du pouvoir établi nous avaient ravi cette possibilité.

              Nombre de nos camarades avaient décidé de ne pas retourner au PSCSM en Rhéto et Philo.  J’étais parmi ceux qui y étaient retournés. Si quelqu’un avait contribué à notre décision, il s’agissait peut-être de Trouillot.  Je me rappelle une rencontre fortuite que nous avions eue avec lui aux alentours de l’économat avant l’ouverture des classes, alors que nous nous étions présentés pour recevoir notre liste de bouquins ou notre horaire.  Nous étions tous soulagés d’apprendre qu’il serait notre professeur d’histoire d’Haïti. Il nous avait donné l’assurance que nos nouveaux professeurs étaient triés sur le volet, certains d’eux détenteursde doctorats de la Sorbonne.  Cela avait fini par nous convaincre.

             A vrai dire, nous avions eus des professeurs chevronnés qui avaient fait leur preuve dans l’enseignement.  Je dois avouer que d’autres professeurs moins connus avaient fait une impression très favorable.  Un Joseph Désir (littérature haïtienne), Fritz de la Fuente (chimie), Noël (mathématiques), François (histoire d’Haiti-Philo) qui ne bénéficiaient pas de la notoriété des haut-cités, avaient néanmoins réussi à nous captiver par leur méthode et la maîtrise de leur matière.  De fait, nous entretenions de si bonnes relations avec Désir qu’il nous accueillait chez lui pour nous aider à couvrir le programme de littérature française, quand le titulaire de cette chaire nous laissait sur notre faim.  Par contre, d’autres professeurs, en dépit de leur bonne volonté, ne disposaient pas du temps nécessaire pour s’acquitter de leur tâche du fait de leurs engagements multiples à d’autres établissements scolaires. Un des professeurs de belles-lettres, très réputé dans les cercles de l’enseignement secondaire et universitaire, ne se présenta qu’un jour.  Apparemment, sa décision était influencée par le fait que, alors qu’il écrivait son texte au tableau, nous le traduisions en même temps–à la suite de quoi, il nous dit : « Eh bien, messieurs, vous êtes forts. » Sur ce, il est parti, laissant vacantes les chaires de grec et de latin.  Le Père Salomon, de la Congrégation des Oblats, devait le remplacer pour la chaire de grec ; nous l’aimions bien, moins pour son instruction que pour sa sympathie. Pierre Gousse, avec qui nous entretenions des relations tantôt bonnes tantôt rocailleuses, devait assumer l’enseignement du latin.  Nous avions de bons moments avec Verna, dont l’humour contribuait à rendre une classe comme la physique attrayante. Un peu bègue, il pesait sur les mots d’une manière particulière qui ajoutait à l’hilarité de ses récits. Il nous rapporta un jour le cas d’un incendie à la maison d’une veuve en ces termes : « Au lieu de chercher à emporter des papiers importants, comme les titres de propriété, n’est-ce pas, tout ce qu’elle est sortie avec était un chat.  Madame la veuve est entrée à nouveau dans la maison en feu pour en sortir cette fois-ci avec un jacquot (prononcez ‘jaaaaacquot’). »

              Nous autres qui avons choisi de rester au Séminaire étions vus d’un œil suspicieux.  Nous avions maille à partir avec la nouvelle administration qui nous faisait l’objet d’insinuations insensées, nous prêtait des intentions sinistres et, même, nous accusait de tentatives de sabotage.  A une des réunions avec l’ensemble de la Rhéto, le Supérieur lança un avertissement péremptoire aux « contestataires et fauteurs de trouble»–dont, dit-il, le dessein était de « saboter l’institution ».  Il « n’hésiterai(t)pas », a-t-il dit, « à sauter les têtes de pont. » Et cette déclaration, il la fit, alors que certains membres du corps enseignant étaient alignés à ses côtés.  Aussi paradoxal que cela pût paraître, nous n’avions pas trop à reprocher à ces dirigeants, car après tout, ils ne nous connaissaient pas.  Nous comprenions qu’ils aient été méfiants. Ce que nous trouvions décevant, alarmant, voire scandalisant, c’était qu’un des professeurs présents, qui nous avait connus dès la sixième et que nous avions tant admiré, n’osait pas nous défendre contre une telle accusation et même ajoutait de la gazoline au feu—trop soucieux qu’il était de préserver ses chances d’avancement au sein du gouvernement. En fait, il devait gravir les échelons les plus élevés de l’administration de la chose publique.  Il n’était que bien plus tard que nous étions au courant de l’ampleur de la suspicion qui entourait nos actions même les plus innocentes et nos velléités les plus anodines. La nouvelle administration était convaincue que nous fomentions une rébellion au sein de l’établissement en signe de protestation contre le départ des pères.  Et elle était déterminée à contrer notre « incitation à la rébellion » avec vigueur, aux dires d’un autre professeur qui avait pris notre défense lors d’une réunion du conseil des professeurs.

              A mon avis, les nouveaux dirigeants n’étaient pas imbus du niveau élevé de l’enseignement que nous avions reçu jusque-là.  Il était un fait indéniable que des élèves qui avaient  laisser Séminaire pour ne pas pouvoir s’y adapter avaient brillé ailleurs.  La nouvelle équipe qui n’était pas vraiment versée dans l’enseignement ne le comprenait pas.  Notre attitude passait pour arrogante, contestataire et déstabilisatrice.  Ces dirigeants n’arrivaient pas à comprendre que nous étions restés sur notre faim quant à l’approfondissement de nos connaissances et que les quelques remous qui leur avaient été rapportés s’adressaient plutôt à ce manquement.  Franchement, certains de nos cours étaient totalement ennuyeux et si dénués de signification que nous avions décidé de les sécher.  Il n’y avait que très peu des nouveaux professeurs qui l’avaient compris, tel un Joseph Désir.  A la fin de l’année, en pleine salle de classe, il rendit un hommage public à notre classe de rhéto, dont il eut à dire que, de sa vie d’enseignant, il n’avait jamais eu de classe si bien formée.  Cette formation était de premier ordre.  Pour preuve, parmi ceux qui n’étaient pas retournés, Hippolyte et Duret s’étaient rendus à St-Louis pour la philo.  Il nous fut rapporté qu’à la remise des carnets pour le mois d’octobre, Hippolyte était sorti 1er de la classe et Duret 2ème.  Cette même année au bac, nous autres du Séminaire avions causé un raz-de-marée : Césaire fut le lauréat en Rhéto A, Bélisaire en Rhéto B, Thomas en Rhéto C, Madhère en Philo A et Lionel Day en Philo C.

              Durant cette période de transition, nos liens d’amitié s’étaient raffermis.  Dans cette atmosphère de méfiance et de suspicion à laquelle nous étions soumis, force nous était de faire cause commune, de nous réfugier dans ce qui nous était le plus précieux—la chaleur de l’amitié, le confort de la solidarité pour remémorer, partager nos incertitudes face à l’avenir, tromper nos angoisses pendant les moments de décontraction durant l’intermède de la mi-journée. Nous nous rencontrions le plus souvent dans le hall près de l’économat pour débiter nos récits ou nos blagues.  Je me souviens bien de ces compagnons de combat : Léon-Emile (grand brasseur d’idées et visionnaire), Jean-Baptiste (ami de vieille date), Thomas, Laplanche, Bélisaire, Louis-Charles, Legros, Occident, Larco, Péguy Boisson, Vaval, Laviolette, Léger, Fabien, Montasse, Wawa.  Tout de même, nous avions étendu notre amitié aux nouveaux venus.  Des noms, tels que Lochard, Fleurinord, Robin, Romain résonnent encore dans nos coeurs. Nous avions, avec plaisir, renoué avec Liautaud (« Méchanceté »,qui avait laissé le PSCSM en primaire. Mais aussi, au cours de notre traversée du désert, des compagnons étaient tombés.  De fait, l’administration avait tenu sa promesse de couper les « têtes de pont. » Nacier et Balthazar se furent trouvés les victimes de cette chasse aux sorcières.  Ils étaient renvoyés du PSCSM pour, soit disant, avoir incité les séminaristes à la protestation contre leur condition de vie.  L’astuce des dirigeants ne nous échappait guère : nous savions bien qu’il n’y avait rien de fondé dans leur accusation ; ils voulaient tracer un exemple et ces gars représentaient une cible de choix. Ce coup dur nous donnait une nouvelle raison de nous replier sur nous-mêmes et de nous méfier de nos enseignants. Nous savions qu’ils n’étaient pas nombreux, ceux de ces derniers sur lesquels nous pouvions compter. Un Jacques Saint-Louis, qui enseignait les mathématiques en Rhéto A, s’était signalé par une attitude qui, à nos yeux du moins, faisait contrepoids à la décrépitude morale qui était si manifeste autour de nous.  Il jouissait de notre confiance.  Nous entretenions de si bonnes relations avec lui que nous pouvions nous permettre certaines libertés à ses dépens…Celle-ci, par exemple : alors qu’un jour nous nous plaignions qu’il ne se fût présenté pour l’une des sessions de rattrapage qu’il nous avait promises, il rétorqua avec véhémence : « Qu’est-ce que vous dites comme ca ? Je suis venu pour vous aider, je suis resté près de vingt minutes à vous attendre et vous n’étiez pas là.  Alors, dites-moi donc, charité bien ordonnée commence par vous-mêmes ou bien par moi-même ? » Imaginez nos éclats de rire.  Mais c’était sans malice de notre part, car Saint-Louis représentait une présence réconfortante dont nous avions tant besoin durant cette époque turbulente, spécialement pour nous autres qui l’avions eu comme professeur en 9èmeB au primaire.

              Avant de terminer ce long tribut, je m’en voudrais de ne pas payer mes respects à ceux de nos copains qui sont décédés, particulièrement à Boucard (Ti Bouc, du surnom que J. Claude lui avait collé) et à Laplanche (Latabla, de mon sobriquet à lui).  J’aurais tant aimé qu’ils pussent lire ces propos…Paix à eux !

             Voilà ! Mon intention n’était pas d’écrire une longue analyse, mais j’étais impuissant à arrêter le flot de souvenirs qui déferlaient avec pétulance sur les rives de ma mémoire à mesure que j’écrivais.  Il y a tant à dire de cette experience !  A côté du drame humain qui embrasait nos jeunes destinées, j’ai essayé de juxtaposer des moments empreints de jovialité et même de trivialité, car tout cela participait de notre expérience d’anciens du Petit Séminaire Collège Saint Martial.  Nous avons enormément souffert.  N’était le glu de l’amitié et la force de la solidarité, nous n’aurions peut-être pas survécu indemnes ces vicissitudes. J’avais promis à Duré d’écrire un jour sur cette tranche de notre vie.  En quelle langue ?  C’était la question que je me suis posée.  Depuis trois décades, à l’exception des trois années que j’ai passées en Haïti durant les années 80, je vis aux Etats-Unis et publie mes textes en anglais.  J’ai pris la gageure de revenir au français après une si longue absence, pensant que c’était le meilleur moyen d’atteindre le plus grand nombre d’anciens du Séminaire. J’espère avoir réussi.  Merci de votre attention.

Etzer Cantave,

Illinois, Octobre 2009

Who Wouldn’t Want Healthcare Reform?

The spectacle of the past few weeks, where scores of protesters take over town hall meetings and suppress any possibility of a dialogue over healthcare reform, is both alarming and bizarre.  Alarming in that the atmosphere surrounding these events surpass in hostility the hysteric moments of the 2008 Presidential Campaign that, one feared, could at any moment lead to reprehensible acts of violence.  Bizarre in that the people who so passionately vocalize their opposition to reform are the very ones who stand to benefit from it.  Why wouldn’t they want healthcare reform?

Undeniably, the election of Barack Obama was greeted in some sectors of the nation with malaise.  Conservative circles seized upon the malaise, gave it a shape and lent it their voice. Soon that latent source of discontent was radicalized and adroitly used to fuel the insurrection against everything the President stands for.  Nowhere is such strategy more successful than in the on-going healthcare debate, where reform proponents are on the defensive and literally demonized by protesters at town hall meetings, as evidenced by their posters, tee-shirt inscriptions, and angry gestures.   These “protesters” range from a toddler holding a poster against the “socialist” policies of Washington to old age folk claiming “(their) America back,” as though the country was cast astray under the spell of some alien power and the Antichrist.  This, believe it or not, is the “civil” aspect of the protest.  More problematic is the disruptive behavior of some vocal groups who, under the guise of First Amendment rights, attempt to drown out the reform advocates or, under the cover of the Second Amendment, show off their weaponry at rallies, leaving us to wonder how either action advances the dialogue on healthcare. If anything, the behavior of these demonstrators denotes a troubling paradox. Why wouldn’t that toddler’s mother favor reform when the ever-rising insurance premiums and high deductibles claim a substantial share of her family budget?  Why wouldn’t an unemployed middle-aged man embrace reform when the prohibitive cost of COBRA (the transition insurance program for the unemployed) forces him out of coverage?  Why does a survivor or a potential victim of breast cancer see it fit to oppose reform when it makes sure her history or pre-existing condition will have no bearing on her ability to obtain coverage?  Why do seniors speak so forcefully at those rallies against reform when they stand to gain from lower prescription prices?  Such nonsensical behavior demonstrates the power of misinformation and ideology when expertly used by professional opinion manipulators.

 By all measures, healthcare reform should be an easy sell, as it promotes much-needed affordability, availability, patient-centered quality care, and equilibrium of the marketplace. Healthcare is one of the issues with resonance throughout our socio-economic structures, from the state of personal finances to the operations of U.S. corporations and the stability of the national economy.  Reform calls for the reduction of healthcare delivery costs, which are wreaking havoc on family budgets and the economy as a whole, the eradication of the practice of selective care so dear to the insurance industry, the availability of coverage despite catastrophic life events, pre-existing condition or lack of financial resources.  In the healthcare reform case, the evidence against the status quo is quite powerful.  Consider the following.  The prohibitive costs of healthcare are one of the major causes of personal bankruptcies in the nation.  (As it turns out, insurers impose those costs less for the benefit of the insured population than the welfare of company executives, Washington lobbyists, and legislators who vow to keep the status quo intact in return for hefty campaign contributions.  About a quarter out of every premium dollar is devoted to the trilogy–executive bonuses, lobbyism and political contributions.)  From a macroeconomic standpoint, there is a litany of considerations making a case for change as well.  Health expenditures account for as much as 15% of our gross domestic product (GDP) and, due to the high costs incurred by Medicare and Medicaid for prescription drugs and medical services, bear significant responsibility in the Federal budget deficit.  Health costs, especially as regards retiree benefits, weigh heavily on the operational structure of US corporations to the point of hindering their competitiveness in the global marketplace.  Foreign companies cite the high costs of benefits driven by healthcare as a deterrent to investing in the U.S.  Small businesses, the growth engine of the economy, find it unsustainable to provide insurance coverage to their employees, tend to recoil from the provision of such benefits, and experience difficulty recruiting and retaining qualified staff. Close to fifty million Americans (about 15% of the population—unheard of in any industrialized country!) have no health coverage, rely on emergency rooms for their care, and exert considerable pressure on hospitals and State and Federal budgets. The U.S. trails all the industrialized countries in infant mortality rate and life expectancy.  That is the tableau–rather the indictment of the current healthcare system–that confronts policymakers and constituents alike and calls for reform—a reform the Obama Administration aims to bring about through competition.  In effect, to counterbalance the omnipotence of the insurance industry, the Obama Plan introduces a public option, predicated on a self-sustained governmental entity chartered to offer more affordable health insurance and compete in the insurance marketplace.  As could be expected, this prospect freaks out the private healthcare decision-makers, who set on a campaign to discredit
the plan and, in so doing, find a natural ally in the Republicans in Congress.

These Republicans, who suffered a crushing defeat last November and, for a while, were in a state of disarray, found their voice and, with it, a way out of irrelevance.  The strident political discourse on healthcare offers them a platform from which they are launching their assault on Obama.  As in the past, they rely on an old and endeared tactic of theirs—fear mongering.  With invaluable help from acolytes on the talk show circuit who prey on the gullibility of a certain sector of their constituency, they set out unabashedly to make the healthcare issue Obama’s Waterloo–to paraphrase a Senator from South Carolina who alluded to the battle that doomed Napoleon’s myth of invincibility.  Truth be told, unlike the Democrats who stand divided,  the Republicans manage to patch over their differences and present a united front against the White house as they disseminate their untruths about the plan.   Healthcare reform gives them the perfect opportunity to the extent that this issue cuts through the ideological rift that divides the two parties.

Obama’s idea of a public option obviously does not sit well with the Republicans in Congress, their constituents, and their special interest groups.  Not for the reason one might expect, though.  This time around, their argument takes a twist that strikes by its dissonance. For a Party that made a sport out of bashing Government as inept and inefficient, only capable of promoting bureaucracy and wasteful spending, this twist was quite unexpected.  It underscores the hypocrisy that of late has become the trademark of Republican behavior.  Their long-held view is that private enterprise can always do better than government in the market of ideas and “know-how.”  They have never missed an opportunity to caricature government and promote themselves as fierce advocates of the free market system and its corollary, competition–which by its very nature promotes choice for the benefit of the consumer. One would have thought that a public entity in the health insurance marketplace would be greeted with cheers by the Republicans, that it would be easily outperformed, outsmarted by the well-managed, efficient private insurance companies, and that their reaction would be, “Bring ‘em on!”   On the contrary, they vehemently oppose the public option.  Surprisingly, they contend that a public insurance entity would potentially cripple the private insurers and force them into bankruptcy.  What a farce! So much about the ineptitude of the Feds!  Informed minds have known that argument was a fallacy, disproved by Medicare, the government agency that provides insurance coverage for the elderly.  Medicare has a much lower administrative cost rate than its counterparts in the private sector and could teach them a thing or two about cost containment.  Translation, there is a lot of bloated bureaucracy within the private healthcare industry that we have been subsidizing through our premiums.  

Could it be that all the brouhaha about the inefficiency of the Feds is just a façade, behind which government detractors hide their true feelings?  Could it be that their staunch opposition or distrust of government is symptomatic of something more profound–glimpses of which surfaced from the secessionist threat of the Texas governor and the nostalgic bewailings at town hall meetings for the America of yesteryears?  When was their America lost to them?  Was it when the Civil Rights Act was passed?  Or when Medicare and Medicaid were enacted to afford coverage to the weak and vulnerable amongst us?  Or was it when Roosevelt instituted the New Deal to bring fairness and responsibility into governance?  Was their America lost when Obama ascended to the presidency—which, in their eyes, epitomizes the culmination of the ills of the nation since Abraham Lincoln abolished slavery and the South lost the Civil War?  It takes something visceral to stir such passion and dispense such vitriol.

Surely, the prospect of healthcare reform has had some impact.  In an attempt to dissuade the Obama Administration from the public option and sway public opinion in their favor, pharmaceutical companies and hospitals promptly came forward with billions of dollars worth of discounts.  Specifically, the hospitals pledged $155 billion in Medicare and Medicaid savings over 10 years, followed by the pharmaceutical companies’ $80 billion in cost reduction initiatives. The insurance companies, for their part, have yet to come up with any plans to provide relief to their insured against the ever-rising cost of coverage.  According to a survey done by The Kaiser Family Foundation in 2008, insurance premiums increased by 120 % for the period 1999-2007, whereas wages only grew by 29% over the same period.  It is obvious that, as insured, we have the short end of the stick.  Our plight does not stop at the escalating insurance premiums.  We are also confronted with limitless out-of-pocket costs, from co-payments every time we set foot in a doctor’s office to high deductibles for doctor’s services, hospital stays and prescriptions.  We are liable to providers for medical claims denied by the insurance companies.  Instead of addressing these legitimate concerns, these companies and their surrogates run advertising campaigns designed to derail the debate.  Why wouldn’t we want reform? 

 The U.S. runs the most expensive healthcare system in the world.  According to World Health Organization’s statistics, we spent a whopping $6,719 per capita on healthcare in 2006 (the last year such worldwide data are available.) Yet, the U.S. was not listed amongst the ten healthiest countries for that year.  Recent data confirm our unenviable standing in worldwide healthcare delivery.  More shocking is a report by International Living (IL), a publishing firm engaged in the travel and leisure business. IL compiled health data from all the countries of the world and derived therefrom a metric called health index.  In 2008, IL computed a health index of 74 for the US, the lowest of the G-8 group which comprise the eight richest countries in the world.  In fact, we rank lower than such countries as Costa Rica (82), Egypt (79), and Jamaica (75).  Meanwhile, Canada, whose healthcare system has been vilified by the Republican punditry to the point one might think of it a third world country, has a health index of 88.  If anything, these statistics show that we have not efficiently spent our healthcare dollars, that we have not balanced our tremendous health resources with the needs of our citizens.  Why wouldn’t anyone with a sense of equity want healthcare reform?

Who benefits from the high costs of healthcare anyway?   According to Fortune Magazine, pharmaceuticals and healthcare industries have been among the 25 fastest growing industries for the past 5 years.  Another measure of their success is typified by a jump from the top 50 most profitable industries to the top 40 in the spate of one year, from 2008 to 2009. As regards the insurance component of the sector, its performance is predicated on its ruthless operations management, anchored in a strategy that reposes on increased premiums and low claim satisfaction or, using the administrative lingo of the industry, low “losses.”  In the realm of insurance operations, a claim is referred to as a loss.  A paid claim is a realized loss.  It stands to reason that, as for-profit corporations, insurers must contain these losses.  Hence the importance of the concept of Loss Ratio, a metric that essentially measures how well the industry manages its claims in relation to the premiums it earns.  Lower claims mean lower loss ratio.  The lower the ratio, the more beneficial to the bottom line. Wendell Potter, former senior executive with Cigna, echoed this point at his hearing before Congress on June 24, 2009:  The accounting firm (Price Waterhouse Coopers) found that the collective medical-loss ratios of the seven largest for-profit insurers fell from an average of 85.3 percent in 1998 to 81.6 percent in 2008. That translates into a difference of several billion dollars in favor of insurance company shareholders and executives and at the expense of health care providers and their patients.”  So, denying claims is for the insurance industry a matter of survival.  Why  would the insurance companies want healthcare reform?

Indeed, senior management at these companies, who have devised the high premium and claim denial schemes, have been rewarded with exponential compensation increase over the past decade, some of them, such as Ron Williams of Aetna and Edward Hanway of Cigna, ranking among the top 100 highly compensated CEO’s.  According to U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission filings, “profits at 10 of the country’s largest publicly traded health insurance companies in 2007 rose 428 percent from 2000 to 2007, from $2.4 billion to $12.9 billion. In 2007 alone the chief executive officers at these companies collected combined total compensation of $118.6 million—an average of $11.9 million each. That is 468 times more than the $25,434 an average American worker made that year.”  Why would they favor healthcare reform?

In addition to company executives, the lobbyists acting as surrogates for the pharmaceutical and insurance companies have benefited from the status quo.  As an underpinning of the healthcare industries, the lobbying firms have made a successful living out of the millions of dollars they collected from consulting fees and services.  According to the non-partisan Center for Responsive Politics, total lobbying spending in 2008 amounted to 3.3 billion dollars.  Pharmaceuticals topped the list with $236 million and the insurance companies placed third with $161 million. With the healthcare debate intensifying, record lobbying spending will be set in 2009.  As Daily Dose reported earlier in the year, “(t)he industry…set records from January to March, when health-care firms and their lobbyists spent money at the rate of $1.4 million a day” to position themselves in the upcoming debate.  In the midst of these disbursements are Washington lobbyists.  Their fate is intricately tied to the status quo. For them as well, it is a matter of survival to fight tooth and nail and obstruct any attempt to reform.

Last, but not least, the congressmen and senators from both parties benefit from the largesse of the healthcare industry in support of their campaigns.  Up until 2006, per the Center for Responsive Politics, Republicans received more than two-thirds of the healthcare industries’ political contributions.  In 2008, however, as the impetus for change was brewing, these industries hedged their bets and orchestrated a shift in their strategy by equally funding both parties at $71 million apiece.  In so doing, they planted the seeds for discord within the Democratic Party, the Blue Dogs (conservative Democrats) being among the big recipients of these funds.  Yet, within the healthcare bloc, the insurance industry remains firmly entrenched in the Republican camp:  in 2008, 55% of their contributions ($26 million) went to the GOP. The healthcare industries have played their hand with dexterity and made the task of reforming the healthcare system complicated.  These various individuals or factions, who have acted as pawns of these companies, have a vested interest in seeing that the status quo is maintained at all cost and that healthcare reform fails.  Reform means that all these millions of dollars would be redirected to operations, used to modernize the healthcare systems, get rid of inefficiencies, satisfy insurance claims, and pass some of the savings to the insured in the form of premium and deductible reductions. 

Another argument advanced by the foes of the reform initiative is that the public option is a path to a single-payer system and leads to healthcare rationing.  What they fail to realize is that we ARE in a healthcare rationing regime. Self-imposed rationing.  An estimated sixteen million Americans die every year of preventable deaths due to lack of medical care.  A great number of them did have health insurance.  However, facing high premiums, ever-increasing co-payments, exorbitant drug prices, and unaffordable deductibles, they are forced to self-ration their care.  They simply AVOID going to see a doctor and, sadly enough, take a gamble on life.   That should never have been.  Not in America!

The argument that possibly gains more traction in the anti-reform camp is that it will cause the Federal budget deficits to widen. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO), a nonpartisan organization, projects deficits in the trillions-of-dollar range over the period 2010-2019.  The White House’s Office of Management and Budget (OM itself estimates the out-year (2010-2019) deficits (to) hover in the range of 4 percent of GDP, which is higher than desirable.” The analysis went on to attribute a large part of the deficit increase to healthcare expenditures.  Budget deficits do matter.  However, a distinction need be made between chronic or structural deficits and temporary deficits. It is not the purpose of this article to expand on this distinction. Suffice to say that no economies can sustain chronic deficits without impeding economic growth.  On the other hand, temporary deficits incurred to correct economic imbalances or make up for the anemia of the private sector are, from a Keynesian economics perspective, not only necessary but advisable.   For sure, there are real costs associated with reform; these costs are susceptible to increase government spending, and by default will impact the deficit–despite the President’s contention that his plan is deficit neutral.  However, the cost of staying the course is even greater, as government spending for Medicare and Medicaid in terms of drug prices and hospital charges will skyrocket in the next decade and severely cripple the national economy.  Viewed from this angle, the deficit prospect, rather than hurting the push for reform, makes an even more potent case for it.

 Healthcare reform is a must, a moral imperative that trumps party affiliation and transcends individual financial stakes.  Inevitably, this reform goes through an overhaul of the insurance industry.  Insurance should equate to peace of mind; it should not claim a piece of our mind and fill it with worries over unpaid claims.  Reform should also mean access to health resources for the forty-six million Americans deprived of health benefits, for the sixteen million who die of preventable deaths every year due to lack of care. Something is definitely wrong when the richest country on earth has a lower health index than small third word countries and leaves 15% of its citizens out of the healthcare equation. The current system has not delivered the type of care susceptible to balance the health equation for the benefit of the nation as a whole.  This makes it all the more urgent that a viable public option be left hanging over the healthcare companies like a Damocles’ sword to “keep them honest.”  Should the impetus for public option wane or be defeated, tough regulation of the healthcare sub-sector would have to be instituted to ensure that the U.S. healthcare delivery system is second to none.  The healthcare industries have been very astute; they muddied the waters through clever calibration of their campaign contributions and tied enough lawmakers’ hands to slow the impetus for reform.  These special interests have handed Obama a Gordian knot to untangle.  He has no choice but to cut it.  So, healthcare companies, take a pick:  public option or heavy regulation! 

Nostalgic of the Bush/Cheney Era

June 19, 2009 at 23:00

Some nostalgics of the former administration still view Obama through the lens of Cheney/Bush and their cowboy diplomacy. What did we gain from that reckless, unimaginative, simplistic and reductionist diplomatic approach that is so appealing to the right? We gained the worst attack on American soil. We gained a more potent adversary in North Korea. We emboldened (not weakened!) Iran not only in its staunch pursuit of nuclear technology, and turned it into a power player in the Persian Gulf and the Middle East. We sacrificed in Iraq over 4000 young American lives full of promise to satisfy the megalomaniacal tendencies of a Machiavellian duo, caused tens of thousands of our compatriots to be maimed or irremediably injured. We rallied the Muslim world against our interests. We rekindled leftist ideologies.  Socialist fervor and nationalistic sentiment are on the rise, as evidenced by elections all over the world. China has acquired its “lettre de noblesse” in space technology and is poised to become a space militaristic superpower. That’s the diplomatic legacy of the past eight years, of which some folk are madly nostalgic.

If Obama is being tested by the events in Iran, he is handling the test superbly well. I appreciate his measured, calm, thoughtful approach. The best way to botch the popular action that is taking place in Iran would be for America, with its history of meddling into the intestine affairs of other states, to proffer fiery and opportunistic statements along the line of the “axis of evil” rhetoric. Make no mistake about it, this movement is above all a nationalistic one that doesn’t need outside interference. We should not try to claim paternity over this internal show of force by the Iranian people. Let it play out. The era of cowboy boot diplomacy is over. The Iranian regime needs a scapegoat to crack down on the movement; and they hope to find it in the “Great Satan”. Let’s be smart.

If anything, Obama should be credited for that popular effervescence. A year ago, scenes like this would be inconceivable. A month ago, unimaginable… until Obama’s fatidic speech in Cairo. That was the game changer. Call it naiveté, if you will. By the way, wasn’t it one of the epithets or campaign slogans that miserably failed last fall? Hmm!!!

WWW says:

June 20, 2009 at 05:19
What did we gain from that reckless,unimaginative, simplistic and reductionist diplomatic approach that is so appealing to the right? We gained the worst attack on American soil.

You do realize that 9/11 was already in motion before Bush/Cheney took office right?  So what you are saying is that it was Clinton/Gore who brought on this attack.  But i understand how you could come to this conclusion, if i didn’t know anything about military planning and operations i would use a simple timeline association as well.  It’s ok no need to feel bad about your mistake, not everybody the instestinal [sic] fortitude to do what it takes to gain such knowledge, after all somebody has to take all those liberal arts classes. Right?
Etzer Cantave replies:
June 20, 2009 at 13:15
Let me see if I get it. Should a man-made calamity (terrorist act) strike us at this moment, Obama should blame it on Bush? Right? How about three months from now? Still Bush, right? So, at what point should a sitting president take responsibility for actions that occur on his/her watch?
The argument that 9/11 could or should be blamed on Clinton is ludicrous. Bush/Cheney dropped the ball in September 2001. They wish they could take it back. For them, the Bush/Cheney era started on September 12, 2001. As they say, failure is an orphan.

YYY says:
June 20, 2009 at 05:23
“Make no mistake about it, this movement is above all a nationalistic one that doesn’t need outside interference. We should not try to claim paternity over this internal show of force by the Iranian people.”
A full four sentences later:
“If anything, Obama should be credited for that popular effervescence. A year ago, scenes like this would be inconceivable. A month ago, unimaginable… until Obama’s fatidic speech in Cairo. That was the game changer.”
You don’t beleive yourself, hopefully no one else is foolish enough to listen to you either.

XXX says:
June 20, 2009 at 05:52
Heh … yeah, it was the Cairo speech that did it – not the opposition movement that has been building for decades in Iran and finally was spurred into protest by an obviously rigged election.
I love lectures that are based on some fantasy which only exist between the ears of the lecturer, don’t you?

Etzer Cantave replies:
June 20, 2009 at 14:23
As they say, timing is everything. The timing of the Cairo speech might not be fortuitous–a week or so before the elections. Let’s recall that up that point, Ahmadinejad was leading in the polls by a large margin. I grant you that social discontent has been brewing inside Iran for a long time, that conditions were ripe for the change agents to challenge the status quo. Yet, as in chemistry (at least from what I remember from my chemistry classes), a catalyst is often needed to spur certain elements into a chemical reaction. The speech may just have served as a catalyst that urged on the dissenting forces inside Iran to take action. What also helped was the hasty communiqué of the Interior Ministry sealing Ahmadinejad’s so-called landslide victory. One thing is certain. Once the reaction is in play, it takes a life of its own; it doesn’t need more of the catalyst. Injecting more of the catalyst may even be counter-productive. I hope this analogy makes the point for a tactful handling of the political unrest in Iran.

June 20, 2009 at 05:44
The 9/11 attack: 
The muslims have been waging war on the West for 1200 years.  The Ottoman Turks fought against us in WWI.  Radical islam supported the Nazis in WWII.
The sleeper cells were in place when Bush took office.  Jamie Gerelick put a wall between the FBI and the CIA, neither agency could connect the dots.  If Richard Clarke knew so much, why didn’t he pop Osama on Clinton’s watch?
Relatively speaking, our losses have been light.  In Vietnam, a war of similar duration, we had 58,249 dead.
If “caused tens of thousands to be maimed or irremediably injured” refers to al Qaeda, Baathist or Mahdi IEDs or attacks without regard for their own civilians, why is that our fault?
Call it “coyboy diplomacy” if you like, but it kept us from being attacked again.  We will see if “home boy” diplomacy can do as well.
About North Korea:
Madeline Albright cut a deal with Kim Jong Il including $4B and a nuclear power plant in exchange for shutting down his nuke weapons program.  Clinton was unaware of North Korean non-compliance.
We could have hit them, but the South Koreans did not want us to attack.  Neither did the democrats, the Chinese, the Russians, or the Japanese.  What would be the price of an attack? War on the Korean Peninsula?  War with China? North Korea has 1,000,000 special forces.  Our presence is 50,000 troops.  Eisenhower was right when he told Kennedy to avoid a land war in Asia.
What is likely to happen is that the South Koreans, the Japanese and the Taiwanese will go nuclear.  The Japanese already have every thing they need.  If they decided to do it, they could detonate a device in weeks. It would take the others 6 months.  The big loser would, of course, be China.
Is Obama still going to scale back or cancel missile defense?

Etzer Cantave
June 20, 2009 at 15:38
Your argumentation is factual and lends itseld to an enjoyable read. I don’t take issue with the facts, but rather with the interpretation of the facts. I don’t feel we are drastically far apart.
Where you lost me, though, is when you say “Relatively speaking, our losses have been light. In Vietnam, a war of similar duration, we had 58,249 dead.”
To me, the Iraq war stands alone in American History as a gratuitous act of demented proportions. Regarding Vietnam, as ill-advised as it was, strategic grounds could be invoked for fighting that bloody war–cold war, hegemonic implications… As for Iraq, I still cannot fathom why we invaded that country. It was a war of convenience. A war of commodity. Or, rather, a war over a commodity. Oil. Any death in Iraq is one too many!

BBB says:
June 20, 2009 at 05:10

            “We sacrificed over 4000 young American lives full of promises to satisfy the megalomaniacal  tendencies of Machiavellian duo, caused tens of thousands to be maimed or irremediably injured.”…

            Such partisan shallowness, here are a few reminders for you.
If Saddam rejects peace and we have to use force, our purpose is clear. We want to seriously diminish the threat posed by Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction program.
– President Bill Clinton, Feb. 17, 1998
Iraq is a long way from (the United States), but what happens there matters a great deal here. For the risks that the leaders of a rogue state will use nuclear, chemical or biological weapons against us or our allies is the greatest security threat we face.
– Madeline Albright, Feb 18, 1998
He will use those weapons of mass destruction again, as he has 10 times since 1983.
– Sandy Berger, Clinton’s national security adviser, Feb. 18, 1998
(We) urge you, after consulting with Congress, and consistent with the U.S. Constitution and laws, to take necessary actions (including, if appropriate, air and missile strikes on suspect Iraqi sites) to respond effectively to the threat posed by Iraq’s refusal to end its weapons of mass destruction programs.
– Oct. 9, 1998, letter to President Clinton signed by Sens. Carl Levin, Tom Daschle, John Kerry and others
Saddam Hussein has been engaged in the development of weapons of mass destruction technology, which is a threat to countries in the region, and he has made a mockery of the weapons inspection process.
– Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., Dec. 16, 1998
Hussein has … chosen to spend his money on building weapons of mass destruction and palaces for his cronies.
– Madeline Albright, Clinton’s Secretary of State, Nov. 10, 1999
There is no doubt that … Saddam Hussein has invigorated his weapons programs. Reports indicate that biological, chemical and nuclear programs continue apace and may be back to pre-Gulf War status.
– Dec. 5, 2001, letter to President Bush, signed by Sen. Bob Graham, D-Fla. and others
We know that he has stored secret supplies of biological and chemical weapons throughout his country. Iraq’s search for weapons of mass destruction has proven impossible to deter and we should assume that it will continue for as long as Saddam is in power.
– Al Gore, Sept. 23, 2002
We have known for many years that Saddam Hussein is seeking and developing weapons of mass destruction.
– Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., Sept. 27, 2002
I will be voting to give the president of the United States the authority to use force – if necessary – to disarm Saddam Hussein because I believe that a deadly arsenal of weapons of mass destruction in his hands is a real and grave threat to our security.
– Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., Oct. 9, 2002

Etzer Cantave says:
June 20, 2009 at 12:49
I fail to see the point of your recitation of past facts. Is it to argue that the Bush/Cheney foolhardy adventure in Iraq was worth the sacrifices in blood, treasure, and reputation we endured? For what those pointed remarks are worth, I don’t see anyone advocating a full-scale invasion of that country. At best, they seemed to endorse punctual surgical operations. I feel the litany of diplomatic actions, posturing and pressuring you cited, exonerates my view that war should not be waged casually, based on flimsy evidence, gratuitous innuendos, whims or gut feeling… Four thousand plus American lives, twenty plus thousand severely wounded compatriots, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis’, $1 trillion in treasury—portion of which filled the pockets of cronies such as Halliburton & Co., that is what this blunder cost us under the Bush/Cheney tandem. What are not quantifiable and might even cost more, though, are the intangibles—loss of credibility around the world, radicalization of a growing sector of the international opinion, the distrust of our traditional allies, the resurgence of nationalistic feelings ill-disposed to our interests.

No one disputes that Saddam was an awful character, who deserved the wrath of the international community. So was Kim Jon Il of North Korea. The Asian leader was not just suspected of developing weapons of mass destruction. At the time of the run-up to the Iraq War, he was known to possess them; and he bragged about it. Allies of ours—South Korea and Japan— as well as 40,000 of our troops were directly exposed to those weapons. Why did we not mount an offensive against North Korea? Oh! I see: Kim Jon Il had no connection to 911, but Saddam did… Right!