Is Obama the next Thatcher?

TW: Apartheid South Africa, Pinochet-era Chile, class inequality

Throughout today I’ve been preemptively greeting people with facts about the United Kingdom’s former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher to stave off any eulogizing or other fond memories of her. For instance, did you know she called the African National Congress (the popular movement that eventually toppled the Apartheid government of South Africa) a “typical terrorist organization“? Because after all, the brutally colonial governance of an indigenous population by somewhere between 5 and 10 percent of the whole population is such a noble political situation. And maintaining it was key in the battle against communism. Likewise, concerning renowned Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, Thatcher explained her support for his regime on the basis that he was “bringing democracy to Chile“. As we all know, nothing says democracy like a coup that killed thousands and forces thousands more the flee the country in terror. But at least the democratically-elected socialist wasn’t in charge of a country in another hemisphere entirely from Britain.


(There’s a reason these sorts of events have been popular for years. From here.)

It’s common for critics to compare her with her US contemporary, former President Ronald Reagan, but I think another comparison might be called for today: that of her and current President Barack Obama. Both of them cracked a glass ceiling, but seem dishearteningly to more represent a new spirit of inclusion and openness than actually embody it. For the past few months, the unemployment rate among Black Americans has averaged twice what it is among White Americans. Obama’s governance doesn’t seem to have made any significant dent in racist hiring and firing practices within the United States. While many major media outlets were narrowly focused on the risk of US-supplied weapons ending up in islamists’ hands, they overlooked the meaning behind that – the Obama administration had continued to supply weapons to undemocratic regimes throughout the Arab world even as the Arab Spring mounted and anti-protester violence grew more endemic.

Most recently, Obama has put forward a plan to switch from standard to “chained” inflation adjustments for social security and similar government assistance programs’ payouts. That this comes now, after years of slowing wage increases mere symbolizes how tidily Obama’s governance has fit into many larger economic trends in the US. He hasn’t been disruptive, but rather a great facilitator… of the same underlying principles in US politics that had been unquestionable to the point of invisibility.

I wonder if we’ll remember Obama the way many Brits are remembering Thatcher today: as being remarkable merely as a symbol that their group could occasionally have access to controlling a destructive political system. Will both be remembered as history’s tokens?

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