This article appears in today’s edition of The Malta Independent on Sunday.
Newly elected Alabama Governor George Wallace shouted the following words at his investiture: “…segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation for ever.” That was back in 1962 when black people in some US states would have found it hard to board a bus comfortably or eat at a restaurant or run for President. Or win for that matter. One year later, Martin Luther King Junior would declaim the historic “I have a dream” speech on the steps of Washington.
Forty-six full years later, riding on the wings of another historical anaphoric speech that might have been the turning point of a campaign, Barack Hussein Obama made history by becoming the first black president of the United States of America. The hegemony of the pigmentally challenged was over. Yes he could. The long wait had reached a symbolic end but woe betide anyone believing that this is the end of racism, of segregation and of inequality. It promises to be, if anything, the beginning of the end. The bearer of the message of hope comes dressed in a dark suit ready to settle in the White House but the road is still long and the path a perilous one.
Barack himself was on cue during his moving speech to the crowd gathered in the Chicago Park. He warned of difficulties ahead, of mistakes that will be made and of the obstacles that will inevitably bar the way. It was not a wet blanket moment though. It was a reaffirmation of the seriousness with which this young Illinois Senator had taken on the whole system. It was a message of hope borne on the wings of frankness, honesty and a promise of hard work. It was still the stage of words but not one of false promises and politicking with a minor “p”.
It was “Flimkien kollox possibli” but with substance, it was “Pjan ghal bidu gdid” but really so. Here was a man making history simply by getting to where no other man of his colour had been before, but already aware of the hard times ahead. An economic crisis, an environmental catastrophe and two wars are just a few of the indicators of what lie ahead for Barack. “Yes we can” was no casual slogan chosen by a few spinmeisters in an office in Pieta or Hamrun (when they are not grafting them off someone else). It was a creed. It was hope replenished. Brick by brick, callous hand upon callous hand, the American Dream needed rebuilding… and it was not just Americans that rejoiced but most of the free world. (Net polls indicated that only Algeria, Cuba, Congo and Iraq swung towards McCain).
Some speculate that this election is not so extraordinary. That the election of a black man into the corridors of power was an inevitable result of the changing face of America. The Times’ Daniel Finkelstein attributes the Obama victory to four major points: Firstly the american demos has become very different (“America will never be the same again because Americans won’t be the same”); secondly, the changing world attitude towards America required that the Americans choose a leader deserving of world respect; thirdly, this election was the victory of the rising middle class; and finally, the Republican agenda is no longer sellable. In essence Finkelstein argues that this is a new era of American politics – one in which the election of a black president is not surprising but rather normal.
Red and Blue
The end of the electoral run is where the rhetoric and symbolism must stop. As the Economist puts it, it’s time for detail and dedication. The Great Expectations that Barack has counted on in order to win the people’s mandate must now be fulfilled one way or another. An important challenge is what Barack terms as the end of divisive politics. His emphasis on the word “United” in “United States of America” was not frivolous.
We have seen and heard much from Obama-emulators in our little island. More about Inhobbkom Joseph later but for now it is important to open our eyes wide and take a leaf or two out of the real agenda for change. Obama knows that the dangers ahead are real dangers. The economy, poverty, health care, education at home; the environment, war and peace, and diplomacy abroad, all require a strong base from which they can be tackled. Divisive politics will not allow that strong base.
That is also why Obama is more credible to people like me. People who have long been concussed by a partisan way of making politics. Who have long criticised the ineffectiveness of divisive powermongering that shuns the common good in favour of warming a seat in parliament. Obama cannot risk making too many mistakes. Above all he cannot risk betraying the trust that the people of the United States of America have shown in his plan. His is not the business of saying “I love you”, his is not the business of hypocritical patronising on values and imposing false morals, his is the concrete plan of change built on hope and work. Obama’s way can work. Let’s hope some people this side of the equation are ready to learn the lessons.
Is that the colour you turn when you cringe with embarassment? So Obama gets elected and before you get the time to say “Prosit tal-programm” the race for Most Embarassing Congratulatory Letter from the Maltese islands began. Inhobbkom Joseph was first off the mark. Fresh from his “Message to the Nation” (so help us God) he sent out a letter to Barack.Taking a break from organising manifestations (sic) and press conferences with clichéed reactions to the budget he found time to send some fan mail and tell BO how much he loved his bits about not liking divisive and partisan politics.
This sentence was quoted in the media: “”On a political and, I must say, a personal level, your election makes historical news not only in your country but also for all of us, across the world, who believe in a multilateral approach to international issues in which Europe and the United States work in closer partnership and collaboration.” What an exercise in verbose, official gibberish that means duck all. What exactly does “makes historical news” mean? Don’t you just love the “all of us, across the world”? Thus spake Inhobbkom Joseph, Representative of the Free World.
The Nationalist party did not want to be outdone and they too sent a letter to dear Obama. The problem of course is that the mainstream Nationalist does not exactly fit in cosily with your average democrat (should I say liberal?). They could not exactly clap enthusiastically for the election of a President known for his pro-choice leanings. However, they could not afford to be perceived to be out of synch with the general euphoria that is rocking the world. Never will the PN be a party pooper.
So what do they do? They jump high on their pedestal of moralism and decide to give the president elect a lecture or two about, among other things “ethical military intervention”. They waved the flag of the war on terrorism but politely told Barack that he should be careful and make sure that any war he wages is “ethical”. Or else what? Who the hell drafted this kind of nonsense? What about Guantanamo and the CIA flights? Did he write a similar letter to Dubya threatening him with the mighty retribution of the Legions of Gonzi if he were to persevere in his unethical ways? Ah Wait a minute. They did. They “expressed reservations about Guantanamo Bay”… in a letter to Obama. Two words come to mind. Both in Maltese. Both begin with a B and the overall meaning is “lacking in basic attributes”.
Now for the humour section. The nationalist government announced what it called a Green Budget. The casual and not so casual observer noted that it translated into a redressing of a number of taxes that were risking the axe under EU scrutiny and the introduction of so-called Eco taxes or incentives. Hey presto… the Gonzi Government now thinks green.
Not. It did not think green. It thought money. Green was your Trojan Horse. One huge Trojan Horse of Green Taxes. Of course it all sounds good. We tax cars more. We call it an eco tax. We link taxes to emissions. It’s all to stop you from using cars and thus polluting the environment. There’s a Road Tax of course because that will help us disincentivise you from using the roads. You want incentives? Here’s 15% off the purchase of your next bicyle. That way next time you want to get to Valletta from Mgarr on time you can alwys hop onto the bike saddle and pedal. It’s healthy too.
Did no one notice the huge gaping hole in all this? If they are telling you not to use your car what are you supposed to be using? Lemme guess. Buses no? So where is the Transport Plan? Where is the rehaul of the Transport System (hopefully a greener one as well as more efficient). What will get more backsides onto the seats of electrical buses running on time? Nothing. Nada. No sign of it. (Or maybe Austin does have a plan, but won’t tell us about it. So much for Flimkien kollox possibli.) So the Green Nationalist Government turns out to be a cynical tax collector without a minimal clue of how to really affect your lifestyle and improve our global environmental credentials.
We deserve it too. We are busy complaining about the price of plastic bags, the price of alcohol and the price of petrol. We deserve the condescending columnist who will tell us that government money comes from our pocket while conveniently ignoring the obvious fact that the government money coming from our pocket should be efficiently administered and spent without taking all of us for a (hopeless bicycle) ride.
I’m not stupid. I know that these are the times of the lean cows and not of the fat. I know that petrol prices are the same for Malta and France. What I also know is that this is no excuse for not having a plan for making transport in Malta more efficient. I don’t complain about the road tax, circulation tax and petrol price hike that stops me from buying a car. I complain about a government that does not know how to use that money to create an effective public transport system on an island the size of an average European city. That’s the same government that had the gall to call the greens a bunch of unelectable busibodies – while backed by the very same columnists eager to cover its backside.
The Golden Age of Grey
Today, the man known to his loyal fans as Pinturicchio turns 34. It pains me whenever I hear that the man is past his prime, and worst of all, that he is too old. I have an egoistic reason for that. Apart from the fact that I have been an avid fan of La Vecchia Signora since childhood, there is a reason much closer to home for my pain. You see I was born one year and two days after Pinturicchio. That means I turn 33 next week. So every time I hear Del Piero described in terms of an old geriatric I take it personally. Very personally.
Which is also why I share the genius’ achievements with much more passion than your average supporter. Imagine the euphoria Chez Zammit when il capitano struck not one, but two goals past a bewildered Iker Casillas, thus breaking a curse that had lasted forty years when Sivori last broke the spell of the Bernabeu. Forty years, when Alabama had a governer who still believed in segregation, Martin Luther’s words still echoed strongly in people’s minds and Omar Sivori gave an away victory to Juventus in the temple that was the Bernabeu.
Sometimes it takes a long, long time to wait for something good to happen. The promise of change has finally kicked off. Let’s hope the future is bright, sunny and colourful.
Good luck President Obama… and buon compleanno Capitano!
Jacques has been inadvertently fuelling a controversial debate about witches and witchcraft on https://jaccuse.wordpress.com... are you on the side of the coven or of the inquisition?