President Barack Obama would probably like to bottle a portion of the enthusiasm he encountered in Vermont last week and to uncork it in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Florida, North Carolina, Virginia, Missouri and other states that may decide the election later this year.
The excitement generated by his visit nearly raised the roof at the University of Vermont athletic complex, where a crowd of 4,000 responded to each presidential utterance as if they were at a rock concert.
For the most part Vermonters have been unpersuaded by the view that Obama is leading the nation down the road to perdition. When Obama trumpets the successes of his first term — the auto rescue, health care reform, financial reform, economic recovery, among them — Vermonters are likely to shout out with a combination of gratitude and jubilation.
Obama has always had the ability to rouse a crowd, and he found a receptive audience in Burlington. He also found contributors with open checkbooks to replenish the Obama campaign coffers. It will take both excitement and money to wage a campaign against Mitt Romney, who has shown that he will resort to campaign attacks of unrelenting aggressiveness.
It must be puzzling to people in more conservative regions why Vermonters and others in the Obama camp do not see the dangers inherent in Obama’s policies. The reason is that the fears purveyed by conservative media and accepted by millions of people are based mainly on myths, chief among them that Obama is directing a socialist takeover of the federal government, which will quash American enterprise and mire us in poverty.
We are not spooked by these myths because it is plain to see it was policies of the previous administration and the laissez faire capitalism of the past 30 years that brought on the catastrophe of recession, unemployment, poverty and inequality. Obama argues that we cannot return to the policies that created recent disasters, and in Vermont most people agree.
In many parts of the country, people view an agenda that favors intervention in the economy and social benefits, such as health care, as giveaways to the poor, meaning to black people. The bias still prevails that black people are looking for a handout and that liberals are seeking power by trying to give away the store. In fact, the last 30 years have witnessed a continuing war against black people, a revelation becoming more widely understood in the wake of the killing of Trayvon Martin in Florida.
Obama’s comment on the Martin case was to the effect that, if he had had a son, he would have looked a lot like Trayvon. The point was that Trayvon was not other than the rest of us, except that he had fallen victim to the spreading paranoia that has created a massively armed population increasingly barricading itself in gated communities where unwanted outsiders may be kept at bay.
The Martin case puts into stark relief the question of who is really the victim of these trends. The policies of the past 30 years have created a sense of entitlement by those with property and a message to everyone else: Approach the propertied white man at your peril. If he feels threatened by you, he has the right to kill you.
Those appalled at the shooting of Trayvon Martin are saying it could lead to a new mass movement challenging policies that have created inequalities in the economy, cities, schools and prisons. Combine the social consciousness created by the killing of Trayvon with the economic consciousness raised by the Occupy Wall Street movement, and Obama could end up finding that the enthusiasm he encountered in Vermont is catching on elsewhere as well.
Obama’s first three years have been a tough slog, but we have been slogging through it together. Vermonters willing to pay for the chance to see Obama last week in Burlington were sending the message that the slog has been worth it.
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