When Ronald Reagan was elected president in 1980 it was written somewhere that America’s post-civil rights era had arrived. Gone were the civil rights days when minorities and poor people held the government to task for having systematically excluded them in employment, housing,education and so forth
Suddenly, individuals were instructed to assume responsibility for their own exclusion. The culture of poverty replaced government as the problem’s source which led to a solipsistic and defeatist self referencing to individual helplessness. People in need were stuck.
Almost three decades later, we are experiencing a similar disequilibrium in Obama’s America. As a candidate for president, and during his first year in office, Obama– himself the product and exemplar of MLK’s I have a dream speech– has ushered in a post-racial discourse, which bears some similarly to Reagan’s post civil rights politics.
Obama downplays the relevance of rights when he discusses the pressing problems of his day. Consider health care. Obama’s emphasis is on forging more effective and efficient systems. He downplays social justice in health care, for example, by focusing on health care costs for the middle class rather than on the basis needs of the uninsured for health insurance.
Obama’s post racial social policy envisions the assets he associates with consensus building and balancing of competing interests. Along the way Obama perpetuates the privatization of risk paradigm first popularized under Reagan and institutionalized under W Bush, albeit in a manner that is more inclusive. Under this paradigm, disenfranchised, poor, minorities continue to lose out. The alternative human rights paradigm would consider the stark realities of people forced to abide a life without health insurance and in the shadows of law, and would compel the government to assume responsibility for affording all people with basic human dignity.