BOOKS
03/28/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Haiti After The Quake, Obama After Massachusetts: Chance To Rebuild

The New York Review Of Books

"Haiti's Hidden Hope"
Mark L. Schneider; Senior Vice President, Special Adviser on Latin America, International Crisis Group

The colossal earthquake that struck Haiti last week raises a profound and recurring question for this fragile nation. As they bury over 100,000 dead--some of them in mass graves--and more than a million survivors seek water, food, shelter and medicines, can Haitians ever move beyond mere survival to build a more viable state? For a nation battered by two centuries of misrule, divided by garish contrasts between rich and poor, stripped of its forests, victimized annually by vicious hurricanes, built astride a ghastly seismic fault-line and situated on a favored route for cocaine traffickers, one may well conclude that misery here is endemic.

Yet it is one of the terrible ironies of this latest calamity--the worst natural disaster in the history of the Western hemisphere--that in the year preceding the earthquake, Haiti had made considerable progress. Just last year, I sat in the now destroyed presidential palace with President René Préval as we discussed the need to move quickly on training and vetting new judges and relieving the pressures on vastly overcrowded jails. President Préval, who was elected in 2006 with broad popular support, initiated reforms of the police forces and judiciary, with some success. Following last year's hurricane, the government was able to forge a national consensus on a recovery plan emphasizing rapid creation of jobs in industries benefiting from special U.S. trade offers and tourism, primary education, sustainable small-scale farming, and rural development. These little noted achievements could--if resurrected--provide the beginnings of a new Haiti.

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"After Massachusetts: His Hopes Did Him In"
Garry Wills

During the 2008 primary campaigns, there was a constant muted roar telling Barack Obama to become more aggressive, to answer wild allegations against him, to "stand up to" Hillary Clinton or his other rivals. He rightly saw that would boomerang against him. The last thing he could appear was an angry black man. Harry Reid, with his derided comments in the book Game Change, was basically right. It was helpful that Obama, the first black man with a realistic chance at the presidency, was lighter skinned and better spoken than, say, an Al Sharpton or Jesse Jackson. He was the anti-Sharpton, not railing against American racism. He was more a Sidney Poitier than a Shirley Chisholm.

He was hopeful, optimistic, patriotic--all necessary qualities in the mold-breaker; he was soothing, not threatening. He promised to unite red and blue states, to end a period of bitter divisiveness in Washington. To many it mattered more that he was the anti-Bush than that he was the anti-Sharpton.A policy of omnidirectional placation had served him well as the editor of the Harvard Law Review, as a community organizer, as a state senator. But the mild manner works only if it removes the threat from a serious purpose. In the presidency, Obama has let the mild manner become the purpose. And with the loss of the Massachusetts Senate race, that purpose--and his ability to act on it--has been put in deep doubt.

In a sense, he swallowed his own Kool-Aid. He worked on the unrealistic assumption that his really was a post-racial, post-partisan, post-red-state-blue-state America. He spent a year and endless energy in trying to please and recruit the Olympia Snowes and Charles Grassleys and Max Baucuses and Big Pharmacies. He let them dictate the pace and the terms of the health care debate, making it hostage to the virulent town hall meetings of the summer of 2009. They were never going to be his allies. He should have identified them as his foes early on, and attacked them as such.

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