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President Obama is a man with a dilemma: should he keep navigating the centre of the political spectrum to try and save whatever congressional seat can be saved from the Republican onslought? Should he veer left instead and do a real, no holds-barred liberal job, in line with what so many of the grassroots Democratic voters expected of him?
So far, he's tried to please both sides. At one end of the spectrum, he's pushed for Social Security for All and at the other he's maintained a war-like military stance in both Iraq and Afghanistan.
I had hoped he would close the Iraq question as soon as he got into office - but Iraq is still there, with a much higher military presence than he had at first promised: 50,000 troops remain to keep order. That's a lot for what should be a non-war! As to Afghanistan...well, he had never said he would pull out of that one, and indeed, far from pulling out, it's become a much larger conflict complete with a "surge". I hate that word "surge", it just means more troops are brought in, more war, more deaths. Another Vietnam. With these contradictory policies he is certainly confusing his grassroots followers.
This is hardly the moment to confuse them. It would seem that Big Business is behind the Republican Tea Party, out to get you-know-who. That's in an op-ed of the New York Times and I believe it. It's not just Murdoch of Fox News who's jumped in the fray but many others, including the Koch Brothers, of famed Texas "oil" wealth. Are you getting a feeling of déjà vu? I sure am. These guys have reportedly financed both the protests around plans to build a mosque in New York near Ground Zero and more recently the huge crowd that rallied in Washington, around the Lincoln Memorial,at the site where the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his "I have a Dream" speech 47 years ago.
Summoned by Glenn Beck, a conservative broadcaster who'd like to see "a religious rebirth" in the United States, it was a large turnout, some 300,000 people according to NBC News estimates. Of course, beck himself claimed double that figure. And while it was supposedly religious in spirit, it had a disturbing political halo around it. According to the New York Times, "people in the crowd echoed Mr. Beck's ideas that 'progressives' were moving the United States towards socialism and that entitlement programs like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid must be ended".
Imagine a meeting like that in any European capital: impossible! You'd never get 300,000 people shouting and calling for the end of Social Security...When reading news like this one realizes how dramatically different the United States are from Europe. And how much Big Business manages to influence the political scene. For example, Italy's prime minister is a hard-headed businessman - the Italian version of Murdoch - and all the parties on the right are governing the country, but the Italian social security system (INPS) is in no danger of disappearing. There are no crowds in the street calling for its demise.
Something like that does not enter the discussion, full stop.But in America it does. And it seems to work.
What is Obama going to do about it? He's in a quandary. What CAN he do, given his image? There is an enormous percentage of Americans who think he's a Moslem, something like 18 or 19 percent. And it's a growing percentage: at the time he was sworn in office it was around 11 or 12 percent! Some go so far as to call him derisively Imam-in-chief Barack Hussein Obama. That certainly ties him down and makes it hard for him to carry out a Democratic liberal agenda, which is really the only thing he ought to do...and perhaps save America from people who do not believe in education, public health or helping the poor. People who'd like to turn America into a capitalistic jungle...
In the week following the Lincoln Memorial rally, Obama has given us an inkling of how he might play it. He's wound down the American presence in Iraq with a well-balanced intelligent speech and sent Biden and Gates to the ceremony in Baghdad. Clever...And within 24 hours, he was hosting at the White House a meeting meant to jumpstart renewed peace negotiations between Israel and Palestine. It seems to have worked somewhat since Abbas and Netanyahu have walked away agreeing to meet again around 15 September and thereafter (perhaps?) every two weeks. Mmmm...Wish something would come out of those talks, even if I'm rather skeptical. We all know the 100 years War lasted...well, one hundred years and this could well be the same. Not to mention the trouble in Ireland that also started nearly one hundred years ago. Humans seem to love long, dragged out wars...
But to get back to Obama. He is obviously playing the foreign affairs card. The trouble is that in America people don't care much about foreign issues, and most people would like to see American involvement in wars around the world come to an end. The issue that matters most is... "the economy, stupid!" It was crucial in Clinton's campaign and made him win the White House. Unfortunately for Obama, with the on-going recession looking like it might get worse before it gets better, it could undo him at the next presidential election. He really ought to concentrate on measures to help turn around the economy. Since what he's proposed so far won't pass muster in Congress, he ought to think of something else. It has been suggested that he should think of fiscal measures such as cutting taxes for businesses that hire people and schemes that support consumption.
Maybe...But I can't help escape the feeling that Obama's real problem is that he is presiding over an American retreat around the world, both political and economic. People in America don't like that and try to fault him. But it's not his fault, it's the way the cookie crumbles. The new powers are rising (China, India...) and America is in the process of joining the old powers (Europe).
Welcome, dear America, to the old sclerotic club! And you should take consolation, America, in the fact that you are guided by a very, very intelligent man. He could still wield power among the sclerotics...