Sunday, December 5, 2010

The President Has A Choice

When America snarls, sneezes, snores or sometimes smiles, the rest of the world takes notice. It’s bit of effrontery before such power and might on my part to offer an opinion. But what happens there affects us here. Elsewhere as well. Two years ago there was a hard-fought race for the Presidency. We have no say in the decision as to the most powerful figure in the world. Not only I cannot vote. Even if I were an American citizen I could not stand for the position for I was born otside the Republic.

There are some good things about that vote. The position is not finite – two terms only at the maximum – that’s the present law. The people do have a say every four years. A failure may leave, or be defeated.

It concerns me – a civics-junky – that so many Americans don’t bother to vote. The choice is made by those who do. And we, as they, have to live with the consequences.

From afar it seemed to me that McCain was a decent guy – good record in the Senate, war-hero. But his choice of Palin as his running mate alarmed me. She was untried, unknown and as the campaign went on obviously uneducatable. Not many votes differently in a few key states and she could have been a heart-beat away from the White House. We forget that Obama did not romp in.

In the build-up to the 2008 campaign I watched with intense interest the struggle between Obama and Hillary Clinton. In my head I felt she was the better candidate – knowledge of the issues, experience, Washington-based now-how.

But I’d read his book, loved his message of hope, believed his career path would give him a different perspective on America. His rhetoric was inspiring. He bettered Clinton. That was no mean feat. My American friends all wrote jubilantly about him. I had high hopes – a fresh breeze through Washington. Maybe the fervency was for real, not just hype.

Obviously others sensed the same feeling. The Nobel Peace Prize reflects that attitude. It was not just this little Kiwi. The dispossessed, the underdog, the battler, the folk with mortgages, all over America. Martin Luther King’s “I had a Dream’ was receiving valediction.

The recession did not begin under his watch. He dealt with it as well as he could. But as he called for bi-partisanship, governance opportunities began to slip past. The battle to past health-care absorbed energies and time. He’s inherited two wars. Growing unemployment weakened confidence and eroded hope.

The Republican opposition sensed weakness. Seeing the possibility of a one-term President they unleashed the hounds of continual opposition and a vitriolic media campaign to destabilise his policies and programmes. Their lack of co-operation smacks to me of anti-patriotism. The pragmatics of power over-rode the needs of the country.

In this they were assisted by the Tea-Party, anti-government and anti-Washington to the core. Palin is one of their symbols. She is not be under-estimated – she is a clever campaigner. She knows her audience and how to work the members of it..

Over the last two years I’ve wondered about the wisdom of Obama making concessions and negotiating over issues with his opponents. I’ve no problem with compromise. It’s the nature of politics. But if your opponents won’t budge and it’s you who continually give way then it’s certainly not a win/win situation.

Now, he’s made a significant yielding even before the next Congress assembles. There’ll be a wage freeze on government worker salaries. Scenting blood where will the opposition head next.

I get a picture of a courteous, thoughtful man trying to cope with brutality and dangerous glamour in an atmosphere of adversarial politics that is alien to him.

My instincts suggest that he is choosing the wrong course.

Pop, my grandfather had two heroes, Mickey Savage and Franklin Roosevelt. Their governments used government spending to help counter the rececession. Cutting it compounds the problems. That’s my eye-tooth learning.

Later, I wrestled with the theories that the Second World War saved both governments. But I recall that Harry Truman took on a Republicn congress when it tried to block his continuation of the New Deal. Everyone said he would lose the 1948 presidential election. Papers even had the banner headlines printed ‘Dewey Wins’. The people supported the President. In the voting booth! In Truman’s words ‘the buck stops here’.

The Republicans made sure next time round. Eisenhower, war-time hero, gentleman above the fray. Never a great President but a steady one. I don’t where but I’ve read somewhere how after the Bay of Pigs debacle (newly elected President Kennedy supported an anti-Castro attack on Cuba) he asked Eisenhower to the White House. Eisenhower made him go step by step through what had happened. When Kennedy had finished, Ike toweled him up, and finished to the effect ‘it’s not the mistakes, it’s the lessons learnt.’

Every yielding that Obama makes will create more consternation amongst his supporters. Unless he draws a line in the sand and sticks to it, he’ll increase his own disadvantage. That would be a pity. He had potential It has yet to be realised. There’s more at stake than who will be the next President of the USA. We are all dependent to an extent upon who that person is. When he was in Afghanistan yesterday there would have been an aide nearby with a briefcase. Every president since Truman has had that case handy.

This is a blog I regret feeling that I had to put it up; I hope my instincts are wrong.

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