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Obama backlash: ... gone from deity to doubtful
User ID: 739665
08/01/2009 05:29 PM
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The Barack backlash: How Obama's presidency has gone from deity to doubtful
By Max Hastings 01st August 2009
[link to www.dailymail.co.uk]
On Thursday night, the most powerful man on earth spent 55 minutes of his priceless time simply sharing a beer with a police officer from Cambridge, Massachusetts, and a Harvard professor.
This minutely orchestrated media event was designed to rescue Barack Obama from the most idiotic, yet nonetheless damaging, row of his presidency.
The American people are convulsed, not with laughter, because the story touches the obsessive issue of racism.
It began a fortnight ago, when Professor Louis Gates locked himself out of his own house and set about breaking in.
A neighbour phoned police, reporting a suspected burglary. A police car arrived and an officer quizzed Gates. After an angry altercation, though the house owner proved his identity, he was arrested.
Louis Gates is black. He accused the cop, who is white, of racism. The story made all the newspapers.
At a regular White House press conference last week, almost all the exchanges were about healthcare reform, until a reporter slipped in a final question about Gates.
Obama joked that he wondered what would happen if he tried to break into the White House. 'I guess this is my home now, so it wouldn't happen.' But at his old place back in Chicago: 'I'd get shot.'
Then he got serious. He said that African-Americans and Hispanics often find themselves victims of racial profiling. He acknowledged 'Skip' Gates was a personal friend and suggested the Cambridge police had 'acted stupidly'.
His remarks caused the roof to fall in. Argument has raged in the Press, on radio and TV shows about such a display of partisanship by the nation's leader on a contested policing issue.
A lot of people who hate him anyway asserted triumphantly that this proves what they have said all along: he is a 'black boy' with a chip.
Glenn Beck, one of Fox News's lunatic troupe of Right-wing pundits, denounced Obama as 'having a deep-seated hatred for white people'.
A lawyer discussing the Gates case in a smart Washington street while watching patrolmen make an arrest said loudly to a friend 'I hate the police' and was himself promptly handcuffed.
A Boston policeman has been suspended for describing Gates in an email as a 'Jungle Monkey'.
The President sought to defuse the national furore by inviting both parties in the Harvard fracas for a beer in the Rose Garden, joined by Vice-President Joe Biden.
This was well-meaning, but doubtful politics.
Millions of Americans echo the view of an internet blogger, who writes: 'Doesn't the President have more important things to do than to sit around drinking beers with a law enforcement officer who he labelled racist?'
The Gates row comes at a time when Obama's political dominance already looked significantly weaker than on the January morning when he took the presidential oath and was widely perceived as a god.
He has reverted to human status. His approval ratings are pretty much the same as George W. Bush's at the same stage of his presidency.
An early July poll showed Obama receiving 59 per cent backing, well down from his stratospheric numbers in early spring.
A new survey taken since the Gates row suggests his score dropping to 52 per cent.
On a range of critical issues, Obama's idealism has collided with Washington's business-as-usual politics.
His proposals to combat climate change (a global deal to prevent world temperatures increasing by more than 2C) have been emasculated by Congress.
His healthcare reform bill (based on cost cutting and covering the uninsured) is in trouble. Already mangled on Capitol Hill, it might fail to pass at all.
Right-wing Democrats, so-called 'blue dogs', belong to the President's own party, but resist reform out of deference to the perceived views of their constituents.
Doctors and drug companies have been lobbying fiercely against Obama, arguing that his universal healthcare benefits scheme will diminish the quality of treatment citizens receive under existing health insurance.
A lot of people get rich out of overcharging Americans for every kind of medical service from emergency hospitalisation to cosmetic surgery. They are fighting like tigers to protect their rackets.
Meanwhile, congressmen tremble about the tax implications of funding a trillion-dollar programme to benefit mostly the poor.
The Republican rump on the Hill cares nothing for Obama's overwhelming electoral mandate. They resist everything the President wants, every inch of the way.
The party is dominated by Right-wing southerners and people who think Alaska's apple pie, ultra Right-wing Republican hopeful Sarah Palin is wonderful.
These folk do not consider Obama to be merely wrong. They regard him as a threat to everything they hold dear, from gun ownership to cheap petrol.
In parallel to the Gates sensation, an even crazier personal row is buzzing around the President.
A fantasy has even gained currency in the redneck belt that he is not really an American and is thus ineligible to hold office.
The so-called 'birthers' claim his birth certificate, issued in Hawaii, is a forgery; he was really born in Kenya.
Take a look at the web-posted comments of a host of newspaper readers, such as those of the Houston Chronicle. There is a stream of stuff from sceptics: 'Why has Obama spent over a million dollars to hide all his secrets? Bring it all out and let the Supreme Court decide.'
They allege that the certificate was produced on a laser printer, which did not exist in 1961. They claim authorities in Aloha County, Hawaii, have colluded in a sinister deception.
A U.S. Army reserve major in Florida has allegedly declared his refusal to serve a commander-in-chief who has not proved his eligibility for office.
Five Texas congressmen are proposing that all future Presidential candidates should be obliged to provide evidence of U.S. birth.
It is all spectacularly batty. Right-wing Americans have embraced conspiracy theories since the Cold War days when they professed that adding fluoride to the nation's water supply was a communist plot to poison the free.
Modern doom-mongers are warning nervous hicks that measures to tackle climate change threaten their sacred hamburgers: greens advocate cutting meat consumption because livestock generates so much methane gas, and Obama is seen as a green.
Beyond concerns about Gates and birth certificates, there is a much graver and more widespread fear: that the President is squandering money in pursuit of socialism.
His national healthcare plan will be funded by raising taxes on the rich. Unease persists about the government's bail-out of General Motors and the big banks.
The U.S. is an instinctively conservative society. Many Americans believe natural selection requires losers to be allowed to fail, just as they cherish the right of winners to succeed.
It sticks in their gut to see bankers again awarding themselves huge bonuses, reverting to greed as usual, only months after gobbling hundreds of billions of taxpayers' money given to them by the President.
'Obama has single-handed paid for failures and supported organisations that should have gone under,' is a typical bitter citizen's web comment.
'So the rich people really in charge get acquisitions for pennies on the dollar. Every baby born is already $80,000 in debt. That's a nice nest egg.'
Let us keep the criticism in perspective. Despite the vociferous Obama-haters out there, a majority of Americans still perceive their President as the most remarkable human being to occupy the White House for decades.
He is stately, clever, inspirational, witty, cool, imaginative. His speech in Cairo last month, addressing the Muslim world as part of his approach to Middle East diplomacy, was a masterpiece.
He has raised America's standing in the world in an extraordinary fashion, setting ambitious, admirable goals.
He wants universal healthcare for Americans, progress against climate change, reconciliation with Muslims, disengagement from Iraq, a tougher line towards Israel, a new deal for Afghanistan, a more enlightened America and revival of the global economy.
He has shown himself wonderfully open to new ideas, for instance, bringing scientists into the White House where George Bush was determinedly deaf to them.
Smart people get a hearing from this president on every kind of issue.
Yet six months in, there is a big and growing doubt: does Obama know how to translate purposes into results?
It baffles many people, including his fans, that he seems unwilling to get out and fight, as every president must fight, to get things done.
He has left Congress to horse-trade about his climate change and healthcare bills, with the result that real progress hangs in doubt. It has become plain that there will be no major reform of financial regulation to prevent a recurrence of the bankers' excesses.
There are fears that the huge sums thrown into economic stimulus and bank rescues may have increased America's alarming indebtedness, without yielding decisive benefits.
Abroad, Obama seeks to open many doors, but a dismaying number have slammed in his face. The Right-wing Israeli government defies his demand to halt Jewish settlement on the West Bank. Iran shows itself implacable.
The Chinese offer him no favours. Iraq remains an unexploded, ticking bomb. The administration is moving sluggishly about addressing the problems of Afghanistan. The Russians are icily hostile.
Last year, as I watched Obama on the campaign trail, I expressed concern in this paper that there might be a hint of Tony Blair about him.
Blair brilliantly articulated dreams. But posterity is likely to think poorly of his premiership because he failed to convert aspirations into realities. Retaining office for a decade was his only durable achievement.
It would be monstrously unfair to assert this will be true of Obama, that he is doomed to disappoint - his presidency is still in its first phase.
But unless he changes gear, gets in there and mixes it with his foes, rallies his allies, plays the tough, dirty Washington political game as it must be played, he cannot attain his huge objectives.
No president succeeds by playing Mr Nice Guy, as Jimmy Carter can testify. Mean, nasty Lyndon Johnson got many more good things done than glamorous John F. Kennedy, until he sank himself in the swamp of Vietnam.
Obama represents a remarkable, indeed, noble new force in the White House, but the world remains depressingly the same.
Those of us who admire the man - which means much of the world's population - passionately want to see the sceptics put to flight.
But the Louis Gates episode and Thursday's embarrassing White House beer-fest have hurt Obama because they make him seem all too human.
His autobiographical books make plain that, in younger days at least, he possessed his share of the anger nursed by most black Americans about the historic mistreatment of their race.
During his political ascent, he kept such sentiments under iron control. But last week, in a careless moment he let those sentiments show - and injured himself.
Obama possesses the potential for greatness. But henceforward, he will be judged not by what he is, but by what he gets done.
Grip is vital to every national leadership, and is so far absent from his presidency.
It will be a tragedy if a man who promises the world so much that it wants and needs allows his vision to founder because he makes the shots, but simply cannot follow through.
User ID: 639746
08/01/2009 05:35 PM
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