Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Obama's Challenges

Originally posted 8-Nov-2008 at truepolitik.myperspective.org.au

The world is recovering from Barack Obama’s historic win as US President-elect. As the first black man elected to govern from the White House, and first Democratic President (to be) since Bill Clinton he carries the hopes and dreams of many of his citizens, and, indeed, of many in the world.
Euphoria is an emotion that lasts such a short time - and it’s hard landing when it wears off. Obama had sufficient wisdom to tell people this when he reminded them that the US still has a President, George W Bush, and will do, until his inauguration on 20 January 2009. He has also moved to hose down expectations of rapid change - has asked to be judged on his first 1000 days, not the usual 100 days.

His challenges include:
  • the US economy, which has suffered the after effects of George Bush’s “laissez-faire” economic policies that verged on economic nihilism: there is no right or wrong, “the market” will fix itself. Of course, when the self-inflicted financial crisis hit, Wall St socialism became the philosophy of choice. President Bush was forced, basically, to pump public money into institutions which had based their financial decisions on “greed is good”, while abandoning financial prudence in their lending practices. As he did so, almost every Congress member and Senator due for election wanted money for their electorate, and the initial 3-page bill became more than 500 pages. Domestic financial and prudential reform will be a slow, difficult process, as will economic recovery.

  • George W Bush’s wars, especially those in Iraq and, to a lesser extent, Afghanistan, are unpopular. They are seen as unwinnable by many ordinary Americans, and their death toll on US service people are unacceptable to them. Bush’s advice that Iraq could become the USA’s next “Vietnam” - advice he ignored - is a popular perception. Determining if, when and how to withdraw will be a significant hurdle for Obama, and his military advisers.

  • global warming is still an international issue, even though it’s been pushed off the news headlines.

  • domestic health changes, including a universal health scheme were among his election policies. Many were ashamed when the world was shown images of aid organisations providing free medical and dental services in tents to US citizens in “middle America”; basic health services that ought to have been available to them.

  • the political revolving door- political appointments and the relationship with (wealthy) lobbyists is something he will have to tackle earliest. If he doesn’t take measures before and immediately upon his inauguration, the gravy train will roll on, and on, and on.
Despite the expectations born of euphoria, Barack Obama’s performance will not be radical change, but will likely be measured, and slower than many expect. That’s as it should be.