Monday, 9 February 2009

Reality Bites

The Honeymoon appears to be over for President Obama - I bet he would have wished for one closer in length to that of Alex Salmond. After a hectic and difficult introductory period to his Presidency, in particular with the disaster of three cabinet picks being forced out due to allegations of impropriety, the current fight over the stimulus package is proving a minefield. It may not be impacting upon his popularity as of yet, but it could turn out to be an issue which rebounds on his administration at a later date.

The problem is that the Republicans, for the first time in several years, are being quite canny. Yeah, the stimulus package is needed to counter the effects of their control and yeah it was a Republican President who helped to destroy a massive surplus and turn it into a deficit of staggering proportions, but they are not letting these mere facts stop them.

Rather they are taking the moral high ground and attacking the wasteful spending of the Democrats. Senator Shelby of Alabama declares that it will lead to disaster while Mitch McConnell (R-Ken) the Senate Minority Leader complained about how the public don't quite understand just how big a trillion dollars is (for interest sake, a million seconds is 11.5 days, a billion seconds is 32 years and a trillion seconds is 32,000 years. Pretty big then).

Of course the irony (not always considered a strong point of American humour) is that the main reason that trillions are being talked about is due to the policies of a Republican President. The party of small government, tax cuts and fiscal responsibility abandoned its principles and savaged the economy in an orgy of greed and misdirected financial interventions. A focus on the 'death tax' as the pinnacle of Republican financial policy ignored the destruction being wrought upon the economy on their watch and it is now the Democrats, and President Obama in particular, who have to try and restore the US economy.

The problem is that voters very quickly forget whose fault it was, and the stimulus package has the potential to become very unpopular. People have already seen billions pumped into the economy and are getting fed up of it - they are therefore getting fed up of further interventions which do not seem to be making a difference to their own standard of living or job opportunities.

The stimulus will pass (there are enough moderate Republicans, just, left to make it fillibuster proof) but the Republicans will happily and shamelessly run with this area of attack, aided by the fact that Democratic control of Congress has not exactly been life changing to date. President Obama has had a shaky start to his tenure, his team not supporting him and guiding him correctly, leaving him open to questions about his commitment to the integrity he pledged to introduce to government. The vetting process did not fail - the problem was that it identified the tax problems which existed but ignored them, presuming them unimportant to the American people. This was a terrible mistake which sent out completely the wrong message to people at a time of economic hardship.

However, his willingness to hold his hands up and admit he got it wrong was a welcome change of approach from a politician and one that our own elected reps could do to learn from. He needs to see some success now if he wants to keep the American people on side. The key criticism of his campaign was that it was all style with little concrete evidence of the policy which would drive his administration. He now needs to stabilise his team, strongly outline his political vision for sorting out the mess he has inherited. Otherwise he could find that the honeymoon becomes little more than a distant memory.

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