Obama looks a lame duck as elections loom
THE shock about coming to America after an absence of four months is how, in that time, respect for and confidence in President Barack Obama has slumped. It wasn't good in March; now the effect of what one blogger has called his apparent "impotence" has taken hold.
It is not clear what Obama actually does. He isn't engaged with the economy; he certainly isn't engaged with foreign policy; he has abandoned hope of a climate change bill this year; he has seen his healthcare bill into law, but America awaits news of how it will be implemented; and he is under attack for a casual approach to illegal immigration, notably from the Mexican narco-state.
He has only just girded himself to go campaigning for his party in the mid-term elections. Last Sunday was the 100-days-to-go mark, and the talk in politics here is of little else. Joe Biden, the vice-president, has been nominated as "campaigner in chief". Why? What is the president doing?
He appears to be reading the newspapers and the blogs and watching television. Last week, a twisted opponent put out a selectively edited video of a black Department of Agriculture official, Shirley Sherrod, apparently admitting discriminating against a white farmer.
Sherrod had done nothing of the sort -- either the discrimination or, therefore, the admission of it -- but was immediately sacked, for fear that Fox News was about to broadcast the video. This outrageous act was followed by an even more outrageous apology by the president the next day -- outrageous in that Sherrod was not immediately given back her job.
In the White House there were, we are told, great mutual congratulations (to start with) that swift action had stopped this becoming "a story". Well, it's a story now, not least because it exemplifies the incompetence and disconnection of the administration. Sherrod's husband was a leading civil rights activist and her father was murdered by white racists in 1965, so there is a resonance to this story that is causing discomfort.
This immediate proof of mismanagement adds to the cumulative feeling on so many other fronts that Obama and his team simply don't understand governance. Last month Ben Bernanke, the chairman of the Federal Reserve, warned America that without more care being taken it could have a Greece-style debt problem.
Unemployment is at 9.5pc and forecast to stay there. There are three million more jobless than when Obama came to power, and unemployment among teenagers is around 25pc. The very constituencies to which he made his greatest appeal -- the young and the disadvantaged -- still suffer. This is despite the $787bn (€606bn) stimulus programme last year.
Bernanke wants a renewal of Bush-era tax cuts for people earning more than $250,000 (€192,000) a year, which are due to expire on December 31. So do many Democrats, who fear that removing incentives and purchasing power from the better-off will harm recovery by reducing consumption and employment.
One advocate of renewing the cuts is Newt Gingrich, architect of the "Contract with America" in 1994, and now threatening to seek the Republican nomination in 2012. He is experienced, an intellectual, and has widespread name recognition.
Yet some Democrats (including Howard Dean, the party chairman) are urging him to stand, if only to ensure that the Republicans make some policies that the Democrats can attack: for, at the moment, the GOP (Grand Old Party) is simply attacking the incumbents rather than offering any solutions of its own.
ONE senses that the Democrats are talking down the likelihood of success in the mid-terms in order to look better if things go less badly than expected. It is possible that they could lose control of Congress, though that looks a close-run thing.
They certainly won't lose their Senate majority, though the Republicans should get sufficient seats to operate a filibuster against legislation they don't like. A lame-duck Congress like that would emphasise the reality of a lame-duck president. On Wall Street, some former donors to the Democrats, so angry at what they perceive to be Obama's vindictive and ignorant attempts to reregulate them, have stopped giving money to the party.
In that ecstatic dawn in November 2008, the Democrats would not have thought that things could turn out like this. But that is the trouble with the modern political mind these days: it never does think. (© Daily Telegraph, London)