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U.S. President Barack Obama has been hailed as a "superb orator", and his well-crafted State of the Union address showed us a clever, calculating politician who still has the ability to make a big impact on the world (REUTERS/Mandel Ngan)

U.S. President Barack Obama has been hailed as a "superb orator", and his well-crafted State of the Union address showed us a clever, calculating politician who still has the ability to make a big impact on the world (REUTERS/Mandel Ngan)

REUTERS

U.S. President Barack Obama can win the next round of Senate and House of Representatives seats for the Democratic Party (REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque)

U.S. President Barack Obama can win the next round of Senate and House of Representatives seats for the Democratic Party (REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque)

REUTERS

U.S President Barack Obama hugs Sacramento Mayor and former NBA basketball player Kevin Johnson who introduced him to speak at the U.S. Conference of Mayors at the White House in Washington January 23 (REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque)

U.S President Barack Obama hugs Sacramento Mayor and former NBA basketball player Kevin Johnson who introduced him to speak at the U.S. Conference of Mayors at the White House in Washington January 23 (REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque)

REUTERS

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U.S. President Barack Obama has been hailed as a "superb orator", and his well-crafted State of the Union address showed us a clever, calculating politician who still has the ability to make a big impact on the world (REUTERS/Mandel Ngan)

Barack Obama cannot win the next US presidential election. He cannot even stand as a candidate, since his statutory two terms will have ended. But he can win the next round of Senate and House of Representatives seats for the Democratic Party.

And after his brilliantly-crafted State of the Union address this week, who would bet against that proposition?

When he first burst on to the American and world scene, we knew him at once as a superb orator. But after he entered office, he disappointed his admirers again and again.

He took Abraham Lincoln as his model. Lincoln wanted to reconcile north and south after the American civil war. He failed - simply because he never got the chance to undertake the task. He was assassinated almost immediately after the war ended.

President Obama for his part failed because the Republican Party had fallen into the hands of extremists who wanted confrontation, not reconciliation. His pleas for bipartisanship were ignored or derided. His opponents went so far as to try to make governing the country impossible.

Yet, in his speech, Mr Obama returned constantly to the theme of bipartisanship - although he knew that a Congress with both Houses in the hands of the Republicans would not listen. It was almost as if his early naivety had given way to cynicism. That is hardly fair comment, but he certainly showed himself in a new role - that of the clever, calculating politician.

In the first place, he dwelt on the United States' recent economic successes. These are real. Production is rising, unemployment falling. He exaggerated only a little when he claimed that the country had come through the last dreadful six years stronger than ever.

That makes a striking contrast with the sad condition of Europe, where policies of a very different kind have been implemented. He did not make the comparison himself, but while he spoke his listeners knew that Mario Draghi was riding to the rescue of Europe with a policy similar to that of the United States.

Secondly, he came up with an unfamiliar phrase, "middle-class economics". The key to this term is simple: tax increases for those earning over $500,000 a year, cuts for those below that level - and for the "working poor", a rise in the minimum wage.

None of that will make much difference to the ever-growing disparities of wealth between rich and poor. It will, however, be good for families and for the economy. And the Republicans will not find it easy to persuade voters that a small tax increase for millionaires is unjust and cruel. The President announced numerous other policies, including one which has special relevance for Ireland. We have "skin" in the immigration game. Thousands of "undocumented" Irish live in a legal limbo in the US. Unfortunately, informed opinion in Washington suggests that, once again, reform is unlikely. He threatened to force some of his favourite measures through by "executive action". Whether, or how, this will work is uncertain. Very likely we will have to watch a variety of complex manoeuvres, ending more often in deadlock than in agreement.

Foreign policy hardly figured in the speech. Mr Obama, of course, had little or nothing to offer in the way of good news. He defended his Middle East policies, but he need not expect his words to make much impact on world opinion. US Middle East policies are clearly in a shambolic condition, and unlikely to be settled by the strange Republican decision to invite the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, to Washington.

Mr Netanyahu will surely argue against attempts by the president to improve relations with Iran. His view of the Middle East is founded entirely on what he sees as Israeli interests. He and Mr Obama have fallen out on this subject in the past.

The president's own views are heavily influenced by the terrorist threat to the United States. Washington does not appear to have taken on board the growing dangers in Europe, which include the likely return of thousands of young Europeans (and Americans) who have fought with Isil in Iraq and Syria.

Political leaders nearing the end of their careers often turn to foreign affairs, if only as a relief from domestic problems. Although Mr Obama might like to follow that example, he will be preoccupied with domestic affairs over the next two years.

If luck stays with him, they should be two very good years. If he can implement even half of these projects, an already sound American economy will continue to flourish, with world-wide advantages including advantages to Ireland in the shape of exports and investment.

And the comfort of knowing that the world's most powerful man is a clever politician.

Irish Independent