Obama: Second term, tough battle
By Sir Ronald Sanders
BRIDGETOWN, Barbados, Thursday April 7, 2011 - Barack Obama has launched his campaign for re-election to the Presidency of the United States in 2012. In launching his campaign so early, Obama plans on raising a billion dollars. He will need every cent of it for the financial supporters of the Republican Party and the fringe Tea Party are determined to see the back of him. They will spend a large fortune in trying to realize that ambition.
But, first, they will have to decide among themselves who their Presidential candidate will be to run against Obama. The process of reaching that decision will not only eat-up a great deal of their campaign funds, it will leave much Republican blood on the ground. In the meantime, since Obama is expected to win the Democratic Party nomination unopposed, he can concentrate his funding on selling his programme prior to the Presidential run-off, and then on selling himself as deserving of a second term.
His first term so far has been anything but a cake-walk. Obama came into office with America involved in two costly wars – three, if we count the so-called “war on terrorism”. Afghanistan and Iraq were not only draining America’s treasury, they were hemorrhaging the blood of American soldiers. Neither was popular or glamorous, and American families want out of both. Obama also inherited the worst US financial nightmare since the recession of the 1930’s, and the Treasury was owed more than a trillion dollars that had to be pumped into financial institutions to keep them afloat and to pull the economy from the brink of collapse.
In the year that followed, the domestic scene became even grimmer. Unemployment grew, homes were repossessed as banks foreclosed on unpaid mortgages, and doors of businesses were closed from sea to shining sea.
His plans for a health care scheme, signed into law in March of last year, remains an issue among US lawmakers who have used it to divide the society. He has also had to compromise on his plans to reinstate tax cuts introduced by his Republican predecessor, George W. Bush, and to develop a working relationship with big business. In respect of the latter development, he has been accused of being a tool of these corporations whose influence he had pledged to cut when he was campaigning for the Presidency.
By the mid-term elections last year, Obama’s popularity rating had declined considerably and the Democrats lost control of the US Congress. As matters now stand, unemployment is still high at 8.8 per cent with more than 7 million people, who were employed three years ago, now out of work. The economy reportedly grew by 2.9 per cent in 2010 but the country is highly indebted at $14.1 trillion with the single largest holder being China with $1.1 trillion. Its debt to GDP ratio is over 90 per cent and could rise to over 100 per cent by 2015. In an unprecedented move, the US Federal Reserve resorted to buying substantial Treasury securities and bonds to keep interest rates low and to avoid more indebtedness to foreign governments.
As this commentary is being written, the Democrats and Republicans have failed to reach agreement on a Budget for the next fiscal year despite Obama’s personal intervention. Failure to reach agreement will leave the government with no money to spend on goods and services for the American people.
It is quite likely that a Budget will be agreed but it will be one with deep spending cuts that will hurt the Obama administration in the run up to the 2012 Presidential elections. Most at risk will be his signature health care programme that the Republicans are resolved to destroy.
One of the unspoken factors – at least openly unspoken – is race. Despite everything that is said. Obama did not win the Presidency the first time round with an overwhelming number of white votes. His support came from blacks, Hispanics and other minorities who voted overwhelmingly for him. It was them and a minority of additional white supporters who got him past the tape. The race issue continues to be used by his detractors in many subtle ways. One example is the continued questioning of whether or not he was born in America and therefore entitled to run for the US Presidency. Just recently, Donald Trump – billionaire landlord, hotel magnate, television personality, and self-described Tea Partier, who fancies his chances of being nominated as a Republican Presidential candidate – has suggested that Obama was born in Kenya and that he should make his birth certificate public.
The Republicans have also rubbished Obama’s foreign policy positions stating that they put America at risk and are not tough enough on its enemies or kind enough to its friends. It’s pretty certain that if the Republicans were in office, Hosni Mubarak would still be the President of Egypt and there would have been no urging by the US administration for him to go as Obama did. Obama is also yet to explain in a credible way why he did not adopt the same attitude to the rulers of Bahrain and why he turned a blind eye to Saudi Arabian troops rolling across the border to prop up the Bahrain royal family in the face of street protests, very similar to those in Tunisia and Egypt.
Before Obama came to office he said he wanted an America that is less combative and more cooperative with the rest of the world. America’s foreign policy, he said, should be based on its core values including the pursuit of liberty and the protection rather than violation of human rights. He argued that this should be achieved by diplomacy rather than military might and by multilateral approaches rather than unilateral action. In particular, he placed high regard on multinational cooperation through the United Nations.
In dealing with Libya, this was precisely the approach he used and to good effect. But he left himself exposed to his willing supporters and his worse critics when he did not apply the same principles in Bahrain and Yemen.
Still, Obama’s rating with the American people now stands at 49 per cent, a big jump from the low ratings of four months ago when the Democrats suffered the biggest losses in mid-term elections since 1983.
The question is can he sustain it in difficult domestic economic circumstances sufficient to make him win in 2012. He has an uphill task before him, and the Republicans know it. They are gathering their forces.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Sir Ronald Sanders. Sir Ronald Sanders is a Consultant and former Caribbean diplomat.
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