Partisan interests rule US politics

Partisan interests rule US politics

The Obama administration is learning the hard way that Washington is ruled by partisan interests and sensibilities rather than national interest and good sense. Many years ago Thomas ‘Tip’ O’Neill, a Democrat and veteran speaker of the lower house of Congress, summed up the situation in the US capital when he uttered the dictum, “All politics is local.”

Partisanship ruled when the House of Representatives debated a $ 636 billion defence spending bill, the last of a dozen appropriations measures for 2010 to be adopted.

Although legislators bowed to President Barack Obama—who had threatened to use his veto if funding for the F-22 fighter jet remained—they packed the bill with plenty of “pork” for the powerful “military-industrial complex.” The “pork” provides for expenditures on equipment which is either obsolete or otherwise unwanted by the military. Among the items Obama wanted to cancel were a new presidential helicopter, transport planes, and a missile defence programme.

He failed. In September the bill will go to the Senate which is certain to make its own partisan modifications. Obama’s healthcare reform package is also being altered by members of the House. While Republicans oppose his “socialist” health reforms, many members of his own Democratic Party are in the forefront of the campaign to make changes pleasing to pharmaceutical firms, hospitals, and medical insurers. Few legislators consider the 47 million US citizens who do not have health insurance coverage or the tens of millions whose family budgets are strained by insurance premiums. Members of the House are more interested in getting re-elected in 2010 than in serving the public.

Election campaigns cost money which drug companies, insurers and medical lobbies provide. Obama had put his health bill at the top of his agenda, but it seems it will not be finalised until after Congress returns from its summer recess.

In the US, race is so sensitive few wish to discuss it. Obama has done his best to downplay the issue since he moved into the White House. But white discrimination against blacks, Asians, and Latinos is a part of daily life.

During my stay in Washington, the top topic was the July 16 handcuffing and arrest in his own home of black Harvard Professor Henry Gates by white cop James Crowley. Gates, who writes and lectures on racism, was trying to force the front door his Cambridge, Massachusetts, home when a passerby alerted the police to a possible burglary.

Crowley, who is a police counsellor on racial profiling, answered the call and accosted Gates who had gained entry to his home by the time the cops arrived. Crowley asked Gates to step out on the porch and provide proof that he was the owner. After identity papers had been presented, there was a bitter exchange. Gates was charged with
“disorderly conduct” but political uproar compelled the cops to withdraw the charge.

Gates would never have been arrested if he had been white or Crowley had been black.

Obama responded to the incident by saying that the police had “acted stupidly.” The national police federation castigated the president. Obama backed off and invited both men for beer at the White House. Gates and Crowley met in Obama’s back garden, drank their beer but neither apologised. Media commentators had a field day with the “beer summit” but the aggrieved men’s egos remain bruised.

The Washington political class has its ears tuned to sensitivities: the sensitivities of black citizens, the sensitivities of bumbling policemen, and the sensitivities of Jews who suffer anti-Semitism and anti-Jewish feeling, or what is portrayed as anti-Semitism which is top of the list of sensitivities. This is why the pro-Israel lobby groups wield so much influence and why the Arabs have been largely unable to break through the wall of sensitivities surrounding Israel.

Obama is now battling pro-Israel lobby groups as well as sensitivities over anti-Semitism in a bid to halt settlement expansion in East Jerusalem and the West Bank so that a Palestinian state can emerge in these areas. He has the backing of 70 per cent of US citizens, including a similar percentage of those of Jewish background.  But lobbies and sensitivities have more weight than voters because lobbies promote and exploit those sensitivities to nobble politicians determined to remain in office.

Obama has had to accept “pork” in his defence bill. He has seen his health proposal whittled down by representatives from his own party as well as opposition Republicans.

His drive for West Asian peace is faltering because Israel is resisting his call for a settlement halt and negotiations with Palestinians. On all these issues Obama is being stymied by lobbies and sensitivities, Congressional cowardice and partisanship.

DH Newsletter Privacy Policy Get top news in your inbox daily