All not well with Barack Obama


President Barack Obama is facing a major test of his resolve on Wednesday when he addresses Congress on healthcare reform. His job approval rating has fallen from 65 per cent to 50-52 per cent in spite of the relative success of his economic stimulus package and other domestic policies.

By spending $88 billion over six months to prop up altering banks and the automotive industry and offering tax credits to car and home buyers, Obama has prevented the ‘Great Recession’ from becoming another ‘Great Depression’. He has also secured the appointment to the Supreme Court of its first Hispanic justice, banned torture during interrogation, set in motion the closure of the detention centre at Guantanamo Bay, and laid down a deadline for US troops to leave Iraq.

Unfortunately, public expectations are greater than his achievements, particularly on the crucial home front. His economic policies have not yet translated into jobs, while the chief beneficiaries of Obama’s relief programmes have been the poor and lower middle class rather than the middle class which has been quick to express disappointment, dragging down his ratings.

Three important issues

Obama has given three issues pride of place on his first year agenda: providing healthcare for 47 million US citizens without private insurance, stabilising Afghanistan, and achieving peace in West Asia. On healthcare reform, he is being let down by members of his own Democratic party who are financed by medical insurance and pharmaceutical interests. Liberals castigate him for failing to provide firm leadership and trying to foist bipartisanship on Republicans. They have done their best to torpedo his proposals and scare constituents into believing he is building ‘big government’.

Republicans are exploiting irrational fears of government intervention in citizens’ daily lives although they depend on federal programmes for pensions and healthcare for the elderly and poor.

Radical conservatives call Obama ‘Hitler’ and a ‘Nazi’ and claim that ‘Obamacare’ amounts to ‘socialised medicine’ which will create ‘death panels’ to decide who receives and does not receive expensive healthcare. Radicals are also claiming that his healthcare proposals will lead to federal funding for abortions.

The welter of accusations and fabrications are forcing Obama to consider dropping his proposal for public healthcare for all and substitute less controversial semi-private healthcare cooperatives.

Radicals condemn Obama’s decision to address school children on Tuesday with the aim of encouraging them to study hard and strive for excellence.  They say he plans to propaganise children to back his policies rather than work for self-improvement. A number of schools and communities banned the broadcast although a majority is prepared to listen to what he has to say.

Obama’s rating has also been hit by his failure to curb violence in Afghanistan and contain the Taliban. Allegations against President Hamid Karzai of vote rigging in his bid for re-election have undermined Obama’s political strategy in Afghanistan. Rising violence in Iraq, from which Obama has pledged to withdraw US troops by 2012, has exacerbated domestic unease with US war efforts.

Sinking popularity

Obama’s sinking popularity has encouraged Israel’s right-wing government to challenge his main foreign policy initiative: achievement of Arab-Israeli peace through a ‘two state solution’ involving the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel. Instead of accepting this demand, the Israeli government has rejected any freeze in Jerusalem, insisted on completing 2,500 housing units in West Bank settlements, and pledged to authorise another 500-700 units before implementing a limited ‘reduction’.

Obama’s friends claim he is too cerebral and not passionate enough about his policies. Allies argue he relies too much on building consensus in the legislature and the public. To defeat rivals and detractors, Obama has to demonstrate both his passion and his determination to lead.

They fear many legislators could lose their seats in the November 2010 election for the entire House of Representatives and one-third of the Senate. Furthermore, unless his rating picks up, the party could lose its majorities in both houses and he could find it impossible to secure legislative approval for his programmes. Thus, Obama, the first Afro-Amercian to win the White House, could become a one-term president who failed to deliver on his promise to ‘change’ for the better the US and its relationship with the world.

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