Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Same Again, Barack?

Apologies for the extremely short post last night, i'd spent the evening round at a friend's house as a way of relaxing after a day of travelling and revising and wasn't in the mood to write anything lengthy.

I think the exam went alright and for today's blog i'm going to write a post that is along the line of the first essay question i answered this morning. The question was to the effect of "Despite the result of the mid-term elections, the Democrats and Barack Obama are actually in a strong position going into the 2012 elections" Do you agree?

The mid-term elections were definitely a major blow for Obama and the Democrats; losing the majority in the House of Representatives has made the task of passing new laws and meeting the targets they set themselves that much harder as the Republicans are determinedly slowing any progress. This was highlighted by the events of just two months ago when they took the government to the point of shut down by refusing to agree to a budget deal.

It was a disappointment for him but it is unlikely it came as a big surprise to Obama that there was a backlash from voters at the height of the economic recession, troops in two international war zones and having just passed an unpopular welfare bill.

However i believe there are a number of reasons why he and the Democrats as a whole should be quietly confident when looking towards the 2012 Presidential election.

The death of Osama Bin Laden will undoubtedly have a big effect on the 2012 campaign. Internationally and historically his decision may be questioned for the legality, long term outcome and whether it was possible for him to have been captured rather than killed; domestically though it was a definite success, drawing praise from both sides of the political spectrum and offering a rare moment of unity for the nation. Considering the symbolic value of Osama Bin Laden and the events that have unfolded since 9/11 his death will undoubtedly be a boost to Obama's campaign as it is a success that the Republican's won't want to challenge him on.

Secondly just days before the death of the World's most wanted man was announced Obama also managed to strike a pretty fatal blow to the "birther" conspiracy. That was the idea, spread by right wing politicians and media outlets that Barack Obama wasn't born in the United States and therefore not eligible to be President. The whole conspiracy was farcical, ideologically driven and reeked of certain elements of American society's bigoted unwillingness to accept that they have a black man as a President. Incidentally Republican Presidential candidate John McCain was born in a U.S naval station in Panama while it was under U.S control, but there was no speculation about whether he was a legitimate candidate.

Obama clearly attempted to ignore the idiotic conspiracy for as long as he could but somehow it made the jump from fringe theory to commonly held belief and he was forced to publish his full length birth certificate. Now that won't shut the real loonies up but it should put pay to the birth certificate debate as a serious political issue and in doing so he made several key Republican's look very foolish for having either supported or played up to the idea. Donald Trump, who had been talking himself up as a candidate and polling surprisingly well, has since ruled himself out and the decision to jump on the birther bandwagon just before Obama derailed it has to be seen as the main cause of that.

Not only did Obama deal with a conspiracy theory in a manner that combined an emphatic conclusion with a frustrated sigh, but he did it all with a charisma and charm that was in contrast to the aloof character he is often accused of being. The speech at the Correspondent's Dinner was superb, showing a comic timing and self-effacing humour that few politicians could have pulled off. The joke below was utterly brilliant and delivered in a fantastically deadpan manner.

As well as through direct pieces of action and policy on Obama's part now and for the next year or so, he will also be helped simply by the difference of two years between the mid-terms and the Presidential election.

Firstly, the economy in the U.S should continue to grow and recover (7 consecutive quarters of growth so far) and if it does the ensuing improvement in living standards and fall in unemployment will mean that voters go to the polls in a very different mindset to the situation a year ago when the average American was really feeling the bite from the recession. That's not to say that by the time of the election all will be well with the U.S economy or that there won't be anger about that directed at Obama, however if the majority of news stories to do with the economy are about growth and rising employment then the psychology of the voters will be very different to before the mid-terms.

Secondly, there are now no US troops in Iraq and a schedule for pulling troops out of Afghanistan. This means that barring any sudden change in foreign policy, Obama will no longer be faced with taking criticism for trying to deal responsibly with two lengthy, costly and unpopular wars, a legacy left to him by George Bush but which seemed to become his fault in the eyes of many voters within weeks of him taking office. Being able to distance himself from the wars and consider the military involvement over will be a boost to his popularity.

The third time related change is that the mid-terms took place at the height of the Healthcare debate and the virulent campaign from the Republicans combined with the American populace's inherent distrust of state involvement and big government schemes meant that the results of the mid-terms were at least partly a reflection of the bill's unpopularity at the time and the prominence of the Tea Party which had put themselves in opposition to it. However two years will have passed since then and though it will undoubtedly become an issue again it will not be the all consuming media focus or the source of such aggressive opposition during the Presidential election as people will have lost some interest in it, others may actually be finding that little has changed or even that they are benefiting from it and any Republican trying too hard to make it into their flagship issue could fall foul of the fickle attention and patience spans of the voting public.

The combination of these issues and a whole host of others come together in my final reason why Obama can be reasonably confident of his chances in 2012; there is no strong, obvious challenger in the Republican's ranks who seems interested. So far the only names with any potential attached to them are Ron Paul, Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich and Tim Pawlenty, with the terrible twosome of Michelle Bachmann and Sarah Palin yet to declare their intentions, and none of them seem to combine the requisite combination of charisma, intelligence and shrew political ability to have much chance of unseating Obama.

Bachmann (above) could be a real liability for the Republican's as a more extreme, less contemplative Sarah Palin (think about that concept for a moment) and Palin seems to prefer the idea of waiting for 2016 and a possible weaker Democrat candidate. That attitude I believe is shared by quite a few potential leaders amongst the Republican Party with Mike Huckabee springing to mind in that context.

Pawlenty is barely known of outside of the mid-west, Gingrich isn't popular enough any more to mount a serious challenge while Paul and Romney could end up being torn apart by the infighting between the Tea Party and the rest of the Republican Party. Also at 75 Ron Paul could fall foul of the same consideration McCain (who was only 70 when he decided to run, and is a war veteran) did to an extent, that of whether he is too old to have arguably the most stressful job in the world?

So that's a blogged up, less formal and more broken up response to the same question i answered in the exam. As i was writing it this morning i thought it would make for a good blog post.

Today's song is from a highly politicised American band, which seemed an appropriate way to end this post.

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