Thursday, December 25, 2008

Challenges await

Republican Politics, American Style
Published on November 20th in Metro Éireann By Charles Laffiteau

I closed last week’s column by stating my belief that given Obama’s less than advantageous upbringing by a single mother who had little in the way of monetary resources, his subsequent election as President of the United States represents the true fulfillment of the American Dream. Now any child born or raised in the United States can legitimately hope and dream that, regardless of their ethnicity, race, religion or economic circumstances, they too can achieve the same measure of success that Barack Obama has.
But I also said that I thought President Obama’s election would mark a turning point in American political history akin to those seen during the administrations of earlier US Presidents like Jefferson, Lincoln, Roosevelt, Kennedy and Reagan.
It remains to be seen whether or not I am correct on this point given the huge challenges that confront President Obama at this point in America’s history. In no particular order these challenges include; the worst global economic crisis since the Great Depression, two wars in the most politically unstable region of the world, a gaping budget deficit with interest payments equal to 40% of US tax revenues, underfunded Social Security and Medicare entitlement systems, a broken healthcare system and a looming global environmental disaster caused by unfettered greenhouse gas emissions.
But the biggest immediate crisis that President Obama must confront is a psychological one, a crisis of confidence which afflicts both Wall Street and the general public in the United States. Unlike previous US Presidents, this crisis of confidence is such that President-elect Obama doesn’t have the luxury of waiting until after he takes office on 20 January to begin addressing this issue. But in the process of doing so Obama must be careful not to appear to be usurping the power of the lame duck President he will be replacing because, as Obama himself acknowledged twice during his first press conference as President-elect, “We (the United States) only have one President at time.”
Thus far I have been encouraged by the way both President-elect Obama and President Bush have handled this delicate transition of power. For his part President Bush has gone the extra mile in terms of bringing his successor and his advisors up to speed regarding national security issues and the steps he is contemplating taking to deal with the world’s financial crisis. While President Bush is consulting with Obama and his economic advisors about what steps are being taken by the Bush administration to deal with America’s economic recession, Obama has been careful not to make any specific foreign or domestic policy proposals that would put him at odds with President Bush.
The language President-elect Obama uses when he addresses the American people has also changed from his Presidential campaign’s often lofty and inspiring “poetry” to a much more sober and businesslike “prose”. This change in tone and substance was initiated during the latter stages of the Presidential campaign when Obama was discussing the recent financial crisis. While Obama didn’t want to diminish American hopes for a better future, it was nonetheless important for him to lower expectations that there is a quick fix for the problems facing Americans as well as citizens of other countries around the world. The painful reality is there are no easy or quick solutions.
Thus far, Obama’s choices of advisors to serve with him in his new administration reflect a thoughtfulness and pragmatism that bode well for his ability to both govern and develop workable solutions for the issues he will be confronting as America’s 44th President. His selection of Illinois Congressman Rahm Emanuel as his all important White House Chief of Staff demonstrated Obama’s intention to be tough but not ideological in his future dealings with legislators from both political parties.
Rahm Emanuel is no “yes man” and has a reputation for salty language, bare knuckled political tactics and working 25 (hours a day) / 8 (days a week). Emanuel will never win any popularity contests, but he also has a reputation for making pragmatic policy decisions and getting the job done. As such Rahm Emanuel is also a reflection of the kind of team Obama has begun to assemble to take back to Washington DC. The players on Obama’s team are all realists who are very diversified in terms of their perspectives and viewpoints, but unified regarding their commitment to Obama’s non-ideological approach to solving problems and showing demonstrable results.
This new kind of approach to policy making in Washington DC will be a welcome change from the governance style we have become accustomed to over the past eight years. The Bush administration placed a premium on loyalty, had no tolerance for dissenting points of view and always put ideology ahead of realism and practicality. The results or lack thereof from this kind of governance philosophy speak for themselves.
I will discuss the Republicans and Democrats selected or under consideration for Cabinet positions in Obama’s administration in next week’s column. For now I will close with a few more tid bits of information from the just concluded Presidential campaign.
During the summer the Obama campaign found out that someone had hacked into their computer system and off loaded a large number of files. Obama’s security people initially thought it might be the work of their political opponents, until they found out that the McCain campaign’s computer system had also been compromised in the same manner. Although no one will discuss it officially, it’s now believed that the hackers were members of either Russian or Chinese intelligence looking for information on both candidates’ policy positions that they could use in future negotiations with the US.
Following their election defeat the McCain campaign has also admitted “Sarah the fashion diva” Palin spent “tens of thousands” more than the reported $150,000 on new duds for her and her husband. Since Palin claims the only difference between a “hockey mom” and a pit-bull is lipstick, one can’t help but wonder how expensive owning a pit-bull must really be.

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