Congratulations, President Obama — now to the hard road ahead

Raulston Nembhard

Saturday, November 10, 2012

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THE re-election of President Barack Obama to a second term in office has come at a time when the nation and the rest of the world are still in the grip of a prolonged economic crisis. This was underscored when the president's re-election was greeted by a significant drop in the stock market indices, with the Dow Jones registering a 313-point drop in a single day. It was not only a reminder that the world is still in crisis, but that there are severe headwinds to be faced at home and abroad as the nation moves forward.

The re-election was well deserved. He came to his first term with the world economy in shambles. The American economy was in a terrific freefall as it reeled under the impact of the worst recession since the Great Depression of the 1920s. The then Secretary of the Treasury, Mr Henry Paulson, had advised the Congress that if federal help was not provided, the entire banking sector could be wiped out in short order. The president's first order of business was to stabilise the situation which he did with a stimulus package that some people argued was not big enough. However, the slide was halted and over time jobs were restored to the economy, though not as robustly as one would have wished. Up to the time of his re-election economic growth remained sluggish, but trending in the right direction.

Apart from stabilising the economy, there are a number of other significant achievements in the first term that placed the president in a good position to continue with his agenda. They cannot all be mentioned here, but his signature health care reform act, which is now the law of the land, has to count among his most important. The act in itself was historic since other presidents had tried and failed to come up with a comprehensive reform of a health system that had become moribund and was impatient of reform. The president took on the subject with laser-like intensity and fixity of purpose. The landmark legislation was enacted with no help from the Republicans. The Opposition disingenuously characterised it as socialised medicine, even though many of its constituents were already benefiting from the broad, bureaucratic and "socialised" medicare programme.

There is no doubt that the president has his work cut out for him in the second term. He already knows that there will be no honeymoon. There are severe problems that confront the financial integrity of the nation as it comes to terms with the so-called "fiscal cliff". The Republicans have already demonstrated their intransigence in working with him, and some sounds that you are hearing now do not give any great encouragement that some members of Congress recognise the severity of the threat that the nation faces. Never mind the olive branch that is being extended by the Speaker of the House, John Boehner. We have heard that kind of talk before and we have seen the results. It is clear that compromise will be necessary to get anything meaningful done, but this word has been compressed into a four-letter word by many members of the Republican Party, especially that parasitic hybrid called the Tea Party.

But we hope for the best, not only for the sake of America, but the world. Whether they say it or not, one of the most important obsessions of all presidents is their place in history. How will they be judged? President Obama is no doubt mindful that he is on a legacy tour. One can be sure that there are still those who would not want him to have a successful tour, who are still committed to make him the worst president of the United States. He has not demonstrated that he is a man who is obsessed with countering the jabs that come from his detractors. His even temperament and equanimity of spirit that are essential to who he is will continue to serve him well in this term. He has real political capital to spend, but he must deploy this capital wisely in working with the other side, or he will find himself and the nation floundering in a sea of confusion.

What does the president's re-election mean for Jamaica? The days are long gone when we could expect any great beneficial flow from a US presidency. Even if it was mindful of doing so, America's global generosity has been severely cauterised by the economic crisis at home and abroad. The country is understandably preoccupied with getting its own house in order, and any help that may be available to others has to be the proverbial crumb from the table. And many are going after that crumb. I expect that the traditional good, fraternal relations between the two countries will continue, despite past hiccups in that relationship. This writer wishes the president well as he continues the arduous task of leading a divided nation that is experiencing the ramifications of decisive shifts in its demographic makeup. He will need the support of all Americans who wish the republic well.




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