Columns

Making the judgement on Obama

Sir Ronald Sanders

Sunday, July 22, 2012    

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THE prospects of Barack Obama being re-elected as president of the United States appear to be hanging in the balance. The latest Times/CBS poll in the US shows that the race between him and Republican candidate Mitt Romney is essentially tied.

The economy is the dominant factor in the campaign, and that is not going well for Obama. Economic growth slowed to roughly two per cent between January and March and experts estimated that it weakened further up to June.

Job growth is also reported to have slumped in the April-June quarter after some growth between January and March. It is now hanging at 8.2 per cent, and the Government itself reported that consumers spent less at retail business for three months from April to June.

With less than four months to the presidential elections, it is unlikely that anything dramatic will happen in the US economy to advance Obama's prospects. A major problem for him is that, in times of economic stagnation, it is the people at the bottom of the economic ladder who suffer the most. Blacks and Hispanics — Obama's natural base — tend to constitute the greater part of those people, and they may be inclined to feel let down and either not vote for him or abstain from the vote altogether.

Romney has made a huge pitch at the middle-class vote, knowing well that the majority of the rich will be backing him anyway. The Times/CBS poll shows Romney capturing 45 per cent of the middle-class vote as against 43 per cent for Obama.

Last September, Romney famously described himself as "middle class" — a laughable and palpably dismissible claim, since his net worth is estimated at $250 million. Nonetheless, he seems to have made considerable inroads into the middle-class vote and that is not good news for Obama.

Romney's election is unlikely to be good for peace and security in the world. While Obama's record is not unblemished, he is regarded by Americans as "a protector of their national security with the right vision for America's role in the world". The victims of US drones that have killed many innocent people in Pakistan, while targeting US-identified terrorists, would have a different view of Obama's actions. But they don't vote in US elections.

From this standpoint — and it is a very narrow one — Obama will hold an advantage over Romney who is on record as expressing admiration for Dick Cheney. As vice-president under George W Bush, Cheney was a notorious warmonger. The authoritative Foreign Policy Journal reports that "out of Romney's 24 special advisors on foreign policy, 17 served in the Bush-Cheney administration".

Pointing out that if Romney wins the Presidency many of these people would serve in his administration, the Journal regards this as "a frightening prospect, given the legacy of this particular group", adding that "the last time they were in government, it was disastrous".

Considering the Obama-Romney contest for the US presidency from a Caribbean standpoint, there is little for the region, whichever of them emerges the victor. President Obama's policies have not helped the Caribbean; indeed they have been positively harmful in the financial services sector, in climate change, and in a lack of responsiveness to Caribbean development needs.

There may be some easing in the financial services area if Romney wins, as there was when the Republican George W Bush Administration took over from the Democratic Administration of Bill Clinton. Under Clinton's Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers, the US Government was one of the hawks in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) that pummelled Caribbean financial services in the late 1990s.

It was the advent of the Bush Administration and a new treasury secretary, Paul O'Neil, that moderated the US Government stance, until 9/11 when the infamous Patriot Act, with its extra-territorial reach, set back financial services again.

The US Congress, with the support of the Obama Administration, has also adopted legislation with extra-territorial reach that will adversely impact the Caribbean. The Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA) extends US jurisdiction into the Caribbean.

As fellow columnist David Jessop pointed out recently: "Apart from the measure extending US law to the Caribbean and other parts of the world, it also has a compliance cost to Caribbean financial institutions, will likely impact on Government revenues, will change the offshore financial services environment in the region and impose on institutions the danger of reputational risk for failure to comply fully with US requests."

Romney's personal use of offshore investment funds in the Cayman Islands and his view of their legitimacy might promote a more co-operative stance. But that's left to be seen.

With regard to Climate Change, during the Rio+20 Conference in June, the US refused to affirm an earlier commitment to transfer technology to developing countries. It equally refused to reaffirm any commitment to providing new and additional financial resources.

Since both financial services and global warming are vitally important matters integral to Caribbean survival, the stance of the Obama Administration which, like the Bush Administration, has focussed primarily on fighting drug trafficking and refugees from the Caribbean, has not been helpful to the region's development.

The choice between Obama and Romney for the Caribbean seems to boil down to the pride that surrounds the fact that a person of colour is the president of the United States — a country where slavery thrived for centuries and black people were legislated as inferior.

The fact that a man of colour is at the head of what is still the most powerful country in the world remains a validation of the intellectual capacity of all people of colour.

It is for this reason — and despite disappointment that his first term as president did not bring about radical change — that the majority of Caribbean people would like Obama re-elected. But, in the end, it is up to the American electorate to make the judgement.

Sir Ronald Sanders is a consultant and former Caribbean diplomat

Responses and previous commentaries: www.sirronaldsanders.com

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