Barack Obama: the second coming

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

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Mr Barack Obama, who was sworn in as president of the United States on Monday, now has in his arsenal for running the world's only superpower, four years of experience and policy actions which constitute a framework for building future initiatives.

What President Obama does in the next four years will have important implications for the US and directly or indirectly have repercussions for the rest of the world, including Jamaicans here and in the US whose well-being is so closely linked economically to America.

A retrospective look at his first term reveals a mixture of achievements and frustrations. Some policies have succeeded, eg. the rescue of Wall Street and the motor car industry. Some policy decisions remain controversial and it remains to be seen how they will be judged when fully implemented, eg. health care reform. Some policy problems were hangovers from the Bush regime, notably the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

President Obama's agenda for the second term consists of unfinished issues from the first term, notably immigration reform, grappling with ongoing issues such as the fiscal deficit and the debt ceiling. New issues include downsizing of US defence expenditure and some which cannot be foreseen, most likely in the arena of foreign policy.

President Obama's approach will certainly be bolder because he is not encumbered by the need to please or appease enough of the people to ensure re-election. Considerations of his legacy will inevitably preoccupy him and influence his agenda, as he tries to meet the expectations of those who elected him as a mandate for and embodiment of change.

What can be accomplished and what should be expected is that in domestic policy the presidency and the exercise of presidential power are enmeshed in a political system of checks and balances between the White House, Congress and the judiciary.

In foreign policy there is the problem of imperial overstretch, declining economic dominance and what John Gaddis Lewis describes as "the impotence of omnipotence", ie you cannot use a nuclear weapon on a group of terrorists.

The extent to which he succeeds with attaining certain goals will make a difference to the rest of the world. The recovery of the US economy could portend a global surge towards sustained economic growth.

His main obstacle will be a House of Representatives dominated by a fundamentalist Republican Party out of step with the mood, political thinking and demographics of the majority of Americans. They may block several Obama initiatives but only at risk of their own increasing marginalisation from the political centre of the country.

It is imperative that the Obama Administration builds a political working relationship with the Republicans without sacrificing the integrity of his agenda. In this regard, the team that President Obama selects will be a factor in the direction of policy and in formulation/reformulation of policies and the efficacy of implementation. For example, Mr John Kerry will be acceptable to both sides of the political spectrum, but Mr Chuck Hagel may face ongoing harassment.

The alliance building will have to extend to critical stakeholders such as Wall Street, which has already expressed opposition to the proposed secretary of the treasury who is "not a member of the Wall Street clique".

We wish President Obama every success in his second term, knowing that the words of Dr Martin Luther King Jr are ringing in his ears: "Now is the time."




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