Comment: President Obama’s second term hinges on his ability to overcome his own, abject invertebracy.
So the Senate and the House of Representatives, after the all too familiar posturing and ‘brinkmanship’ have decided to eschew personal responsibility and have once again abdicated all responsibility to those they are charged to represent. On this occasion however, the can has been not so much been kicked down the road as booted off the fiscal cliff itself with little thought to the tide which will inevitably return it with interest.
The markets have responded characteristically with unqualified exuberance – the FTSE breaking 6000 for the first time since July 2011 – although this says more about the global markets continued blind allegiance to the importance of optics over underlying fundamentals.
When the tide does come in, in a few weeks time, we will find ourselves in even more precarious seas than that which the President has had to navigate through the last week. Obama’s climbdown on tax increases for the rich and abandonment of the ‘grand bargain’ could well play into Republican hands who, having already made their concessions, will seek to use the deferred $100bn of spending cuts returning on the swelling tide as leverage against the first problem to come crashing back to shore, namely the raising of the debt ceiling.
The President has stated that he will not countenance further discussion on the debt ceiling with Congress but it would be foolish to bet against another climbdown as he did in 2011 when faced with a default.
Obama’s apologists invariably point to the Janus headed monster that is the American political system to account for his lacklustre first term in office but such a response foregoes the fact that he was in control of both houses when he came to power and still failed to capitalise on his position. It is hard to imagine John McCain and his Republican cohorts would have acted as circumspectly had they garnered such a result.
When Barack Obama speaks he does so with a passion and a fervour that stirs the soul. Even when the content of his speech is largely meaningless drivel about the American ‘spirit‘, he speaks with such conviction and oratory prowess that it is impossible not to be moved by his candour, grace and humility. From his mouth, the ‘american dream’ for a moment at least, appears tangible and attainable in spite of the statistical reality that shows quite clearly that while something might be possible, it is far from likely.
Ach, cha lìon beannachd brù. – But fair words fill not the belly. (Gaelic proverb)
Let us not forget then that Obama did extend the Bush administration’s tax-cuts for the super wealthy when he first came to power, that Guantanemo is still open, that the current administration continues to lend support to fascists such as Eli Yishai who vowed to ‘send Gaza back to the Middle Ages’, that this time last year, the president had just signed into law the National Defence Authorization Act which allowed for the military to indefinitely detain terror suspects, including American citizens without charge and has normalised the insidious practice of extra judicial killings in spite of declaring while running for the Democratic candidacy to bring legislative oversight to counterterrorism measures and ‘set an example for the world that the law is not subject to the whims of stubborn rulers, and that justice is not arbitrary’.
More recently, the US has hopped into bed with the likes of Zimbabwe, China, North Korea, Iran and India to vote against the abolition of capital punishment albeit two days later, president Obama sought to pardon two turkeys on the White House lawn from a similar fate. I am of the same persuasion as Sir William Blackstone, when he declared,
‘It is better that ten guilty persons escape than one innocent suffer’,
Or at least I am when it comes to my fellow man. I am less concerned to find my poultry has been less lucky and is sat on my plate before me accompanied with a nice big dollop of homemade cranberry sauce. I am sure this makes me a very bad person indeed, or at least not at all suitable to be president.
It is this ‘Presidential paradox’ that concerns me most as we look ahead to 2013. Second terms generally find American presidents reaching out through foreign affairs to define their legacy. In this arena it is even more important that the President finds some hint of backbone or does as columnist Andrew Sullivan has urged and ‘grow a pair‘. The signs do not look good.
Already there are rumblings that Obama may be about to surrender to the Israel lobby and consider other candidates for the position of US secretary of Defence. The Israel lobby are united in their indignation at Chuck Hagel’s nomination to the shortlist and have been unsurprisingly hostile in their criticism.
Hagel’s crime it would appear is two-fold. Firstly in an interview in 2006 he claimed that he took an oath of office ‘to the Constitution of the United States, not to a president, not to a party, not to Israel’. In a separate interview he noted that the ‘Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people’, thereby infuriating a multitude of evangelical christians who presumably were distraught that they were not being talked about. Referring to the Israel Lobby as Jewish led to accusations of anti-Semitism and bigotry even if the rest of his interview showed that it he had meant the Israel lobby throughout.
Chuck Hagel is not everyone’s cup of tea. He’s not even mine, although the Washington Post’s editorial assassinations of his character tell me I should like him more than I do. He has some typically ridiculous Republican views on gay marriage but as a Purple Heart winner, an early opponent to the war in Iraq, as someone who wishes to cut defence spending and as someone who wants to actively engage with Hamas and Iran rather than ignore the first and destroy the latter, his is a voice that demands be heard in cabinet.
Barack Obama has an opportunity to do what no other president has ever done, and stand up to the Israel lobby. (Indeed, Obama would do well to clear out the lobby entirely although this task may well be outwith the scope of his or any future president’s remit. While I have no problem with organisations even as delusional as the National Rifle Association airing their opinions – I will give them another opportunity here – their ability to influence legislation is terrifying. I do wonder why it has not occured to anyone that while the Second Amendment that is so intrinsic to the safety and the civil rights of Americans and their ability to defend themselves is thought to be such a basic human right, it is not afforded to Iran or Iraq or anyone outside of America for that matter. After all nuclear weapons don’t kill people. People do.)
The appointment of Chuck Hagel in spite of fierce opposition from those even in his own party would send a clear message to the electorate that President Obama was no longer happy to accept a lobbying group having the right to veto presidential nominations to cabinet. It would also show he meant what he said when he spoke of reaching out ‘across the aisle’.
The disproportionate political power of the American Jewry in Washington is not a new phenomena. Though less than two percent of the population, Jews make up half of the nation’s billionaires, more than twenty five percent of elite journalists, forty percent of the countries partners in leading law firms in New York and Washington and in 1995 made up ‘fifty nine percent of the directors, writers and producers of the 50 top-rated grossing motion pictures from 1965 to 1982’. (Lipset and Raab – Jews and the New American Scene. 1995).
This loading of Jews in America’s most lucrative industry wields immense political power. The combined might of the AIPAC, the American Jewish Committee, the Anti-Defamation League, the Israel Project et al must not be permitted to place their own ‘poisoned pawn’ in position of Defence Secretary. Given Israel’s rapid race to the right and their total disregard for the International Humanitarian Law, aided and abetted by Washington’s myopic allegiance, the American people could soon find themselves recalling the halycon days of the fiscal cliff debate with misty eyed nostalgia.