Talking Points Memos

26 05 2011

Malcolm Farnsworth’s critique of the Prime Minister & Australian political scene, published today by The Drum, is as ever, spot on. (“Malcolm Farnsworth: Three occasions, three glimpses of Barack Obama, three lessons for Julia Gillard. http://bit.ly/leu38P“)
Sadly, the piece isn’t counter-balanced with a more nuanced take on the US political discourse. In fact, it reads more like a DCCC talking points memo.
President Obama’s favourables still hover around 44%; the crowd that has thinned-out among potential GOP presidential-candidates has been Donald Trump – the declared candidates include Gingrich (damaged), Pawlenty & the dark-horse libertarian darling, Johnson. Then there are Romney, who has $6m cash-on-hand at present, & yes … Palin, who has just bought a house in AZ.
I say this as a supporter of the President, but his oratorical talent has rarely been doubted. He’s given a few good speeches in Europe … unfortunately, the speech that counted, delivered to AIPAC, was nothing new. In fact, he’s stuck to the same rhetoric and policy as his two immediate predecessors. The difference is like it or not, Israeli-Palestinian peace seems further away at a time when Israel’s neighbours – & therefore the Palestinians – are looking to make Israel’s claim to be the Middle East’s only democracy a thing of the past.

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The Gitmo Archipelago, or how I learned to stop worrying and fell out of love with Barack Obama (Part I)

9 11 2010

“I’m sorry, Kimberley, but I’m an American. I don’t vote for the President of the world. I vote for the President of the United States of America. I’m from Chicago. Barack Obama is NOT what he represents himself to be. You don’t get in, or out of Chicago politics, as squeaky clean as people think this guy is. I’m for freedom, not socialism. I don’t want to be told what doctor I can see, or have my taxes support people who want to have five kids on welfare and never work. You bet I’ll vote for Sarah Palin if she runs in 2012.”

I’m sitting next to ‘Tom’, a businessman from Illinois, at a great restaurant in the West Village, New York City. It’s my last night here, and the antipathy towards President Obama is troubling me. I understand part of his argument: the US economy is up shit creek, and for many people, the paddle is out of reach. Every second ad on cable TV is for bankruptcy specialists. What I do not understand is why President Obama is not kicking against the pricks. I know you can’t blame the other side for everything, but President Bush rode his horse out of town with nary a bad word said against his economic record; the obsession with tax cuts while running a parallel, war-fuelled deficit defies belief; but he did it. It is four months before the midterm elections. Unemployment is running at almost 11 per cent. I walk around the financial district & it is though nothing, bar September 11, has hit the place. The investment houses, bailed out by the taxpayer, have returned to profitability. I feel sick that Australians, in general, do not understand how a combination of sound regulation of the financial industry and measured (though highly criticised) stimulus spending saved our country from this pain, and I am staying in one of the best neighbourhoods in New York. Poverty is not immediately evident, but former Mayor Rudy Giuliani did a good job of sweeping out the homeless. I may not agree with Tom, but he is considered, measured and engaged in the political process, and we agree to disagree, which is my default position on almost everything.

“Tom, I’m sorry – You’re the only superpower left. With that position comes responsibility. I’m not asking you to vote for Barack Obama because he’s a Democrat. Give me an intelligent, moderate Republican and go for your lives – but Sarah Palin? Sarah Palin negotiating Middle East peace talks? My country is at war because our then-government followed you. Socialised medicine? How many daughters did you say you have, Tom? Two? What are your daughters going to do if, god forbid, you’re in an accident and can’t work for six months. What if they have a genetic test, and they find out that they have the ‘breast cancer gene’? Will they be covered under your insurance? Will it be considered a pre-existing condition? What use is it to have the greatest pharmaceutical companies in the world if you cannot afford to buy medicine? How is access to a doctor ‘socialism’?”

We buy each other a drink. It’s hot, and a hot New York is not where Tom wants to be. He blames Barack Obama for almost everything, from the state of the economy to single mothers with five kids sucking the marrow out of his tax dollar to healthcare reform. If he thought big government controlled the weather, he would blame the President for that as well. 

The next day, I leave the Village for Penn Station and the Acela Express to Washington, D.C. – meeting my best friend from high school, who I haven’t seen for 15 years. She married an American she met in Sydney, and become a citizen in time to vote for Barack Obama in the 2008 Presidential election. I page her, she pages me, and I am mortified when a ‘red cap’ (Amtrak porter) grabs my bags as we squeal and hug. “I’ve got these, Ma’am. Don’t worry, you’re with me now,” he says, but it’s a struggle. I’m used to it – my rule is that if I can’t carry it all, I can’t buy anymore. The red cap won’t hear of it, and my friend keeps walking and talking. I tip him $10 as we board the train, mostly from sheer embarrassment. My friend berates me as she juggles a handbag, laptop, iPhone & squeals at her business partner in an accent that is neither that of her birth, or home. She lectures me on tipping etiquette. I hold firm with my own tipping regime. I tipped $1 in Williamsburg on Sunday for $2 beers! How is that fair to a guy in his 50s hauling 30 kilos of shoes, handbags and cosmetics while we squawk like battery hens? Well, in this economy, she says, people are lucky to be working. I voted for Obama and now, I don’t know. We don’t see him enough. I mean, what’s he doing? You’re in politics, surely you think it’s not good that we don’t see him? I look at the gadgets and listen to the conversations about crazy clients she’s firing. Yes. In this economy. Maybe the President is working, I muse aloud; he was dealt a pretty crap hand. That said, if I was his comms director, I would have him do more Presidential press conferences – he’s done fewer than Dubya. That part I do understand. As a candidate, Barack Obama travelled overseas and was feted in the capitals of Europe. My friend voted for hope, audacity and change; for a candidate whose oratory captivated the world.  Now my friend has a President, and rarely hears his voice. He’s not a candidate; he’s not leader of a movement – he’s the POTUS. You need to kick arse when circumstances warrant it. People and pundits talk about consensus politics, reaching bipartisan solutions to national problems. It’s bullshit. Politics is adversarial. In a few short months, the Democrat majority in Congress is going to be put to the test and NO ONE does nasty adversarial politics better than the Republican Party. The GOP in full flight is a sight to behold. President Obama is being hit from the left and the right, and he’s doing a pretty good, Ali-style ‘ rope-a-dope’, taking a metaphysical pounding from George Foreman in the ‘Rumble in the Jungle’, round after round. President Obama is well into round two. He and the Democrat machine need to start bloodying the nose of the right. It’s July, 2010 and New York City feels as steamy as 1974 Zaire.

To be continued …