US President Barack Obama (1961- ), Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi (1936- ), and President Dmitri Medvedev (1965- )
The first year of the administration of President Barack Obama that ends on 20 January wasn’t so bad, but it wasn’t “outstanding” either. Rather, it was unpretentious and satisfactory, but that’s a big plus, nevertheless, given the geopolitical mess (two wars and the threat of two more, in Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, and Yemen) and the economic crisis. Indeed, Mr Obama found himself in a veritable “time of troubles”. Perhaps, it would be better if his critics would give us some insight into what would be a “better” achievement, especially if they helped to make it happen before the end of the “first period”.
President Obama’s biggest, most indisputable, achievement is that the rest of the world no longer looks at America as a throwback from the Reagan era. True, that’s most likely attributable to Mr Bush’s departure, not from any particular action of Mr Obama. The problem is that, from this point onwards, it gets even harder, because he’s already done the easy things. After the 20th, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq become his baby, his economic stabilisation measures have to demonstrate their ability to handle the crisis, and his legislative program has to bear fruit to enflesh his declarations in the real world. These are all hard things to do.
In the USA, after the first year, the going usually begins to get tough for all presidents; it’s a time when the voters feel they can get everything that the candidate promised them on the campaign trail. In general, it unfolds in all its vast and cold-blooded philistine impatience under the motto, “You promised us big things… well, where are they?” These demands often become severe headaches for the presidential press office and PR department. That’s what’s happening now. His “Afro-American Brothers” aren’t quite sure that Obama is the “correct tint”, environmentalists doubt that he’s really “green”, racists are disturbed that he’s “black”, for right-wing radicals, he’s a Muslim, a socialist, and a kamikaze pilot, and for the ultra-conservative he’s a renegade. You have to pity poor Barack… who IS he?
Americans, when they rate their presidents, often attach their conclusions to the calendar (first 100 days, a half-year from the election, taking office, etc.) and compare them with all previous presidents. Alas, this is often done using a simplified methodology, excluding the background, depth, and/or width of the depressions, holes, or chasms that might be bedevilling the country at that moment. In this, Mr Obama was unlucky in the eyes of his compatriots. All too often, after a “bad president”, of course, in this case, Mr Bush, the people raise the bar too high to allow the following president to do anything meaningful. Sometimes, the hopes were as high as they were in January 2009. It was if it wasn’t a politician that came to the White House, but, rather, a ship crammed with “gold” (bucks, oil, reduced taxes, increased pensions and salaries, lower prices, global peace, clean air, and a complete halt to the hunting of whales).
The intolerable impatience shown by the average American has already led to Mr Obama’s ratings dropping to below 50 percent. This level is considered critical if it happens in the first year. However, in this case, no one can explain to us why we must apply our conventional patterns to the evaluation of an unusual president. He is a man who came to power, frankly, at an unusually difficult time, and who was forced to treat the problems stemming from his predecessor’s misrule with very bitter medicine. More precisely, the average positive approval rating of Mr Obama in January fell to 46-49 percent. This immediately prompted Fox News (long since a political cat’s-paw of the extreme right wing and conservative forces) to state that never before in history had an American president’s approval rating dropped so low at the end of the first year. Fox has its “idiosyncrasies” with respect to Democrats in general and Obama in particular, to put it mildly. It’s not quite right to base such studies on the Gallup Poll. Firstly, Gallup only began compiling presidential ratings than with Harry Truman, not with George Washington. That is, it began only at the end of the Second World War. Most importantly, we shouldn’t forget that one of the most popular post-war US presidents, Ronald Reagan, who’s still the idol of American conservatives, had poll numbers (here’s a coincidence) much like Mr Obama’s. At the end of the first year, Mr Reagan also had a positive approval rating from only 49-41 percent of the voters.
Turkish baker with “Baracklava”
Between Reagan and Obama, or, rather, “their times”, there is so much in common, although the second was created in order to repeat the path of the first, but in a mirror, of course, a reflection, so to speak. Old Fogey Ronnie, like Kid Obama:
- came to power after an unpopular president (Jimmy Carter, who had a very low approval rating of 28 percent, almost like Bush)
- under Reagan, Republicans controlled the Congress, whilst under Obama, the Democrats did the same
- when Reagan entered the White House, it was the worst economic period since the Great Depression, the same as Obama
It was hard to expect from the 44th president, that his accession to the White House would jumpstart the economy and it would go on the mend (it is, but very slowly), that the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq would end in victory and appreciation from the natives, that in the Middle East, Israel would immediately cease construction of new settlements and fraternise with the Palestinians, that Iran would immediately shake Obama’s outstretched hand, that global warming is no longer a threat, and that the world will immediately begin to destroy their stockpiles of nuclear weapons. Furthermore, it was ridiculous to hope that Mr Obama would be able to do what has eluded all of his predecessors, beginning with Theodore Roosevelt, to establish in the USA the same kind of health care system that has long operated in the rest of the civilised world, a system of universal basic and affordable health care.
Even with “rebooting”, relations with Russia so far changed only the “clique” dealing with us, not substantive matters. Work on a new START III treaty to replace the old agreement that expired on 5 December 2009 is not yet complete. True, the US Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and chief negotiator Ellen Tausher said that the pact is actually close to completion. This week, the delegations of Russia and the United States will have their first meeting after the New Year’s break in Moscow and on 25 January will meet in regular session in Geneva for discussions. Ms Tausher believes that the treaty will be finished and signed before 3 May, when another conference on the revaluation of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons will convene in New York. This conference is held once every ten years.
You can blame, Mr Obama, of course, for promising too much. The fact that he can’t do much to realise his promises in full, is probably not his fault, and is due to the properties (whether it is to harm or benefit) inherent in the system. In America, things are tailored in such a way that always eliminates radicalism at the core, its rough edges are polished smooth, as was the intent of the so-called “Founding Fathers”.
President Obama has already received a gift. In Germany, in Frankfurt, just prior to his first anniversary in office, there was a premiere of a hit musical entitled, “Hope… Das Obama Musical”. This is a first in the history of musical drama, a play based on the current American president. This miracle came out of the head of a native of Michigan, Randall Hutchinson (libretto and music), and is clearly rooted in the tradition of Chicago, West Side Story, and Jesus Christ – Superstar. Characters other than President Obama are his wife, Michelle, his chief rival in the election, Republican John McCain, and Sarah Palin (Republican candidate for Vice President). The texts for the songs, as they say, come straight from Mr Obama’s speeches. Well, that show didn’t come to the USA. Maybe, then, Mr Obama’s ratings probably would have fallen even lower. Still, after all, the Nobel Peace Prize is also a musical… it is already too much.
19 January 2010
RIA-Novosti Political Commentator