Obama: A lame-duck president?
The presidential form of government in the United States of America has certain characteristics that make it like no other form of democratic system in any other country. The president is elected directly based on a system called the ‘electoral college’ not one person one vote, which at times leads to an anomaly as it did in the election of 2000, where the winning candidate Mr. Bush received less votes than his opponent Mr. Gore.
The US election cycle, as compared to that of all West European and other democracies is by far the longest running and the costliest. Big money plays a crucial role in the presidential elections; last year’s election broke all previous records where both candidates raised about $1 billion each. The groups which are big donors naturally expect and do exercise influence on government policies.
Of the hordes of lobbyist groups that vie for influence, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) is unquestionably the most formidable, effective and feared and any politician who provokes the ire of this group inevitably disappears from the public scene, the most glaring examples of which were among others, Senator William Fulbright of Arkansas, Senator Charles Percy of Illinois and Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney of Atlanta, although the latter regained her lost later. The most recent example of this influence is the unprecedented difficulty faced by former Republican Senator Chuck Hagel, a decorated war hero, in his confirmation hearings for the post of Secretary of Defense, a procedure which is normally quite routine.
Except for George W. Bush and possibly Ronald Reagan, all US presidents seem to have harbored strong uneasiness about Israeli policies in private but have resolutely supported them in public. In contrast, the American Muslims estimated to be between 3-6 million in numbers have almost no political clout because they can neither raise enough money nor are politically astute enough to deliver votes in large enough numbers to make a difference. There were, however, two instances where the financial muscle of APPNA, the Pakistani Physicians group in one case and of the voting power of ordinary folks helped defeat Senator Pressler, author of the infamous Pressler Amendment and Congressman Stephen Solarz, respectively. Both Pressler and Solarz are known as strident foes of Pakistan.
President Obama’s election in 2008 was a historic event, particularly when one considers that the civil rights Act of 1965 which removed the shackles of segregation is not even 50 years old. The ascension of a half black person with a Muslim middle name and unfamiliar first and last names to the most powerful position in the world could not have happened in any other country but the United States and was indeed a vivid testimony of the strength of the American democracy and also of the laudable American national character of pragmatism which often overrides some negative considerations.
He came to office on a wave of huge enthusiasm and hope for the future, against the backdrop of a public dispirited by the worst economy this country has seen in decades, two on-going wars sapping the resources and energies of the country and a myriad of foreign policy concerns. President Obama embarked on an ambitious program of mending the economy, enacting a Healthcare law, winding down the two wars and improving relations with the Muslim world; however at every step he was confronted by a largely non-cooperative Republican party which made it its goal to make him a one term president, an attitude which went beyond the ideological divide and as many believe had clear racial overtones. Mr. Obama was able to pass the historic healthcare act which had eluded earlier presidents going back almost a century. However, this law was not hugely popular with the public, ferociously attacked by his opponents and caused him the loss of control of the House of Representatives and of several seats in the Senate in the mid-term election of 2010.
He concluded the war in Iraq but could find no resolution of the Afghanistan war for which he declared a deadline for disengagement. He chose to combat the al Qaeda and Taliban threat by waging the drone war in Pakistan at a much greater scale than it was done under President Bush, possibly with the help of the government and military of Pakistan, although not acknowledged so publicly and also continued some highly criticised policies of the Bush administration such as ‘Rendition’. He made a high risk decision to ‘take out’ Osama Bin Laden, an accomplishment widely acclaimed in the country and which put Pakistan in a very negative light in the United States as an unreliable and duplicitous ally. He totally failed in making any headway towards peace in the Middle East as he couldn’t afford to challenge the intransigence of the right wing Prime Minister of Israel without what can be seen as risking his own prospects for re-election.
But President Obama made history again by convincingly winning re-election at a time of high unemployment and a very tepid economic recovery. He accomplished this through a team of highly Tech savvy individuals and running a superbly efficient campaign in contrast to his opponent, who was so sure of his victory that he had ordered $ 25,000 worth of fireworks for the election night and was absolutely stunned by Obama’s impressive win.
In the their first term, US presidents are usually concerned about getting re-elected and seldom embark upon bold initiatives, although Obama did so by tackling the incendiary healthcare issue. In the second term, the window of opportunity is very short and several months before the midterm elections, the second term president is relegated to the ‘lame duck’ status, unable to accomplish much. As President Obama begins his second term, he is well positioned to have a comprehensive Immigration Reform Bill passed and also have some success with support for expanded government role in pre-school education. These taken with the record of his term are guaranteed to make him one of the dozen or so greatest presidents of the United States.
In foreign affairs, no progress seems likely in the Middle East; relations with Russia will probably improve and those with India and China are likely to become stronger. The drone war will most certainly continue and with the winding down of the Afghan war the US will once again be less involved with Pakistan.
The author is a Pakistani American based in New Jersey. He obtained his Ph.D from the University of California Medical Center, San Francisco and now heads an independent Clinical Laboratory. Deeply interested in both US and Pakistani politics, he believes the ‘Sir Syed Model’ to be the most appropriate guideline for Muslims for the 21st century. He can be reached at email@example.com.
The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.