Times are not propitious for incumbent presidents and prime ministers when pillars that support the economy collapse or are tottering, particularly during election times. This applies mainly to Western democracies and not necessarily to ‘guided democracies’ and other assortments of democracies in the Third World whose leaders invariably scoop up 70 to 90 per cent of the votes polled, come what may.
In recent times we have witnessed the British Labour Party led by Prime Minister Gordon Brown lose the election after over a decade long rule, to the coalition Conservative Liberal government led by David Cameron. David Cameron of course inherited Labour Party’s disaster and is now neck deep in trouble trying to cut down the budget deficit and with it throwing millions out of employment. We have witnessed the economies of Southern Europe – Spain, Portugal and Greece – tottering on the brink and their leaders clinging on to power, while France appeared to be going through another French Revolution last week as millions took to the streets protesting extension of the age of retirement and also President Sarkozy’s antics.
On November 2 it will be the turn of Barack Obama and the United States when elections will be held for all 435 seats in the House of Representatives and 33 of the 100 seats in the senate as well as 37 governors of states and six, 118 seats in state legislatures. The writing is on the wall for Obama and the consensus is that his party will lose control of the House of Representatives and perhaps even the senate to Republicans which will make governance in the remaining two years of his presidency extremely difficult.
Barack Obama’s misfortune has been that historic victory which swept the first black man into White House also dumped him into the worst economic recession the greatest economic power has faced since the 1930s. The economy has recovered from the recession, but it resulted in the loss of 8.5 million jobs before the return to positive growth.
Stark statistics point out that it has been a lack-lustre recovery – growth being anaemic, unemployment still at ten per cent nationwide, underemployment, stagnant and declining incomes, decline in personal assets and decrease in retirement funds, stock market holdings and personal savings. This is indeed a bleak scenario for an incumbent president and party in power to fight an election.
Obama is being strongly criticised for the massive stimulus package $ 785 billion he promoted for the recovery of the economy in February 2009, but it was his predecessor George W. Bush who voted in $ 170 billion for a stimulus package in February 2008 before he went out. Obama’s package was to have been spread over ten years, but the public expectations did not materialise and did not produce expected results of job creation. It had only ‘middling results’ analysts point out.
Even in bank bail outs, the public now remembers Obama as one who initiated, even though George Bush provided $ 700 billion bank bail outs in October 2008, a research poll has revealed.
Obama points out to the massive debt deficit left over by George Bush, but Republicans respond saying that during this term of office the budget deficit has been ballooning. It does appear a no-win situation for the rising star next week.
Below the belt punching
There are many negatives that have been unfairly tagged on this first coloured president. Even at the beginning of his presidential campaign, he was accused of being a secret Muslim while pretending to be a Christian, despite his continued denials. In his official visit to India next month, his programme schedule includes a visit to the holiest shrine of the Sikhs, the Golden Temple at Amritsar. But reports from New Delhi say that this visit has been called off because of the continued accusation of being a Muslim by his opponents at home.
Obama’s Muslim family background – his father being an Indonesian Muslim while his mother was a white American – is also being drummed up against him. The construction of a mosque near Ground Zero of the Twin Towers in New York has infuriated Americans of most faiths, but Obama had the gumption to declare that a mosque in the said premises was permissible under the American constitution. Later he diluted his statement, probably under political pressure, but his initial reaction revealed the caliber of politician he is — standing by the constitutional principles when opinion polls revealed he was in the minority. Recent opinion polls reveal that his popularity ratings have dropped below 50 percent.
However, most political analysts point out that his colour or allegations of being a Muslim, are not the reasons for some of his supporters turning against him. He was black before the presidential election too and declared that he was not a Muslim even then and the Americans voted for him. Neither the war in Iraq nor Afghanistan seems to have affected his popularity ratings. The verdict is that the sick American economy with over ten per cent unemployment has been the cause.
Whatever the American voter thinks of him, he still remains a hero among the great majority in the Third World — apart from a few countries — and even European nations.