Obama first 100 days Bush cartoon

Obama first 100 days Bush

Barack Obama’s next 1360 days

The list of US presidents is Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison…and 39 more Anglo-centric names later we have, Obama. This was a change. The capacity of the United States for renewal has been demonstrated before. Race has always been a bug-bear of American society. However nearly 40 years since that famous speech of Martin Lurther King where he said: ‘I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character’. On the 20th of January this year, at Mr Obama’s inauguration the dream came one step closer to reality.

He is not short of ambition. On the first few days of his administration he signed a number of ‘executive orders’ (edicts, Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation is an example). One such order implied that military tribunals would be halted. Another was that torture would be stopped and another that the Guantanamo detention centre would be shut down. In addition, he planned to usher in an era of transparency. He seeks to introduce universal health care and transform to the US economy to a carbon free one. On foreign policy, he has spoken directly to the Iranian people, and embraced Hugo Chavez (who once called George Bush ‘the devil’).

All this was welcomed by the rest of the world. It is a refreshing change from the bellicosity of the previous administration. The standing of the US has improved generally in the world. The impact that he has made thus far is enormous. He has been hailed in the UK as the ‘messiah’. At the 2009 G20 summit in London leaders jostled to get photographed with him. And his trip to France was greeted with such fanfare that would have made George Bush envious (as he was accustomed to protests).

However, no agenda of idealism survives first contact with reality. Expectations are so high that he had to disappoint. Given his commitment to bipartisanship, the choice of who disappoint was easy—it had to be his political left. Where will they go? The broad left-wing groups include the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), a venerated body that has been involved in key litigation over the past century; overturning contraventions to the US constitution (e.g. Brown vs. Board of Education, in 1954 that led to the desegregated schooling).

The disappointment came in the form of flip-flopping on military tribunals – modifying them, instead of dismantling them; and on preventing the release of more photographs showing prisoner abuse. For the right, this was seen as vindication of the policies of the Bush administration.

Instead of following ‘due process’ as in the US constitution, the enemy combatants are to be tried in a military tribunal. The Economist, in 2003, notably called this un-American, saying that even Mandela, in 1963 then a terrorist, was allowed a trial in apartheid South Africa. However, the argument goes that it might be impossible to obtained convictions in open civil court as the evidence might not be available. Richard Hass, said that in deciding this that it was ‘far better to alienate the ACLU in Washington than to alienate people in Pakistan and Afghanistan. When people in Washington get alienated they write op-eds; when people in Pakistan get alienated, they plant IEDs and kill American soldiers’.

However, these deviations for realpolitik reasons are easy tradeoffs for an ambitious president. He is seeking to make America more liberal and returning to its core values of equal opportunity for all. Yet politics is not a science. It has been called the art of compromise and the ability to pick winnable battles. He cannot needlessly alienate his core constituency on ideals that they cherish. The ACLU is launching litigation against the revised military tribunals. However, given his agenda, both domestic and foreign, he is aware of the need to court the Republicans, as the next electoral test is 18 months away. Bill Clinton won in 1992, having majorities in both the House and the Senate. In the mid-term election of 1994, the Democrats lost their majorities in both chambers.

There is an element of a gamble being played here. Great presidents need a significant crisis or two – and be able to get the country out of them. Unlike his predecessor, Mr Obama is equipped with many talents and there are few who would bet against him, yet.

– Renay Singh

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  1. Lekgotla says

    Well written on Obama’s real politik journey. The global financial crisis and the attendant recession constitute a mixed blessing for Obama. On the one hand, the challenges for turnaround present enormous risk of failure. On the other hand, if there is a bottoming out and turnaound that is in part due to his interventions and also due non-specific factors related to a recession cycle, he will reap more than he sowed, including retaining majorities in both houses and reinforcing a “messiah”status in the global environment

  2. Singh,I`m quite uncomfortable talking about other countries affairs{let alone the US}while our country is really ailing and sinking deep in troubled-torn waters!

    I also don`t see any comparison between America and South Africa or Zuma and Obama since we are in the league of Lesotho and Swaziland in terms of economy strength and rule.

  3. Innocent Mawera says

    I’m also not quit shore if we have to compare the president of a 15 year old democracy (Ruling His Native Land) and the Man of a Well Established Country (Who has African Roots), But if we want to be Powerhouse of africa then lets compare ourselves with the best.

    • @Tim, Innocent – The Whole Truth cartoon strip covers international news and opinion not only South African issues. The post is not as much a comparison between Mr Obama and Mr Zuma or between the USA and South Africa, but still I really like what you say Innocent – South Africa should look to the best and aim to get there.

      @Lekgotla – crises are two-edged swords for presidents and while you’re right it may turn sour for Obama if he cannot turn things around, I think more of the damage is likely to be attributed to Bush that to Obama in this instance. To retain both houses Obama has to ensure he plays the political game well – over and above getting his core job done. Did you receive my email by the way?

  4. Lekgotla says

    @Tim – I did not receive an e-mail from you. It’s either not going through or delayed

  5. Lekgotla says

    @PM / @Tim – apologies: It appears it is PM asking about the e-mail.

  6. As a new democracy, it IS actually vital that we compare ourselves (ie.SA) with other countries..not only with “the best”, but also with those that have “gone horribly wrong” such as Zimbabwe…. The reason obviously being that the achievement of success comes not only with learning from one’s OWN mistakes/experiences, but also from the /mistakes experiences of others.


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