Nov 6th 2008

Why the White House will now tilt center-left

by Michael Johnson

Michael Johnson is a music critic with particular interest in piano. 

Johnson worked as a reporter and editor in New York, Moscow, Paris and London over his journalism career. He covered European technology for Business Week for five years, and served nine years as chief editor of International Management magazine and was chief editor of the French technology weekly 01 Informatique. He also spent four years as Moscow correspondent of The Associated Press. He is the author of five books.

Michael Johnson is based in Bordeaux. Besides English and French he is also fluent in Russian.

You can order Michael Johnson's most recent book, a bilingual book, French and English, with drawings by Johnson:

“Portraitures and caricatures:  Conductors, Pianist, Composers”

 here.

Europeans breathed a sigh of relief at the election of Democrat Barack Obama as the first black U.S. president, ending eight years of growing anxiety over the veiled unilateralism of George W. Bush's administration. The result promised to restore hope that a new and more enlightened U.S. vision of the world will take shape under Obama's charismatic leadership.

Celebrations rang out across Europe, congratulatory messages poured into Obama's headquarters from European leaders and mainstream news media from London and Paris to Berlin and Rome were still leading with the story two days later.

French writer Bernard Henri Lévy said he believed Obama incarnated the styles and talents of John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King - a highly appealing combination at this juncture.

In the United States, Republicans tried to take heart from the fact that Democratic majorities in the Senate and the House of Representatives fell slightly short of epic proportions. Nevertheless the electoral college ended in a two-thirds majority for Obama, a landslide by any measure. Obama has the mandate he will need to enact his liberal agenda.

The Democratic euphoria was palpable. An American friend travelling on a plane toward the West Coast when Obama passed the 270-electoral college victory line said the pilot announced the news to the passengers. "We all went nuts -- then at home in Portland there were car horns honking and fireworks and parties, parties! We are one happy nation."

I met with French media at the U.S. Consulate in Bordeaux on the day after Obama's victory and noted the Bordeaux press was as excited as any registered Democrat over the coming changes in U.S. policies.

As Obama's transition team prepares to select and announce a series of cabinet and other appointees, voters on both sides are assessing the long-term implications for the U.S. and the world at large and weighing options for confronting a long list of major problems.

But first, how did it happen?

Analysts will study the 20-month campaign and the shifting strengths of the two contenders for years to come but the numbers show clearly that Obama's support grew - and Republican John McCain's began to shrink - after the CBS television interview with vice presidential running-mate Sarah Palin in which she displayed surprising ignorance of the national scene and international affairs. The major factors in the electoral outcome:

THE PALIN PROBLEM - John McCain's polls were lagging in the weeks prior to the Republican convention in August when he hand-picked the brash governor of Alaska Sarah Palin as his vice presidential partner. She seemed to revitalize the campaign with her edgy and unpredictable style and her appeal to the right wing of the party - notably the Christian evangelists. McCain's numbers surged into the lead. But eventually Palin was revealed by the media as deeply ignorant of the outside world. In the opinion of many, including Republican leaders, this rendered her unsuitable as the automatic successor to the presidency in the event McCain would be incapacitated. Behind-the-scenes stories have begun leaking out saying she did not know what countries are in the North America Free Trade Agreement (U.S., Canada and Mexico) and thought Africa was a country. Aides privately describe her as subject to temper tantrums and lack of discipline in message delivery.

BUSH FATIGUE - U.S. politics tends to swing like a pendulum between center-right and center-left, and this was the time for a leftward tilt. Eight years of George W. Bush's administration had worn out even his supporters. Public rejection of mishandled military adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan, his management of the U.S. economy and a succession of unpopular collaborators such as Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz and Condoleeza Rice took its toll. His public approval rating plunged to 31 percent over his handling of the presidency as hopes rose for a possible Obama administration.

ISSUES - The ranking of issues - health care, foreign policy, the U.S. economy, education - fluctuated through the campaign but in the final six weeks the economy was No. 1. McCain favoured tax reforms that would continue the Bush policy of a lighter load on the wealthy, not a popular stance among the general public. Obama openly advocated shifting the tax load back to levels in force during the Clinton administration, easing the burden on the middle class, where incidentally most of the votes were to be had.

McCAIN's HEALTH - Although McCain remained remarkably robust throughout the gruelling campaign, his bout with melanoma cancer and his advanced age - at 72, the oldest contender for a first term president - worried undecided voters and many Republicans. Combined with the Palin role as possible accidental president, his candidacy was privately questioned. Worse, contrasted to the youthful Barack Obama, 47, he began to look like yesterday's man.

OBAMA THE MAN - For 10 years, Democratic leaders have been tracking Barack Obama as a potential national leader, and this was his moment. Even earlier in his life he was singled out as a man with an extraordinary mind. At Harvard Law School, his professors recall his unique gifts. One professor says he did not assign Obama the usual donkey work of studying legal precedents, but rather kept him on a high place of legal thought. He was the first black president of the respected Harvard Law Review. As he emerged on the national scene, his ability to sway crowds as an orator became evident. In his acceptance speech, the crowd in Chicago sat rapt, many in tears (including black leader the Rev. Jesse Jackson), as he looked ahead to a new dawn.

OBAMA'S CAMPAIGN - Obama's campaign managers and speechwriters kept him on a high rhetorical plane, above the innuendo and personal deprecations coming from his two adversaries. His nationwide organization, involving more than a million volunteers, will be a model for future presidential campaigns. His use of modern communications tools - text messaging on mobile telephones and the internet as a fund-raising channel - broke new ground.

LEHMAN BROTHERS - Already weakening as a result of the Palin problem, the McCain campaign stumbled on the news of the collapse of the investment bank Lehman Brothers. McCain made the mistake of claiming the fundamentals of the U.S. economy remained strong, a misstep that proved progressively more erroneous in the following days and weeks as the subprime mortgage crisis turned into a catastrophic financial crisis. Polls from then onward gave Obama a widening lead, ending with a Gallup poll on election eve of 11 points. It was all over before election day, and both McCain and Palin knew it.


If you wish to comment on this article, you can do so on-line.

Should you wish to publish your own article on the Facts & Arts website, please contact us at info@factsandarts.com. Please note that Facts & Arts shares its advertising revenue with those who have contributed material and have signed an agreement with us.

Please watch president-elect Barack Obama's victory speech below:


 


This article is brought to you by the author who owns the copyright to the text.

Should you want to support the author’s creative work you can use the PayPal “Donate” button below.

Your donation is a transaction between you and the author. The proceeds go directly to the author’s PayPal account in full less PayPal’s commission.

Facts & Arts neither receives information about you, nor of your donation, nor does Facts & Arts receive a commission.

Facts & Arts does not pay the author, nor takes paid by the author, for the posting of the author's material on Facts & Arts. Facts & Arts finances its operations by selling advertising space.

 

 

Browse articles by author

More Current Affairs

Sep 29th 2022
EXTRACTS "Ever since she became a prominent political figure 12 years ago, Truss has been a shapeshifter. She started as a Liberal Democrat before becoming a Conservative, and she voted to remain in the European Union before championing Brexit. As a minister, it is hard to think of anything she accomplished. She signed a few EU trade deals as Secretary of State for International Trade, but most of those were rollovers." --- "But if until recently it seemed that Truss was driven solely by political ambition, her government’s 'mini-budget' proposal sheds light on her deeper ideological affinities."
Sep 20th 2022
EXTRACT: "Russia’s focus on Ukraine and Putin’s choice to frame this as a civilisational struggle with the west has created opportunities for China to enhance its influence elsewhere – at Russia’s expense."
Sep 20th 2022
EXTRACTS: ”The Ukrainian army is making spectacular advances,” --- “…the European Union has fully mobilized to confront the energy crisis.” ---- “we are helping our partners in the Global South to handle the fallout from Russia’s brutal aggression and cynical weaponization of energy and food.” ---- “In short: the overall strategy is working. We must continue to support Ukraine, pressure Russia with sanctions, and help our global partners in a spirit of solidarity.”
Sep 8th 2022
EXTRACT: "In 1950, a team of sociologists, including the philosopher Theodor Adorno, conducted an empirical study, later published as The Authoritarian Personality, which ....... “If a potentially fascistic individual exists, what, precisely, is he like? What goes to make up antidemocratic thought? What are the organizing forces within the person?... what have been the determinants and what is the course of his development?”
Aug 29th 2022
EXTRACT: "Russian aggression certainly poses a threat; but it is a familiar one that we know how to deal with. Rising temperatures, dry riverbeds, parched landscapes, falling crop yields, acute energy shortages, and disruptions to industrial production are something else."
Aug 25th 2022
EXTRACTS: "As the revolutionary founder of a new Chinese state, Mao emphasized ideology over development. For Deng and his successors, it was the opposite: De-emphasis of ideology was viewed as necessary to boost economic growth through market-based 'reform and opening up.' Then came Xi. Initially, there was hope that his so-called 'Third Plenum Reforms' of 2013 would usher in a new era of strong economic performance. But the new ideological campaigns carried out under the general rubric of Xi Jinping Thought, including a regulatory clampdown on once-dynamic Internet platform companies and associated restrictions on online gaming, music, and private tutoring, as well as a zero-COVID policy that has led to never-ending lockdowns, have all but dashed those hopes." ----- "With the upcoming 20th Party Congress likely to usher in an unprecedented third five-year term for Xi, there is good reason to believe that China’s growth sacrifice has only just begun."
Aug 23rd 2022
EXTRACTS: "Less widely noted, however, is that the prices of many commodities fell this summer. The price of oil decreased by about 30% between early June and mid-August. The politically sensitive price of gasoline in the United States fell by 20% over the same period, from $5 per gallon to $4 per gallon. The overall index fell 12%." ---- "There are two macroeconomic reasons to think that commodity prices in general will fall further. The level of economic activity is a self-evidently important determinant of demand for commodities and therefore of their prices. Less obviously, the real interest rate is another key factor. And the current outlook for both global growth and real interest rates suggests a downward path for commodity prices."
Aug 22nd 2022
EXTRACT: "How Trump planned to use the classified documents remains a question that investigators presumably have made a high priority. Depending on the answer and the resulting charges, if any, one thing is certain: Trump will play hardball, including by amplifying his claims of victimhood at the hands of the fictional Deep State, and denying any wrongdoing in purloining the documents. His lies and hyperbole, however, don’t preclude seeking a plea deal. In his previous tangles with the law, such as his Trump University scam, he agreed to compensate the victims (in that case $25 million) after his prevarications were exhausted."
Aug 21st 2022
"On one side, there is the foreign secretary, Liz Truss, for whom all but the most partisan Tory would struggle to count many successes during her lengthy cabinet career." ---- "Rishi Sunak, whose proposed policies appear more attuned to the imperative of tackling inflation and the hardship it is causing. But on the big issues of the past few years, Sunak has been wrong. He backed Brexit from the beginning, denies the damage it is doing, and enthusiastically supported Johnson’s bid for the premiership." ---- " Which of these two can offer honesty to the British people, who deserve to be treated like grown-ups? To paraphrase the US Democratic politician Adlai Stevenson, the average man and woman are better than average."
Aug 10th 2022
EXTRACT: "Central banks are thus locked in a “debt trap”: any attempt to normalize monetary policy will cause debt-servicing burdens to spike, leading to massive insolvencies, cascading financial crises, and fallout in the real economy. ---- With governments unable to reduce high debts and deficits by spending less or raising revenues, those that can borrow in their own currency will increasingly resort to the “inflation tax”: relying on unexpected price growth to wipe out long-term nominal liabilities at fixed rates."
Jul 29th 2022
EXTRACT: ".... the likelihood is that Biden, who spent his life as a senator, played a central behind-the-scenes role in turning Manchin around and keeping the Democratic Party Senators together on this pared-down version of Build Back Better. Biden’s legislative accomplishments, not to mention his administrative ones, will likely end up being very impressive for the first two years of his presidency. ------ In matters of climate, every ton of CO2 you don’t put into the atmosphere is a decrease in how hard life will be for our grandchildren. They will have reason to be grateful to President Biden and the Democratic Party if this bill becomes law."
Jul 29th 2022
EXTRACTS: "Right-wing media outlets including Fox News, One America News (OAN), Newsmax, and talk radio are grossly abusing the right to free speech and are causing profound, if not irreparable damage to our country at home and abroad. They have been engaged in these deliberate practices of spreading poisonous misinformation all in the name of free speech." ---- "A team at MIT, analyzing propaganda techniques in the news, underscores the use of logical fallacies – such as strawmen (the misrepresentation of the other’s position), red herrings (the provision of irrelevancies), false dichotomies (offering two alternatives as the only possibilities), and whataboutism (a diversionary tactic to avoid directly addressing an issue). ---- Whataboutism is worth considering more closely because it is becoming ubiquitous among Republicans – perhaps this is not surprising given that it is certainly Trump’s “favorite dodge.” It is one of the fundamental rules by which he operates: when you are criticized, say that someone else is worse. In an interview with Trump, Bill O’Reilly states the obvious fact that “Putin is a killer,” and who can forget Trump’s response: “There are a lot of killers. You got a lot of killers. What, you think our country is so innocent?” That is classic whataboutism. And it is also of course all over Fox News’ most popular line-up."
Jul 24th 2022
EXTRACTS: "For three hours, against the unequivocal advice of his counsel, friends, and family, Trump purposefully and steadfastly declined to give the mob he had summoned any signal to disperse, to exit the building peacefully, or to simply cease threatening the life of his vice president or other members of Congress." ------ "Trump is corrupt to the core, a traitor who deserves nothing but contempt and to spend the rest of his life behind bars because he remains a menace to this country and an existential threat to our democratic institutions."
Jul 21st 2022
EXTRACT: "For some countries, diasporas also are not new. Just ask the Russians. For three-quarters of a century, Stalin’s NKVD and its successor, the KGB, kept close tabs on expatriate Russians, constantly worrying about the threat they might pose. And now, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s security service, the FSB, is continuing the tradition. According to recent FSB estimates, almost four million Russians left the country in the first three months of this year. Obviously, FSB statistics are hard to verify. But the sheer magnitude of this year’s departures is striking."
Jul 20th 2022
EXTRACTS: "We need leaders who will be honest about our problems in the short, medium, and long term. We are becoming poorer than our neighbors, with our per capita growth and productivity lagging behind theirs. We confront surging energy prices, soaring inflation, and public-sector strikes. Our fiscal deficit is uncomfortably high. Our influence is diminished. Far from recognizing these challenges, let alone proposing sensible solutions, the candidates to succeed Johnson are trying to win votes with reckless proposals like ever-larger tax cuts." ----- "There is one exception. Former Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak refuses to abandon the notion that expenditure should bear some relationship to revenue. "
Jul 13th 2022
EXTRACT: "Looking ahead, five factors could make today’s energy crisis even worse. First, Putin has opened a second front in the conflict by cutting back on the contracted volumes of natural gas that Russia supplies to Europe. The goal is to prevent Europeans from storing enough supplies for next winter, and to drive prices higher, creating economic hardship and political discord. In his speech in June at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum, Putin made his reasoning clear: “Social and economic problems worsening in Europe” will “split their societies” and “inevitably lead to populism … and a change of the elites in the short term.” ...... As it is, Germany is now anticipating the need for gas rationing, and its minister for economic affairs, Robert Habeck, warns of a “Lehman-style contagion” (referring to the 2008 financial crisis) if Europe cannot manage today’s energy-induced economic disruptions."
Jul 5th 2022
EXTRACT: "Fortunately, I am not alone in claiming that the survival of democracy in the US is gravely endangered. The American public has been aroused by the decision overturning Roe. But people need to recognize that decision for what it is: part of a carefully laid plan to turn the US into a repressive regime. We must do everything we can to prevent that. This fight ought to include many people who voted for Trump in the past."
Jul 2nd 2022
EXTRACT: "The Israeli philosopher Avishai Margalit described this succinctly in his book On Compromise and Rotten Compromises. In “politics as economics,” material interests are “subject to bargaining, everything is negotiable, whereas in the religious picture, centered on the idea of the holy, the holy is non-negotiable.” This, then, is why politics in the US is now in such a perilous state. More and more, the secular left and the religious right are engaged in a culture war, revolving around sexuality, gender, and race, where politics is no longer negotiable. When that happens, institutions start breaking down, and the stage is set for charismatic demagogues and the politics of violence."
Jul 2nd 2022
EXTRACT: "...EU enlargement is essentially a political decision by member states, based on a multitude of considerations that sometimes include dramatic events. Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine is such a turning point."
Jun 29th 2022
EXTRACT: "Most market analysts seem to think that central banks will remain hawkish, but I am not so sure. I have argued that they will eventually wimp out and accept higher inflation – followed by stagflation – once a hard landing becomes imminent, because they will be worried about the damage of a recession and a debt trap, owing to an excessive build-up of private and public liabilities after years of low interest rates." ----- "There is ample reason to believe that the next recession will be marked by a severe stagflationary debt crisis. As a share of global GDP, private and public debt levels are much higher today than in the past, having risen from 200% in 1999 to 350% today (with a particularly sharp increase since the start of the pandemic). Under these conditions, rapid normalization of monetary policy and rising interest rates will drive highly leveraged zombie households, companies, financial institutions, and governments into bankruptcy and default."