Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 31 August 2014

Laurence White: How Obama’s new world may not be black or white

To watch some of the coverage of the US presidential election, one could be forgiven for thinking that Barack Obama was some sort of messiah. Sure, he is young, good looking, a brilliant orator and a mesmerising presence, but what else is he?

He was the first black president of the Harvard Law Review, one of America’s most prestigious journals. The role of president generally goes to the brightest law student at the University, so we can take it that Barack is a bright lad. Not that brainpower is a necessity for the job of President of the USA if the examples of George W Bush and Ronald Reagan are to be believed.

His economic policies seem a little on the socialist side for mainstream American. He wants a windfall tax on the hugely profitable oil companies. Admittedly few would object to that and it seems to be the only area where he can raise the sums of money needed to fill in the country’s economic black hole. He would also try to claw back some money from the super-rich who prospered under Bush.

Ending the war in Iraq might save some more money, except that he is in favour of getting even tougher with the Taliban in Afghanistan. He might lower the body count, but the drain on resources will continue.

One area where he could get himself in trouble internationally is by penalising US companies who outsource work or jobs overseas (companies creating jobs in America would get tax breaks). This would lead to competitors abroad retaliating and trying to stop their businesses outsourcing work to the US. Putting up any kind of trade protection barrier is deeply unpopular.

Another Obama plan for getting America back to work is building more bridges, roads and other infrastructure projects. Even in the land of the free, sometimes government intervention is required. There are many in the construction industry in Northern Ireland who would like to see the Executive here — whenever it finally decides to meet again — draw up a similar list of public sector projects to save jobs in this vital employment sector.

Of course Obama has until January 20 before he really needs to start outlining his vision for changing the world — he is really into saving the planet from the excesses of man, unlike his predecessor. It says something for his magnetism, that even John McCain paid tribute to the new president and urged all Americans to rally round him.

McCain’s speech in conceding defeat was probably one of the most gracious and honourable ever heard. At one stage he even told his supporters to stop booing the new president and also spoke of how Obama had inspired hope in millions of Americans who felt they had little influence in the affairs of the country. McCain won more admiration, particularly outside the Republican party, in that single speech than he did throughout his campaigning. Politicians of that stature are a rare breed.

But perhaps the most astonishing part of Obama’s victory is the general welcome it received in the world at large. America, under Bush and his misdirected war against terror, was regarded as a bully and an aggressor, but there is now a genuine belief that Obama will usher in a new approach. His apparent desire for frank exchanges with even avowed enemies may be touching naivety or just a belief that he can negotiate anything.

However politics has a way of extinguishing even the brightest flames. Obama would not be the first to come to power on the promise of changing the world, only to find that the world is very resistant to change.

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