Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 24 July 2014

It's fighting talk from Obama but he's on the ropes

Given his yearning to be America's conciliator-in-chief, Barack Obama's sporadic hard-talk efforts towards Republicans have always seemed a bit farcical.

But his December 7 dropping of an unintentionally comic caveat during fake pugilistic posturing took such playacting to new heights - and highlighted why he'll almost certainly be a one-term wonder.

Speaking to reporters after being lambasted by liberals for ditching his long-professed opposition to extending Bush-era tax-cuts for the super-rich, Obama said that he'd be "happy for Republicans to test whether I'm itching for a fight on a whole range of issues". "I suspect they will find that I am," he added.

Obama famously abhors conflict. But, with liberals and progressives apoplectic about his serial appeasing ways, mightn't it have been wise to switch 'suspect' in favour of a direct and emphatic 'will'?

But such is not his way. Never has been. And, much to the delight of the Republicans who've been cleaning his political clock for two years, it probably never will.

During the current debate over tax-cut extensions, Obama did chastise Republicans for being "hostage-takers" - willing to ransom the extension of unemployment benefits for millions of Americans in return for extending tax-cuts for millionaires.

However, rather than use his presidential bully pulpit to fan and marshal public anger about such blatant class warfare, true to form, Obama has chosen the past of least resistance - capitulation.

His recent buckling on extensions of tax-cuts for the rich is but one example. Ever since the initial stimulus bill that he helped champion upon assuming office in January 2009, Obama has operated with an abundance of deference and caution.

Instead of a bold FDR-style public employment initiatives to pump cash into the economy via workers' pockets, Obama instead opted for a raft of oblique tax-cuts and credits.

Deemed ineffectual, halfway measures by some economists, critics contended that such moves proved Obama's deep-seated fear of challenging Wall Street's capitalist titans.

When he travelled to Wall Street to broach financial sector reform last year, Obama's tone was always restrained.

And what has Obama got for his efforts? Friends? Influence? Not a chance. He is now saddled with an expanded and vastly emboldened Capitol Hill Republican Party that wants his political head on a pike.

Still, in spite of being severely boxed-in, it may not be too late for Obama to change course and harness some of the still-smouldering anger that stretches from coast to coast.

Official unemployment stands at 9.8% - about 15m people.

Added to that, there are millions of part-time and under- employed workers and legions more who have given up looking for work.

Things are far more rosy for American businesses. According to new Commerce Department data, the profits of US businesses during the third quarter of this year posted record annual growth of $1.66 trillion. For seven straight quarters, US businesses's profits have matched, or surpassed, previous profit-rate records. To attain such dramatic profits, businesses have been pushing workers harder and harder, while paying them less.

Recent Bureau of Labor Statistics data shows that, between October 2009 and October 2010, businesses's output climbed 4.1% on the back of a 2.5% rise in worker productivity. And, while average weekly hours increased by 1.6%, labour costs went down by 1.9%.

In the Great Depression, such glaring contradictions between the haves and have-nots caused FDR to become a tornado of populist outrage aimed at the banks.

But Obama is no FDR. Bare-knuckle political confrontation appears utterly alien to him. He will continue to talk compromise, but Republicans won't be biting.

The fact is, from healthcare to tax-cuts for the rich, they've seen him blink far too often to take him as a serious threat any longer.

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