Belfast Telegraph

With foes like these, Obama may not need friends

By Jim Dee

With America's stalled economy flirting with a double-dip recession, Barack Obama's re-election chances appear slim.

But his salvation may lie with a field of Republican presidential wannabes seemingly tone-deaf to the public's desire to see taxes raised on the rich and the Social Security pension system spared the budget-cutters' axe.

On Saturday, Texas governor Rick Perry became the latest to throw his hat into the ring. Singing from the same hymn sheet as all other Grand Old Party candidates to date, Perry vowed to "work every day to try to make Washington DC as inconsequential in your life as I can."

It was the kind of Washington-bashing that goes down well in the chosen venue of South Carolina, a state whose vote to secede from the US in December 1860 triggered the Civil War.

As governor of a state that's fared better than most during the recession (thanks largely to oil revenues and military spending), Perry will tout his economic credentials. As a fiscal and social conservative, he's also a favourite of the GOP-driving Tea Party movement. And he's got big bucks behind him.

The dismal economy isn't just the Obama's Achilles Heel, it's his Sisyphus's Boulder. Whatever policies he's tried - from 2009's economic stimulus package, to healthcare and financial sector reforms - nothing has dislodged the economy from its deepest rut since the Great Depression.

Recent polling indicates that, while a majority of Americans don't blame Obama for the economic malaise, that majority is slipping (dropping from 80% to 60% since 2009, according to a recent McClatchy-Marist poll).

But all is not doom and gloom for Obama.

In late July, as Republicans refused to compromise during the debt ceiling debacle, several polls showed, by large margins, that a majority of Americans would blame them if the US defaulted on its debt.

The GOP's 'no new taxes' stance and dogged insistence on entitlement cuts plays well with the fringe Tea Partiers, but it's increasingly out of step with public's mood. As a congressional 'Super Committee' of six Democrats and six Republicans began work on finding $1.5 trillion in federal budget cuts by late November, a CNN poll released on Friday showed that, by a 63% to 36% margin, Americans want the committee to recommend a tax hike for the rich.

As for the Tea Partiers, after its allies in Congress took the country to the brink of default - and helped trigger Standards -amp; Poor's subsequent downgrading of America's credit rating - it appears their public standing has slipped.

Hoping to cash in on public anger over the widening gap between the rich and the rest, a coalition of labour and progressive groups have come up with a 10-point plan for kick starting the economy entitled Contract for the American Dream (CAD).

It includes public investment in infrastructure, green technologies, education, higher taxes on the rich, and an expansion of the government-funded Medicare.

It's all stuff that candidate Obama advocated during his 2008 campaign, but stepped lightly in advocating upon taking office.

It's also a programme that might just offer Obama the best chance at snatching victory from the jaws of defeat.

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