Wednesday, 5 August 2015

Lame Duck President Takes Flight

By Anne Summers                     Sydney Morning Herald                          24 July, 2015

There's a very strange thing happening in American politics and I'm not talking about Donald Trump. Rather, it is the way that so many Americans are now taking a second, and more favourable, look at their President. After seven bruising years in the job, and struggling – and for the most part failing - to stay ahead in the polls Barack Obama is earning kudos from some unexpected quarters.

"President Obama will go down in history as an extraordinary president, probably a great one," is the view of the well credentialled Washington journalist Dick Meyer. His accomplishments, ambitious goals, dignity and honesty under tough circumstances demand admiration and appreciation".

Meyer singled out for praise Obama's diplomatic accomplishments, especially the Iran deal, the stunning success of Obamacare (fewer Americans now without health insurance than in living memory), presiding over economic recovery, and the "dignity and honesty" of his administration. "It's the first two-term presidency not to be derailed by scandal since Eisenhower.”"

Far from being the classic lame duck as candidates from both major parties start their campaigns to replace him, Obama is revealing himself as a thoughtful political leader who is methodically working to complete his agenda in the time remaining to him. Not just the big international and national reforms you would expect from a Democratic president, but also the "smaller" issues that reveal an understanding of how pervasive social problems might be addressed.

Obama was recently the first sitting President to ever visit a federal prison. That, and his subsequent commuting of sentences of 46 people convicted of minor drug offences, revealed his desire to tackle America's shameful incarceration rate and its truncating of the chances for productive non-criminal lives of so many young people, most of them men. And black.

Obama can never please the Republicans but he had been a huge disappointment to many on his own side for his cool demeanour (nicknamed "the Professor"), his cuddling up to Wall Street, failure to close Gitmo and a string of other unfulfilled promises. But lately he is confounding his critics. His most recent exercise of pastoral duties, in his powerful reflection on race in his eulogy to the slain pastor in Charleston reminded Americans what they are about to lose.

His approval ratings are climbing again, currently at 47 per cent, way ahead of the 31 per cent George W. Bush scored at a comparable point in his presidency. If he continues in this vein he could leave office a popular, admired and appreciated president.

No chance of that happening with Australian leaders with what passes for politics in this country. Here, instead of thoughtfulness we have sneers and slogans. Rather than a measured understanding of complex social and economic problems, we have base simplifications or policy solutions ruled out as electorally risky. We don't have honest and brave reflections by our leaders on divisive issues. We see education funding policy revert to rewarding the already privileged.

Climate policy ignores the reality of other nation's remedial actions to head off looming irreversible damage to the planet. Our anti-terrorism policies are naive and likely ineffectual, just as our asylum-seeker policies are brutal to those seeking refuge and financially crippling to our budget.

Just as we now need to look overseas to remind ourselves that good policy and social reform is still possible, for ethical sustenance we also need to turn to another country.

And yearn for ours to be different. [Abridged]

Anne Summers is editor and publisher of the online magazine Anne Summers Reports

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