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In first year, Obama’s promise eclipsed his performance

January 23, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments
By Ira Sharkansky

JERUSALEM–Barack Obama is one dramatic guy. His rhetoric is world class. His life story adds to the magic. Inauguration as president, aspirations for economic stability, engagement with the world, peace in the Middle East, reform of health care for the unhealthiest of the wealthy countries, and a Nobel Prize were his highlights for 2009.

Less than stunning successes for engagement, the Middle East, and health care have not dimmed his aspirations. Now he is going after the big banks. The details are not any clearer than were his desires for health care in a thousand page bill he sent to Congress. Reports are that he wants to tighten regulation and limit what they can do with their own money and that which they hold for others. He wants to prevent the kind of threat against the nation’s economy that came from irresponsible gambles, most notably sub-prime mortgages that gave houses to people who could not pay for them. The experts are still arguing how much of the responsibility for that came from the banks, and how much should be given to presidents who reduced regulations in order to put more people in their own homes.

There is one commentary that the big banks will not suffer from the as-yet unrevealed reforms, but the essence of that prediction is more ridicule than analysis. It is saying that “President Barack Obama’s latest broadside against big banks may have more bark than bite.” http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20100123/ap_on_bi_ge/us_financial_overhaul_banks

The first sign of Obama’s success in this venture was a dismal week in the stock market. The S&P 500 dropped by almost four percent. The indices for German and British exchanges declined by three and four percent. It may be too simple to link the declines to the Obama proposal, but that is what people with more expertise and larger audiences than me are saying.

It is not too much of a stretch to expect that the president will trigger the same kind of reactions as his proposal for health care. The banks now in his sights are no poorer and no less savvy than the HMOs and insurance companies. And as in the case of health reform, the political battle will not focus on fat plutocrats bringing their cigars and selfish demands to the hearing rooms of Congress. Again there can be town meetings and accusations of big government, socialism, and the dictates of uninformed bureaucrats. The underside (or is it the good soul) of America will show itself, again paid for and organized by those who have learned the trade of public relations.

The White House has not given up on its other missions. The president and his advisers are rethinking their strategy for health care after Massachusetts. George Mitchell has come again to the Middle East, and the results have been no more encouraging than the drop in the stock market that greeted the president’s comments about banking. Prime Minister Netanyahu told Mitchell that the Palestinians should start negotiations without preconditions. And if they want more concessions from Israel (like the 10 month partial settlement freeze on which the clock is running) it is their turn to make concessions first. Palestinians have told Mitchell that without a complete freeze on settlements, including neighborhoods of Jerusalem, there can be no negotiations.

Further east, Iraq is not yet a stable democracy, Iran continues to spin out enriched uranium and to thumb its nose at the international community, Afghanistan remains out of control, and the spill over to Pakistan has now spread to Yemen and Somalia.

There is a good sign in the effort to keep terrorists out of airplanes. A brave crew landed safely and security personnel disarmed a young man of his tefillin.

Remember Obama’s campaign. Not only did he promise a great deal, but people heard even more than he was offering in the open-ended theme of Change. It was common to brood about the extent of expectations, and to worry that they assured disappointment.

Here it is, and it may not yet be the bottom.

And here is one of those occasional reminders that I welcome comments.

Sharkansky is professor emeritus of political science at Hebrew University

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  1. January 23, 2010 at 11:06 pm

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