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Commentary: Parallels between Johnson’s failed presidency and Obama’s.

By Ira Sharkansky

Ira Sharkansky

JERUSALEM — There is a troubling item in the New York Times that describes “the Obama administration pouring billions into its nationwide campaign to overhaul failing schools, dozens of companies with little or no experience are portraying themselves as school-turnaround experts as they compete for the money.”

If the budget says spend $X on program Y, there is internal pressure to get it done. It is not so much a government giveaway as shoveling money out the door.

It reminds me of Community Action.

It may not have been the War on Poverty that ended the Johnson Administration, but it did not help. One can argue about which element of that presidency has contributed more to sully its reputation over the subsequent years.

One of the undisputed goods of that period are the social policies that have put the Obamas in the White House, and Black faces in corporate board rooms, university faculty offices, the staffs of distinguished hospitals and law firms, and in the roles representing those functions on popular television shows. Yet there remain the wreckages of Black lives and those of other minorities.
There are pictures circulating of Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and Detroit in 1945 and today that portray sparkling cityscapes in Japan and a wrecked Detroit
For those who don’t get the message, one of the items concludes with “What  has caused more long term destruction – the  A-bomb, or  U. S. Government welfare programs created to buy the votes of those who want someone to take care of them?”
 
Americans are a long way from knowing what they will gain and lose from the administration’s 2,000 page health reform, along with federal administrative rulings, state actions, as well as adjustments by insurance companies, HMOs, private physicians, and what the courts will say about the above.

The NYT has documented some of the unresolved questions of who will get what, at how much cost, and when will we finally know?
No one should accuse the NYT of being anti-social, anti-Democratic, or anti-Obama. However, it has reported about the continuing problems of a war that seems unwinable, as well as the follies in congressional/White House logrolling and public administration.
Americans may be seeing a repeat of the bad war and problematic social policy of the 1960s, this time in the presence of persistent unemployment, a large debt overhang, and all those tea parties.

Things are not looking any better in a region of the world claimed as a priority.
The Brookings Institution is reporting a poll of public opinion in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Jordan, Lebanon, and the United Arab Emirates, during the period of June 29–July 20, 2010. Among its findings:

“Early in the Obama administration, in April and May 2009, 51% of the respondents in the six countries expressed optimism about American policy in the Middle East. In the 2010 poll, only 16% were hopeful, while a majority – 63% – was discouraged.”
The Arab public also has not gotten the administration’s message about Iran. “In 2009, only 29% of those polled said that Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons would be “positive” for the Middle East; in 2010, 57% of those polled indicate that such an outcome would be “positive” for the Middle East.” The governments in most of the countries surveyed have expressed strong opposition to Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons. Go figure.
There has been a stability of feeling from 2008 to the present about the prospects of a lasting peace between Israel and Palestinians. Again, the signs do not give the American president what he wants. 50-55 percent feel it will never happen, and 27-40 percent say that it is inevitable, but will take more time.

The Palestinians have refused to begin direct negotiations with Israel, and the Israelis have refused any concessions without direct negotiations.
It is hard to blame either the the Palestinians or the Israelis for those postures. They both are reacting to political realities more than Americans and others still pushing for direct negotiations. Only the naive can expect something more positive than angry frustration to result for such talks in the presence of Hamas, Hizbollah, Iran, and Syria, plus a weak Palestinian Authority and a suspicious Israel.

The Americans may have to prepare themselves for a short presidency. We’ll get an some fresh tea leaves to read on November 2nd.

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Sharkansky is professor emeritus of political science at Hebrew University

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