Obama’s very effectiveness as a president is widely viewed as being in serious question. He is unable to convince people that the stimulus program is working. His health care reform program is under attack from a variety of interests. On the Afghanistan war, he seems indecisive.
Combined with his lack of executive experience, his seeming inability to resolve political problems affect his ability to govern. Obama’s quick trip to Copenhagen to lobby for Chicago’s bid on the Olympic Games-and then to be rejected-seemed to indicate poor staff work and a trivialization of priorities. Allowing General Stanley McChrystal to lobby the public to affect the president’s decision on Afghanistan weakened Obama’s authority. A confident president would have fired the general as Truman did with MacArthur and Bush did with Shinseki. The situation blended into comic relief when Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize while fighting two wars and planning on a third.
Around the world, supporters of Obama worry about his failure to change Bush policies and to solve pressing problems. They see demonstrations in front of the White House by Obama supporters disappointed that he hasn’t changed the “don’t ask, don’t tell” military policy as he promised in the campaign. And those who want an end to the Afghan war or least an exit strategy are acting out in Congress and around the country.
The New Statesman, an authoritative British publication lists the problems that Obama has not solved. The whole world is watching.
1. He continued the Bush policy on narrow definition of “state secrets”, keeping information from the public unnecessarily.
2. He has retreated on a government-run health insurance plan.
3. He has failed to persuade Congress to take a substantive action on the emissions that affect climate change.
4. He has continued the Bush trillion dollar bank bailouts.
5. He failed to control bonuses for the executives of banks.
6. He made permanent the Bush tax cuts enacted in 2001 and 2003.
7. He has been unable to close the prison at Guantánamo; force-feeding operations have continued.
8. He has refused to release photographs of Bush administration “advanced interrogation” techniques and backed immunity for Bush officials involved in torture.
9. He has increased U.S. troops in Afghanistan and extended operations into Pakistan.
10. He has issued signing statements claiming the authority to bypass provisions of pills enacted into law.
11. Obama has failed to deliver to organized labor the changes in law promised for a generation.
Obama’s own supporters worry that he is not living up to his specific campaign promises and that when he tries to do so he does not seem to know how to use his power. Obama is a very popular leader of a party that won a landslide election in 2008. He has a team of centrist advisors headed by Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, an experienced team that knows the political ropes and the pressures necessary to get things done in Washington. While they understand political hardball, they seem to be unwilling to use it to energize the serious change that Obama inspired in his sensational campaign. The alternative strategy would involve the development of a mass grass roots movement to promote very specific goals for peace and economic justice.