The domestic challenges (the first part)
Unemployment, fiscal and union reforms, immigration policies, respect for human and civil rights…these are some of the domestic challenges that Obama faces. What he proposes during these transition months will be key for the future of the American economy and society.
(From Madrid) FEW TIMES IN THE HISTORY of the United States have presidential elections triggered so many expectations of change throughout the whole world.
The historic arrival of a black tenant to the White House –together with his special life story, his new kind of temperament and his great talent with the media and for seduction– has made many millions of people, both in the United States and very far from its borders, experience Obama’s triumph as it if were his or her own. The Democratic president-elect has reawakened hope that already seemed to be lost, and in comparison with the outgoing president, that widespread expectation of change becomes magnified even more.
Some are predicting a profound revolution, a global change. There are people who believe Obama is cut from an ideological cloth similar to that of the European social democrats. Is this really how things are? Is there any reason to expect something similar? Well, it doesn’t look like it. Neither in his program, nor in his electoral campaign, can the basis for such speculation be found.
EVERYTHING IS TIED TOGETHER, TIGHTLY
The fact that the big banks supported Obama more than McCain when it came time to make electoral campaign donations, and that the industrial arms lobby has contributed to the Republican Party’s treasure chest with one hand, and to the Democratic Party’s with the other -similar to what the no less powerful Jewish lobby has done- “The Bush balloon, which allowed him to jump from a 50 percent popularity rating on September 10, 2001 to 91 percent on September 12, thanks to his crusade of Good versus Evil, popped a long time ago” says something in and of itself about the belief of these forces in power that the Great Seducer will not alter the essential economic, labor, social, and political rules of the game. Everything is tied together, tightly.
Obama’s ability to collect two out of every three dollars invested in the most expensive campaign in the history of the United States (approximately 800 million dollars) was not exactly due to the numerous five and ten dollar donations from ordinary citizens. Rather, it was mainly a result of the large contributions from the banking and industrial giants.
What could this be due to, if not to the fact that so many right-wing political, economic, and media leaders around the whole world lavished the Democratic candidate with so much praise during the end of the electoral campaign, instead of praising the Republican candidate? Where is the revolutionary program with which Obama has won?
HAS OBAMA WON OR HAS BUSH LOST?
There are people who, for years, applauded the Bush Administration’s domestic and foreign policy, and justified every single outrageous act committed under the umbrella of the war on terror. “The economic situation that Obama will face will resemble in part the one that another Democratic president faced: Franklin Delano Roosevelt” Yet when Barack Obama prevailed over Hillary Clinton in his party’s primaries and turned into a dangerous opponent for McCain, many of them decided to increasingly distance themselves from the administration, and later, even from the image projected by John McCain, the Republican hoping to succeed Bush to the White House. Realpolitik is always very present.
The Bush balloon, which allowed him to jump from a 50 percent popularity rating on September 10, 2001 to 91 percent on September 12, thanks to his crusade of Good versus Evil, popped a long time ago, and the 43rd president is finishing up his time in office with a popularity level of less than 30 percent.
Yes, it is true that, as shallow as the changes that Obama makes might wind up being, having seen his incredible electoral campaign and his chameleon-like characteristics, if they are wrapped up nicely – as is predicted – he will manage to make them look more important, which will at least give him some time to earn trust, and some room to maneuver.
THE SOCIO-ECONOMIC ASPECT
Domestically, Barack Obama’s first challenge will be the economy; this is no news. “Obama is aware that the very serious current economic situation is a hard nut to crack, but he also knows that it played a big role in the decline of the Republican party” All eyes will be waiting to see what he proposes in order to get his country out of the profound crisis it is going through, how he will keep it from falling into a total recession and what he prescribes in order to regulate the financial system.
This past October, 240,000 jobs were cut in the United States and unemployment rose to 6.5 percent, far above the average of 4.7 percent for 2007. It is the highest figure in 14 years and there are more than a few analysts who predict that it could reach eight, and even ten percent in very little time. There are already ten million unemployed people, which is 2.8 million more than last year, and a very different situation from the one that Bush junior faced upon his arrival at the White House in 2001, with a surplus inherited from Bill Clinton.
“The working class went practically unmentioned during his campaign, just like in McCain’s” The economic situation that Obama will face when he formally assumes the presidency next January 20 will resemble in part the one that another Democratic president faced: Franklin Delano Roosevelt. FDR was hurt by the awful economy handed down to him by Herbert Hoover, but at the same time the mess caused by the Republican president’s disastrous management in light of the crash of ’29 also greatly helped him win the elections of November 1932. At that moment, with a population much smaller than it has today, the United States had 13 million unemployed people.
Obama is aware that the very serious current economic situation is a hard nut to crack, but he also knows that it played a big role in the decline of the Republican party. The public lost faith in the GOP, which had not happened even with its suspension of civil liberties, its lies to justify wars, Abu Ghraib or Guantanamo.
In fiscal matters, Obama has proposed raising taxes on those who make more than 200,000 dollars a year and lowering them for those with lower incomes, focusing above all on the middle class. In fact, the working class went practically unmentioned during his campaign, just like in McCain’s. “The president elect has avoided making any kind of commitment to reform immigration policy” Obama also promised during his electoral campaign to expand medical insurance to include coverage for all workers. The State would require that all businesses provide their employees with that coverage through private insurance plans. Union reform is another project that the working class is hoping for, as well as a series of measures to confront the poverty that affects close to 40 million people. Obama has only made general statements regarding these last two issues.
Despite his origin and the fact that he received the majority of the votes of immigrants, the president elect has avoided making any kind of commitment to reform immigration policy, which affects millions of people, or to knock down the disgraceful fence on the Mexican border.
“Obama has not gotten his hands tied up in legal issues that seriously affect the civil rights of all citizens either” He has also not expressed willingness to reform the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA, which went into effect in 1994), as demanded by Mexico, a country that openly feels damaged by the treaty.
But in light of the critical economic situation, the half trillion Euros already committed to saving businesses in trouble, the huge (and growing) foreign debt and the daily outflow of nearly 400 million dollars to wars, will Obama’s advisors dissuade him from putting off the fulfillment of those promises that aroused such great expectations and drove 6 out of every 10 voters who voted for him to do so? Presumably they will.
And this has already begun to spark debates in the heart of the Democratic Party – just like during the Roosevelt era – between the defenders of more progressive values, willing to make more profound reforms in order to achieve them, and the opportunists, those that can end up defending policies that clearly go against those ideals, for the sake of realpolitik.
CIVIL RIGHTS AND HUMAN RIGHTS
“The president elect has avoided making any kind of commitment to reform immigration policy” Domestic policy will also turn up in other areas, such as the debates on: the death penalty; the traditional right to bear arms; gay marriage; and the environment, in a country that is responsible for a good part of the world’s pollution. All of these are issues that Obama the candidate has tiptoed around, and it is difficult to think that Obama the president will boldly face up to them.
Obama has not gotten his hands tied up in legal issues that seriously affect the civil rights of all citizens either. And these are issues for which his party has not fought during the Bush Administration; on the contrary, it ended up giving Bush the green light to infringe upon them, with legislature like the Patriot Act. “Numerous civil rights organizations in the US demand that the new Government end this massive spying on its citizens already”The Patriot Act, which can be invoked by the FBI and other Intelligence agencies in order to snoop around in the most personal facets of any citizen’s daily life (via their mail, their phone, their banking, medical and library records, on-line and drug store purchases) and perform house searches at any moments, etc., was initially a package of temporary anti-terrorist measures passed by President Bush on October 26, 2001 (45 days after 9/11), in view of the state of emergency in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks.
However, since then it has been renewed through various extensions approved by both Houses of Congress, although not without some debate, the last of them coming in 2006 and essentially making it into a new law. Numerous civil rights organizations in the US demand that the new Government end this massive spying on its citizens already.
PUT AN END TO IMPUNITY
With the same goal of putting an end to that complex legal framework put in place during the Bush Administration “Closing Guantanamo, as Obama promised to do a year ago, is not enough; it is also necessary to free the 255 prisoners that still remain there” in order to get around complying with the most basic national and international laws, these organizations demand that the new Government put an end to impunity: the immunity from the federal courts and the International Criminal Court that the Intelligence agencies’ torturers and the armed forces in Guantanamo, Afghanistan, and Iraq currently enjoy. Likewise, it is also necessary to put an end to the embarrassment that is the Guantanamo Bay Detention Camp and the military courts, the latter having been created by a Bush Military Order in 2002 and led to detainees there being declared enemy combatants and not beneficiaries of the prisoners of war statute recognized by the Geneva Convention.
The Bush Administration has justified the non-application of United States laws in Guantanamo by saying that the naval base anchored in Cuban territory is an overseas territory and has ignored time and again the Supreme Court’s orders to allow the prisoners to have recourse to legislation on the mainland.
But closing Guantanamo, as Obama promised to do a year ago, is not enough; it is also necessary to free the 255 prisoners that still remain there, or, if charges against them really do exist, take them out of this legal limbo and subject them to civil trials, before federal courts, with all the guarantees and protection of the law.
These are some of Obama’s domestic challenges. The game has still not even begun, but what he says during this transitional period lasting until January 20 will be key in order to evaluate his claims regarding what his approaching government will be like.