Backing Barack

Backing Barack

3rd November 2008, Comments 0 comments

Why The Economist is getting behind Barack and the problems that lie ahead of him according to David Rennie.

Speaking at an event organised in Brussels by a French speakers association, Forum 311, David Rennie, the Economist's Europe Correspondent explained the newspapers recent endorsement of the Democrat candidate.

“Don’t imagine that people in America care what Europeans think about this election”, he warned, “Don't imagine that America is fundamentally changing. It remains an extremely conservative country, completely different to anywhere else.. If we hadn't had Iraq and the current economic crisis, if John McCain was younger Obama could be struggling”.

Pointing out that President Bush's personal ratings are lower than Nixon's on  the day he resigned, “He's now down there with mass murderers and Hitler, so the fact that a 72 year old grumpy man from the same party is polling in the high 40's is a sign that this is not a very different America”.

“The Economist backed McCain in 2000 over Bush and has a long appreciation of his free trade stance, his resistance to protectionism and his campaigns against pork barrels and some brave stands against corruption”.

Their endorsement would normally have gone to Senator McCain, on his record as a Senator but for what  Rennie calls "The almost
Shakesperian tragedy of the election where, for the last six months,Senator McCain has been replaced, almost like the invasion of the body snatchers, by someone who has reversed his most impressive positions." One of which is on the religious right, once described by McCain as "agents of intolerance". The power of the Christian fundamentalists in the heart of the Republican party meant that McCain had to chose their sweetheart, Sarah Palin, as his running mate, someone who espouses their beliefs over McCain's own.

McCain's response to the current economic crisis also counted heavily against him, described by Rennie as “Panicky, ill advised, ill considered, essentially very slow and he doesn't make sense, he looks like a man who is being overtaken by events”.

By contrast, Obama has excellent advisors and looks to be calm and assured and the Economist feels he would be a better president “in these terrible times”, but he warns that an Obama victory is not a done deal.

However, it's time for a reality check, “Senator Obama is not Martin Luther King,  Obama is not Bobby Kennedy. He is not an idealistic romantic dreamer. Barack Obama is an extremely effective, extremely charismatic machine politician. He came through the Chicago political machine, one of the dirtiest, most corrupt, most nepotistic political machines. He never fell out with the machine, he never challenged the corruption; he does what it takes to get by.”

Highly placed sources in the Obama camp had intimated that an early trip to Brussels was probable, seeing fixing relations with Europe to be a priority and vital for other strategic goals, such as relations with Russia, NATO enlargement etc.

The President's in-tray will have one important issue that few will have heard of, the matter of providing new Air Force Tankers, a contract worth $40 Billion. Originally the contract was awarded to Boeing in a process Rennie describes as “basically corrupt” and McCain protested, eventually seeing Boeing executives imprisoned. Since then, the contract underwent a fairer process and a European firm, EADS, won the bid to supply 179 tankers, based on the Airbus.

Congress managed to raise protectionism and the enfeebled Bush presidency passed the buck, leaving the issue at the top of the new president's in-tray. Will the new president choose the better bid or an American firm? This will be a key decision for America and Europe..

How will Europe's ambition to be a global player be affected by an Obama presidency? Rennie feels Obama will call Europe's bluff. He imagines a meeting with Chancellor Merkel where he will ask for 25,000 troops for Afghanistan with no caveats such as not allowing Belgian troops out of Baghram or German soldiers not being allowed to patrol at night or in the South. He will also ask for tough economic sanctions on Iran and the dismantling of the CAP. All politically unacceptable to the EU at the moment.

This is a very uncomfortable moment since Europe wants to have a loud voice in the world, to be taken seriously, but cannot decide what it wants to say. How long does Europe have before the new president decides that Europe is not serious? “About twelve months and then we're going to be back with a president who doesn't think Europe is serious.”

“On balance, if we're not going to be as crap as we usually are, then Obama is definitely the president we should elect.”

Andy Carling

(expatica November 2008)

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