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World Affairs


Obama rides the storm placidly

Barack Obama could be ranked as the American president who was elected to office not only with the goodwill of all Americans but also that of the rest of the world. Race no doubt boosted his popularity in most countries outside America, but even traditional anti-American baiters entertained sincere hopes that he would be a good American president.

Yet, all concerned knew that this wonderful man was walking into a deep abyss from which escape would be extremely difficult. It was an abyss, trillions of dollars deep, the scaling of which there was no sure answer.

Six weeks in office and President Obama is in that trillions of dollars deep hellhole which is getting deeper and only his resounding rhetoric, sincerity and the confidence the people still continue to place in him, keeps him going.

Crashing markets

Obama magic has worked with the American polity at the election, but not with American finance and the economy after he took office. Every day stock market reports and other reports on the economy are damning. It has been noted that on the day he was sworn in as president, the stock market dropped drastically. When he signed the Economic Recovery Package, the biggest ever in American history, the Dow dropped by 300 points and his massive bank and housing rescue plans have fared no better.

True, it is only six weeks since he inherited the worse hit American economy which has adversely affected all major world markets.  The trillions he has pumped into the American economy do not seem to have the desired effects.

No short cuts

Obama, political and economic analysts say, has not been playing for short term market kick backs. He has publicly proclaimed that it will be a long, hard road ahead and it would take years to recover. The number of unemployed has risen from 7.6 per cent to 8.1 per cent and in February the number of unemployed increased by 851,000. Reports say that Obama continues to enjoy the confidence of the American public despite strong criticism levelled against him by the Republicans, particularly those on the far right. But the new President has shown no signs of panic.

Critics say that over confidence could mean disaster. The case of John Mc Cain, Obama's Republican rival in the presidential race is cited. Mc Cain had during the campaign declared that the 'fundamentals of the American economy are strong' only to see within days the collapse of major American financial institutions burying Mc Cain's presidential hopes with them.

Obama's strategy after taking office has been to candidly declare that the economy will get worse but express confidence that it will recover. But is this rational approach sufficient to boost the confidence of the American public? Public confidence or the lack of it is said to be a main cause of the economic recession.

Lack of confidence

Former President Bill Clinton who did not exhibit lack of confidence even in his worst moments in office - and he had plenty of such moments - is reported to have said that President Obama should sound much more positive and confident about his economic recovery plans.

Barack Obama, however has in his short stay been able to impress the American public with his actions - pumping in  massive amounts of finance into the beleaguered sections of the economy while being willing to admit his errors such as his now famous admission of  'I have screwed it up'... But is this sufficient to pull the country out of one of the worst economic disasters it has faced in recent times?

Obama way

An American journalist Jonathan Alter who has associated with Obama for over four years writing in Newsweek says: 'He (Obama) has a firm grasp of the psychological and substantive challenges of presidency. Equally important, his 2008 campaign proved that he has a superior sense of timing. He knows that now is not the moment to cheerlead, not when the financial players are lying dazed on the field. There will be a time for that, when the banks have been 'restructured' and credit starts flowing again.'

Psychology obviously plays a significant role in overcoming a 21st Century recession. Watching charts of collapsing stock indices daily on TV, certainly have negative impacts in confidence building. Even in far away countries like Sri Lanka where world recession has had little impact, news and commentaries on international TV channels on collapsing stock markets in the West paint a picture of gloom and doom.

This week on BBC's Hardtalk a former British Commerce Minister Digby Jones specifically told the interviewer Stephen Sackur that these daily commentaries in the media could have negative impacts on the markets.

Roosevelt strategy

Obama's special kind of self confidence, it has been pointed out differs markedly from the 'cocky Texan kind of confidence' that George W. Bush played, although many a time the Bush cockiness produced results. Obama's confidence, commentators have said, is of the kind of Franklin D. Roosevelt who rode out the biggest depression America had faced.

Roosevelt had based his strategy on 'bold, persistent experimentation.' Obama had sounded very much Roosveltian when he spoke of his strategy on economic recovery recently to a group of journalists. He had said: 'We will do what works. It's going to take time to lay out every aspect of this plan and there are going to be many certain aspects of any plan that needs re-evaluation and there have to be some experimentation - if that doesn't work, then you do something else.'

Despite the placid composure of the new President within six weeks there is mounting anger against his strategies. The Lexington Column in The Economist (March 7) says: 'There is mounting fury among centrists as well as conservatives about Mr. Obama's budget, with its mixture of tax hikes for the wealthy, ambitious plans for regulating green house gases and extending government's role in health care.. Many former supporters worry that Obama is treating the economic crisis rather as George Bush treated September 11, a convenient excuse for pursuing a long held ideological agenda.'

Sadhu Obama

Despite the American economy reeling and now the opposition opening up full throttle against his recovery plans, Obama appears to maintain the equanimity of an Indian sadhu in meditation. Newsweek quotes him telling publicly in Florida: 'I'm not going to make any excuses.. If the stuff doesn't work out and the people don't feel like I've led the country in the right direction, then you could have a new president.'

Like him or not, he is indeed a President hard to find - in any country.









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