Friday, October 31, 2008

The Economist

Oct 30th 2008

America should take a chance and make Barack Obama the next leader of
the free world

IT IS impossible to forecast how important any presidency will be. Back
in 2000 America stood tall as the undisputed superpower, at peace with
a generally admiring world. The main argument was over what to do with
the federal government's huge budget surplus. Nobody foresaw the
seismic events of the next eight years. When Americans go to the polls
next week the mood will be very different. The United States is
unhappy, divided and foundering both at home and abroad. Its
self-belief and values are under attack.

For all the shortcomings of the campaign, both John McCain and Barack
Obama offer hope of national redemption. Now America has to choose
between them. THE ECONOMIST does not have a vote, but if it did, it
would cast it for Mr Obama. We do so wholeheartedly: the Democratic
candidate has clearly shown that he offers the better chance of
restoring America's self-confidence. But we acknowledge it is a gamble.
Given Mr Obama's inexperience, the lack of clarity about some of his
beliefs and the prospect of a stridently Democratic Congress, voting
for him is a risk. Yet it is one America should take, given the steep
road ahead.

The immediate focus, which has dominated the campaign, looks daunting
enough: repairing America's economy and its international reputation.
The financial crisis is far from finished. The United States is at the
start of a painful recession. Some form of further fiscal stimulus is
needed, though estimates of the budget deficit next year already spiral
above $1 trillion. Some 50m Americans have negligible health-care
cover. Abroad, even though troops are dying in two countries, the
cack-handed way in which George Bush has prosecuted his war on terror
has left America less feared by its enemies and less admired by its
friends than it once was.

Yet there are also longer-term challenges, worth stressing if only
because they have been so ignored on the campaign. Jump forward to
2017, when the next president will hope to relinquish office. A
combination of demography and the rising costs of America's huge
entitlement programmes--Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid--will be
starting to bankrupt the country. Abroad a greater task is already
evident: welding the new emerging powers to the West. That is not just
a matter of handling the rise of India and China, drawing them into
global efforts, such as curbs on climate change; it means reselling
economic and political freedom to a world that too quickly associates
American capitalism with Lehman Brothers and American justice with
Guantanamo Bay. This will take patience, fortitude, salesmanship and

At the beginning of this election year, there were strong arguments
against putting another Republican in the White House. A spell in
opposition seemed apt punishment for the incompetence, cronyism and
extremism of the Bush presidency. Conservative America also needs to
recover its vim. Somehow Ronald Reagan's party of western individualism
and limited government has ended up not just increasing the size of the
state but turning it into a tool of southern-fried moralism.

The selection of Mr McCain as the Republicans' candidate was a powerful
reason to reconsider. Mr McCain has his faults: he is an instinctive
politician, quick to judge and with a sharp temper. And his age has
long been a concern (how many global companies in distress would bring
in a new 72-year-old boss?). Yet he has bravely taken unpopular
positions--for free trade, immigration reform, the surge in Iraq,
tackling climate change and campaign-finance reform. A western
Republican in the Reagan mould, he has a long record of working with
both Democrats and America's allies.

That, however, was Senator McCain; the Candidate McCain of the past six
months has too often seemed the victim of political sorcery, his good
features magically inverted, his bad ones exaggerated. The fiscal
conservative who once tackled Mr Bush over his unaffordable tax cuts
now proposes not just to keep the cuts, but to deepen them. The man who
denounced the religious right as "agents of intolerance" now embraces
theocratic culture warriors. The campaigner against ethanol subsidies
(who had a better record on global warming than most Democrats) came
out in favour of a petrol-tax holiday. It has not all disappeared: his
support for free trade has never wavered. Yet rather than heading
towards the centre after he won the nomination, Mr McCain moved to the

Meanwhile his temperament, always perhaps his weak spot, has been found
wanting. Sometimes the seat-of-the-pants method still works: his gut
reaction over Georgia--to warn Russia off immediately--was the right
one. Yet on the great issue of the campaign, the financial crisis, he
has seemed all at sea, emitting panic and indecision. Mr McCain has
never been particularly interested in economics, but, unlike Mr Obama,
he has made little effort to catch up or to bring in good advisers
(Doug Holtz-Eakin being the impressive exception).

The choice of Sarah Palin epitomised the sloppiness. It is not just
that she is an unconvincing stand-in, nor even that she seems to have
been chosen partly for her views on divisive social issues, notably
abortion. Mr McCain made his most important appointment having met her
just twice.

Ironically, given that he first won over so many independents by
speaking his mind, the case for Mr McCain comes down to a piece of
artifice: vote for him on the assumption that he does not believe a
word of what he has been saying. Once he reaches the White House, runs
this argument, he will put Mrs Palin back in her box, throw away his
unrealistic tax plan and begin negotiations with the Democratic
Congress. That is plausible; but it is a long way from the convincing
case that Mr McCain could have made. Had he become president in 2000
instead of Mr Bush, the world might have had fewer problems. But this
time it is beset by problems, and Mr McCain has not proved that he
knows how to deal with them.

Is Mr Obama any better? Most of the hoopla about him has been about
what he is, rather than what he would do. His identity is not as
irrelevant as it sounds. Merely by becoming president, he would dispel
many of the myths built up about America: it would be far harder for
the spreaders of hate in the Islamic world to denounce the Great Satan
if it were led by a black man whose middle name is Hussein; and far
harder for autocrats around the world to claim that American democracy
is a sham. America's allies would rally to him: the global electoral
college[1] on our website shows a landslide in his favour. At home he
would salve, if not close, the ugly racial wound left by America's
history and lessen the tendency of American blacks to blame all their
problems on racism.

So Mr Obama's star quality will be useful to him as president. But that
alone is not enough to earn him the job. Charisma will not fix Medicare
nor deal with Iran. Can he govern well? Two doubts present themselves:
his lack of executive experience; and the suspicion that he is too far
to the left.

There is no getting around the fact that Mr Obama's resume is thin for
the world's biggest job. But the exceptionally assured way in which he
has run his campaign is a considerable comfort. It is not just that he
has more than held his own against Mr McCain in the debates. A man who
started with no money and few supporters has out-thought, out-organised
and outfought the two mightiest machines in American politics--the
Clintons and the conservative right.

Political fire, far from rattling Mr Obama, seems to bring out the best
in him: the furore about his (admittedly ghastly) preacher prompted one
of the most thoughtful speeches of the campaign. On the financial
crisis his performance has been as assured as Mr McCain's has been
febrile. He seems a quick learner and has built up an impressive team
of advisers, drawing in seasoned hands like Paul Volcker, Robert Rubin
and Larry Summers. Of course, Mr Obama will make mistakes; but this is
a man who listens, learns and manages well.

It is hard too nowadays to depict him as soft when it comes to dealing
with America's enemies. Part of Mr Obama's original appeal to the
Democratic left was his keenness to get American troops out of Iraq;
but since the primaries he has moved to the centre, pragmatically
saying the troops will leave only when the conditions are right. His
determination to focus American power on Afghanistan, Pakistan and
proliferation was prescient. He is keener to talk to Iran than Mr
McCain is-- but that makes sense, providing certain conditions are met.

Our main doubts about Mr Obama have to do with the damage a
muddle-headed Democratic Congress might try to do to the economy.
Despite the protectionist rhetoric that still sometimes seeps into his
speeches, Mr Obama would not sponsor a China-bashing bill. But what
happens if one appears out of Congress? Worryingly, he has a poor
record of defying his party's baronies, especially the unions. His
advisers insist that Mr Obama is too clever to usher in a new age of
over-regulation, that he will stop such nonsense getting out of
Congress, that he is a political chameleon who would move to the centre
in Washington. But the risk remains that on economic matters the centre
that Mr Obama moves to would be that of his party, not that of the
country as a whole.

So Mr Obama in that respect is a gamble. But the same goes for Mr
McCain on at least as many counts, not least the possibility of
President Palin. And this cannot be another election where the choice
is based merely on fear. In terms of painting a brighter future for
America and the world, Mr Obama has produced the more compelling and
detailed portrait. He has campaigned with more style, intelligence and
discipline than his opponent. Whether he can fulfil his immense
potential remains to be seen. But Mr Obama deserves the presidency.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

There was a survey here in India which asked why Indians wanted Obama to win, even though his professed policies (as versus McCain's)were going to impact Indian business adversely. He is planning to cut H1B visas, reduce outsourcing of IT jobs, has raked up Kashmir as an open-to-debate issue, will need to look at NPT issues before furthering the Nuclear deal as whole heartedly as GWB did, among others.

The unanimous answer was that the perception of the world under Obama's presidency is that of a more de-tensed and peaceful planet, shorn of the (in)famous American twitch of flexing muscles at one and all. That will no doubt give peace and co-existence another shot in this mess that we as a world community find ourselves in.

That, according to people here, scored over everything else, and He has almost unanimous support here.

Good luck America. Good luck World.

- sharan

November 04, 2008 12:21 AM  

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