The other Obama
Posted Monday, November 12 2012 at 02:00
- Many thought Barack Obama would be an NGO kind of president, okaying climate change legislation almost reflexively and withdrawing US troops from Iraq and Afghanistan almost immediately after being sworn in. They were wrong. In his first term, Obama turned out to be a hardliner who would not easily cut political deals with rival Republicans which has polarised the United States of America
On Tuesday he was back in his stead, unleashing foe-deflating eloquence on a crowd too eager to listen as his rivals leaked their wounds.
Amid pomp and circumstance, Barack Obama told a victory party hours after his re-election on Tuesday that: “In this election, you, the American people, reminded us that while our road has been hard, while our journey has been long, we have picked ourselves up, we have fought our way back”.
It was the vintage Obama, most of whom we had not seen during the US presidential campaigns. He was rejuvenated, buoyed by victory in a bruising battle which American commentator Charles Krauthammer writes, was just that:
Victory but not mandate. Especially mandate to raise taxes. To some extent he has point. Obama garnered 50 per cent of the popular vote against his Republican challenger Mitt Romney’s 49 per cent. Call it the narrowest of whiskers but 53 million Americans had voted for the man whose Kenyan roots are traced to Kogelo, Nyanza.
If the battle for the popular vote was decided by a whisker, the vote that counts, the Electoral College one, was decided by a chasm for, Obama won 303 Electoral College votes, 96 way above the minimum of 207 that a winner must have.
But is the Obama who won last week the same man who wowed America and the rest of the world four years ago? To borrow the words of Kenny Rogers, the country music singer from that part of world, did we read him wrong?
When he was being sworn in 2008 Obama’s popularity ratings were at an enviable 68 per cent and Yes We Can, his electioneering slogan didn’t ring hollow. But as the popular vote shows, many Americans wish he is the same man they voted for four years ago. Maybe nothing has changed. May be they didn’t realise that the senator was made of tougher stuff.
Writing in the influential New York Times on Wednesday, Jodi Kantor the author of The Obamas, an unauthorised biography on the first family, comes close to understanding the man.
She writes of an Obama, whose questions to presidential historians paint the picture of a man not given to niceties and the politics of mollycoddling the public but a cold and calculating tactician.
That Obama wanted to know how Ronald Reagan was re-elected in 1984 when the economy was limping or, how Theodore Roosevelt ignored Congress to launch his reforms gave away Obama’s game plan.
He was not going to be a populist and would play hardball in his quest for what he believes to be right.
Inheriting a battered economy and two costly wars in Iraq and Afghanistan from George Bush Jnr, Obama pushed through the congress a $831bn stimulus package when Republicans were calling for tax cuts.
By then his Democratic Party was controlling the Congress but it showed that he was not about to sacrifice his convictions on the altar of political correctness. Bipartisan is a nice political adjective but here is man who didn’t mind the partisan tag as long as the job was done.
The stimulus package was not the last the Republicans would hear of Obama. He would soon embark on a 14-month healthcare reform when foe and friend were more concerned about the ailing economy.
At last, the Republicans, thought, the President had found a rope with which to hang himself by having the middle class pay medical bills for the jobless and the aged. They didn’t have to dirt their hands. The man was suicidal, so they thought.
“When the bill passed without a single Republican vote in March 2010, it was an undoubted tribute to Obama’s perseverance and economic foresight but it was a political disaster,” wrote Tonny-Allen Mills in the Sunday Times. American lawmakers were now rigidly divided and soon Republicans would wrestle the control of the lower House from the Democrats when they lost their majority.
Obama would do the same bailing out,iconic American corporations such as Chrysler and General Motors when his rivals were against the use of public funds to resuscitate businesses already on their deathbeds.
The gamble paid off and the car makers are back on track with GM opening Jeep plants in China. Voters in the US car belt thanked him at the ballot box.