Obama is healing US politics
Here’s another article I’ve done for Catch21 – the UK’s first internet television channel based at Westminster – run by young people, for young people.
President Obama operates in an interesting way. For weeks he had been laying low, appearing not to do very much except make a few long speeches. His healthcare bill was looking in severe jeopardy and he was gradually being written off by friends and enemies as a weak, indecisive failure.
Every new US President enters the White House saying they want to be a uniter not a divider, but January’s defeat in one of the nation’s strongest Democrat seats in Massachusetts snapped Obama out of this sense of romanticism. Instead he was galvanised, returned to campaign mode and rammed his healthcare reform bill through Congress despite fevered Republican objections.
And just a few days after the signing of the bill (for which he used no fewer than 22 pens), which brings healthcare cover to 35 million extra Americans, he went on to ‘bring peace on earth’.
The treaty between the US and Russia, reducing the allowable number of long-range nuclear warheads by 30%, is the most significant nuclear arms agreement since the Cold War. It’s also the first real step towards Obama’s long-term vision for a nuclear free world.
But while last week was a massive boost for the US president, it in no way makes his seat in the Oval Office more secure. Firstly, the treaty with Russia doesn’t actually mean that much domestically, as Americans on the whole aren’t that interested in foreign affairs or disarmament. Instead, it will be how Obama tackles the economy and the country’s 10% unemployment rate that will decide the 2012 election.
Further, the healthcare bill gave a new rallying cry to the Republicans – ‘the socialists are taking over’ became a dominant sentiment among the opponents of the bill, and opposition became so venomous that some Democrats who voted in favour of the healthcare reforms actually had their homes come under attack. So intense in fact was the discontent that Obama himself had to appear on Fox News – something he previously decided not to do – to justify his bill to the people. All this paints a picture that things in America are not as rosy as they appear on our side of the pond.
But regardless of what all this means for Obama’s presidency, last week was a whole lot more important to the US political system as a whole. America actually looks governable again. Had a president with such huge majorities in both Houses failed to enact his keystone legislation, what would that have said for US democracy? Now, for the first time our generation has ever known, there is talk emerging of reforming the system, reforming the Constitution and the way Congress works. These are new ideas, new voices and are slowly building up to something monumental.
This may at first seem a prediction of revolution, but remember that it was this same society that overwhelmingly elected its first African-American president – a revolutionary act in itself and one that proved that, in the political world, surprises are out there all the time.