Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Is Obama's magic real?

-Published in Hurriyet Daily News on July 20, 2009-

-Hurriyet Daily News'te, 20 Temmuz 2009 Tarihinde Yayinlanmis Makalem-

Americans are having difficulty understanding what they are going through. The United States economy, like the rest of the world's, has gone through crises every once in a while. However, these were overcome pretty quickly and America has come back even stronger than before. For over two years now the American people have been talking constantly about the present economic crisis, unemployment, food stamps and bankruptcies. Waking up from their dreams and going back to work in the morning in their gigantic SUVs seems not to be happening. All the TV pundits are joining forces to do everything in their power to bring the people the worst comments about what is happening. Waking up to such a nightmare every morning has been demoralizing the American people and destroying their confidence. 

Not only America, Adam Smith is also despondent. The famous economist, who defined the invisible forces of the free market that are supposed to find the best outcome for all from perfect competition, became a scapegoat for today's problems. Instead of individual entrepreneurship, the only hope now is government money and government investments. Economists like Joe Stiglitz or Paul Krugman, the most visible post-Keynesian preachers of today, lead the list of those who offering cures for all the economic woes. Stiglitz, the moral economist, is being hailed as a contemporary prophet in this week's Newsweek. 

On the other hand, the American Republican party has the blues. Although they seem to have gotten just about everything wrong for some time, they also seem to be more concerned with balancing the federal budget than getting out of the recession. However, the sins of their party's previous administration – expanding the American government further, deregulating financial markets and announcing bank bailouts, etc. – have been discrediting every argument they strive to make. It has been seven months since Obama moved into the White House, and although hundreds of billions of dollars have been spent on bank bailouts and stimulus packages, unemployment has been rising much faster than predicted and the good news is stuck somewhere from where it is unable to come out. Despite all the problems the U.S. administration is having today, the Republicans are still failing make any gains in the polls. Obama, on the other hand, has been hanging tall in the job approval ratings. 

The more I listen to Obama, the more I think that he should have been a preacher or a civil society leader rather than a politician. His speeches, whether given at in a Catholic institution or across the Muslim world; in an African country or in Ohio at a health-care rally, continue to give me goose bumps. He touches on the right tone, without appeasing the crowds he talks to. A recent speech he made took place at the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, or NAACP, addressing the black people of America. His thirty-five minute long speech began with his speaking about black America during the last century and then moved on to the Civil Rights movement of the sixties. He added how much both the black people and the race issue have changed for the better and how there is probably less discrimination in American now than ever before. Though at the end, he swiftly shifted the blame on the black parents of today for not doing enough and for not extending a helping hand to ensure the future success of their children. Obama implied, black parents have been complaining more that society is hampering the advancement of their children, rather than pushing them for hard work and success.

America also is currently trying to overhaul its health care system. Obama and his cabinet, though not necessarily all the Democratic members of the Congress, have been pushing to change the health care system, expand health coverage to include everyone, insure the poor and pay the extra costs by raising taxes, mostly on the rich, and incurring an even bigger deficit. The failure of the Clinton administration to change the health care system in 1993 is still in people's minds. Obama knows very well that should he fail to change the health sector around this time, the Democrats' biggest campaign promise will be seen as a sham and will never happen. Although Obama has enough political skills and his party has majority in the Congress to pass a legislation of this caliber, what matters the most at this point is the timing. The vital issues, such as America's $11 trillion debt, $2 trillion of which is to China, new investments on green energy technologies and the two wars, are choking the young administration even its 7th month. 

Obama is still walking a very thin line. The health care reform is becoming or has become a defining step, not only for his administration, but also for the country. Whether one supports the change to the system or not, Obama has now made the overhaul of this $2.5 trillion sector his number one signature 'change' policy, and that will define America's destiny for the coming years. Therefore, if Obama fails to make this change, the magic of Obama simply might disappear and the guy, who is being considered a modern Moses with his eagerness, could suddenly become another mortal politician who just tries to look like someone he is not. If Obama fails, his remaining three years will be in doubt, and everything he attempts do will be closely questioned. 

Under normal circumstances, questioning, debating and slowing down the process would define the American governing system and what everybody understands by it. Now, on the other hand, Americans cannot afford to wait or move slowly. Bankruptcies, job losses and a whole set of other failures are not something that Americans can live with for a long time. These problems can be tolerated only over short periods. If they linger longer than they are supposed to, then the conviction and coolness of the American spirit will be in doubt. If America feels itself insecure about solving both the world's and its own problems, and opts out of his super power role, this cannot be good for either America or for a world that is not ready for such a 'change'. 

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