Saturday, August 22, 2009

No, we can't?

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

“Yes, We Can” was the slogan of the American people who really wanted to change America. There was apparently something missing or going terribly wrong with America, many thought, and so they elected Obama. Not only the Americans, but even the younger generation of other countries weighed in to the discussions to express that there was a shortage of a different type of leader to lead the world. Otherwise, how can one explain why hundreds of thousands of people gathered in Berlin to listen to Obama, and many more around the world in front of their TVs or computers rooted for him? Everybody thought America has been mismanaged for years, and this battered not only America, but also modern Western democracies and their moral credibility.

Obama has been a different politician right from the beginning. He is young and practically millions of young Americans identified themselves with him, and so did I. He uses a Blackberry, plays sports and takes his wife on dates. In contrast to the majority of other countries' leaders or previous American leaders, he can apologize when he makes mistakes. He is one of those new leaders who can grasp the power of information and is aware that even if he refuses to apologize, in this day and age, people easily can get the facts right or listen to different arguments and find out the reality anyway.

And maybe this outright approach is one of the reasons why his ratings still relatively stand tall, although he has not been able to make so far the changes he promised to deliver. Instead, he still continues to live in a campaigning mode, as we see in recent town-hall meetings around America. Many observers have started to ask whether the problems of America are really too big to solve. Hundreds of billions of dollars have been injected into the American economy, which increases the public debt to unsustainable limits, but yet unemployment is skyrocketing. Obama virtually gathered all of the current economic prophets around him to get the economy back on track. Even trying to understand how this president makes decisions out of these strong economic gurus' diverse opinions is mind-boggling.

Obama also wanted to make a “clean break” with the hawkish foreign policy of the past. But everybody knows that once Obama got into the office, there was practically no other choice but to put some kind of a timetable of withdrawal from Iraq, as the late Bush administration had been talking about for years. He followed that path and also applied the “surge” policy of his current defense secretary Robert Gates, of the past administration, to boost American security forces in Afghanistan. After more than seven months, the left of America now is appalled; their most radical anti-war candidate that came out of Democratic primaries keeps investing in Afghanistan with more troops, money and political capital.

In the Middle East and Israel-Palestine peace process front, Obama the hawk has been dueling with Netanyahu, the hawker, for quite a while. The White House's Middle East central region team was bolstered by Dennis Ross a few months ago, who was transferred from the State Department. Ross became a point man for the White House's Iran policy and also for the Israeli-Palestine peace process. As Roger Cohen vividly articulated in his New York Times magazine article a week ago, Obama's engagement policy with Iran is in an impasse after the Iran's elections. Ross' previous Jewish baggage also seems to be still containing many Middle East discussions. In addition, the tumultuous time of post-election Iran, and Obama's open hand to the Iranian supreme leader, unsettled Ali Khamenei, who has steered his country for more than 20 years on this very relation of good and evil rhetoric, which was ambitiously embraced by the Bush administration. The supreme leader has tightened the ranks with the problematic leader Ahmadinejad, and this latest tightening up has made everything even more complicated, which is to say, more difficult for Obama.

Domestically, Obama speedily passed the stimulus packages at the beginning of his presidency while presenting nightmare scenarios and a catastrophic end for America. Those spending packages did not provide the jumpstart the economy needed. However, Obama the changer then decided to go for the big prize, to overhaul health care, to realize the dream of every Democratic presidential candidate or president while his approval ratings are still high and the American people also are still in shock because of the extraordinary times they are going through. Observing this situation, the Republicans did not waste any time to declare that this fight is Obama's Waterloo, in other words, to make or break his magic journey.

Extending the health care discussion to the August recess, while the members of the Congress are traveling back to their own election regions to discuss with their constituents what they are doing in the Capitol, all of a sudden the average American citizen got fiercely involved with this health care fight. Especially, the rumors of the “death panels,” that is the health care reform will create panels to decide who should get to live and die because of old age, handicap and sickness, mobilized seniors to hall meetings before dawn to talk to their senators and representatives about chucking out these new ideas.

The religious segment of society also was agitated because of the abortion discussions. According to many commentaries on the government-run heath scheme, abortions will be funded by the government with taxes collected from everybody. In addition, expanding the government further, this will absorb the health care sector, a sector that accounts for more than one-sixth of America’s economy, also irked Wall Street financiers. However, since this overhaul is being pushed by an economic team that consists of free-market prophets, the worry has been somewhat lessened.

Therefore, Obama, in this August recess, is not only fighting with the Republican Party in the pure political arena of the Congress, but basically with many segments of American society that are mobilized by Republican grass-root organizations. Despite this apparent fight, Democratic youngsters who helped Obama cling to his country's historic presidency have withdrawn themselves from the public discussions so far. The youth of America, who chanted “yes, we can” for years, now seem to have abandoned the real fight to the American senior citizens and the establishment, who now chant “no, you can't.” Really, we can't stop but asking, where are the “yes, we can” sayers?

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