“United States of Paralysis” and A European Critique

This is a few days old, but worth noting…

It’s always good to look at as many sources as possible to get different perspectives on the issues of the day.  From time to time, I like to look at the European position on American political problems.  Considering the depressed globalized market and the deep connections between the EU and US economies, the Europeans have had plenty to say of late.

I was particularly surprised to read a recent article from the British Daily Mail criticizing President Obama, while still hoping Obama will be reelected based upon who he’s running against.  The tone was much harsher than I expected, but the brutal honesty is refreshingly devoid of partisanship: a Brit doesn’t exactly have a horse in the race so to speak between Democrats and Republicans.  Even though I found it peculiar that a Rupert Murdoch-owned paper would criticize the conservative opposition with such vitriol, it says more about the European mindset than it does about our candidates.  Europe needs a strong, decisive, non-isolationist America; they know our country needs to get on board with righting the world economy and stop selfishly focusing on reelection campaigns and short term partisan warfare.  They may be disappointed with President Obama, but they fear an even less concerned and competent replacement if he is not reelected.

Here are some selected quotes and highlights from the Daily Mail article:

…it is hard to suggest that Western nations are being governed by leaders remotely capable of matching the hour. The southern eurozone has been obliged to place itself in political receivership, abandoning government by elected representatives — a terrifying development for democracies.

President Nicolas Sarkozy of France would be a laughing stock, if he did not occupy such a critical post. Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel might be an adequate city mayor, but is visibly overwhelmed by her responsibility for saving the European financial system. Britain’s David Cameron is marginalised.

More important still, however, is the vacuum across the Atlantic. 
President Barack Obama, who took office almost three years ago amid such high hopes, now clings to the White House amid collapsed poll ratings and a real threat that the American people will evict him at next autumn’s election. 

The United States, as that great historian Sir Michael Howard has said, remains ‘the only nation able, and sometimes willing, to get things done in the world’. Yet this mighty country today finds its political system almost paralysed, its leader overwhelmingly concerned with his own re-election next year, rather than with leading the West out of its slough of despond.

Disillusionment with Obama’s curiously frigid administration is a pervasive theme, but his rivals for the greatest office on earth look like competitors in a holiday camp freak show.

Say what you like about British politics, no MP of any party would dare to offer themselves as town dog-catcher while knowing as little about the world as the Republican Presidential candidates.

Some of the disappointments of this Presidency have not been his fault. He inherited a vast fiscal deficit from George W. Bush, supposedly the great conservative. The problems of America’s diminishing industrial competitiveness are deep-rooted, with the falling value of the dollar leading to a huge trade deficit, given the import/export imbalance. The Republicans in Congress have behaved with reckless, manic irresponsibility in prevaricating over budgetary reform.

But none of these things is the point. Obama has been the man in charge. He is almost bereft of that indispensable political skill, the ability to make people feel good. He has not one iota of Ronald Reagan’s folksy, cosy charm.

Obama’s cleverness is indisputable: he is a man comfortable with authority and with his office. But he has failed to display the political skills to get things done since his healthcare reform bill scraped through Congress two years ago. 

A friend of mine here in Washington, disappointed as are many Democrats by Obama’s performance, said to me gloomily: ‘In America’s present mood, the country might, just might, be mad enough to elect a fascist idiot’.

If Americans are depressed by the awful aridity of their politics and politicians, the rest of us have cause to share their gloom. The leader of the United States is still overwhelmingly the most important politician on earth.

He cannot be expected to save the eurozone. But he can be a critical inspirational and stabilising force on Europe’s affairs.

My bet is that Barack Obama will be returned to the White House next year, because he is opposed by grotesques and buffoons. 

But if you want to be kept awake at night between now and then, think of the alternative: one of the lunatics could win. Then the crisis of leadership across the Western world, facing its gravest challenges in generations, would become truly frightening.

I do not believe in the conventional form of American Exceptionalism: That we are, one way or another, destined or predetermined or chosen to be the greatest and most powerful nation on Earth.  History has led us here, but owes us nothing in keeping us here.  Yet I think it is hard to argue that we do not remain the global hegemon that must lead efforts to rebuild a frighteningly interdependent world economic and political system.  Without strong leadership from America, without more courageous action, the rest of the world will suffer more right along with us.