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When many on the left were gushing adulatory about the election of America’s first black president, I tried to sound a cautionary note. Barack Obama was not really the second coming, but neither was he the Antichrist. And he was lot more promising than Hillary Clinton. Predictably, the vociferous sections of the left who revile anyone who is in power, started to fulminate as soon as he did not deliver the millennium. But then, he had never promised it. Sceptical to begin with, now the election circus hits town, I have to admit that Obama is actually doing better than I expected.
For all its manifest faults, Obamacare has delivered health insurance to around 16 millions of Americans who did not have it before. That is a huge achievement, not least in the American context, since those people were almost by definition not wealthy and therefore not in a position to bribe the legislators to pass the healthcare act. On the economy, Obama trod very carefully. Perhaps too much so, but he did complete the job of stopping the crash and turning the American economy round. He actually delivered a stimulus package without mentioning it. Perhaps he could and should have advertised government’s role in turning things around – but he had a mostly hostile Congress around, ranging from deranged Tea Party types to the right of the Democratic Party who overlapped what is left of the sane wing of the Republicans. Best to do good by stealth than shout and be thwarted.
He also extricated the United States from the tail end of the debacles in the Middle East initiated by George W Bush and Tony Blair, although their legacy has come back to haunt him. Reality there is messy, but it is surely no mean achievement to resist the pressures from so many powerful lobbies to start yet more wars in Iran and Syria. Resisting Benjamin Netanyahu and the Israel lobby in order to reach a deal with Iran represents a major step forward. One does not have to admire the domestic policies of the Iranian ayatollahs to recognise just how unjust and counterproductive American policy has been. India and Pakistan that have fought numerous wars, and both have nuclear arsenals, the latter just a coup away from control by Taliban sympathisers. In a breath-taking display of hypocrisy, India, which has not signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty, voted at the International Atomic Energy Agency to refer Iran to the United Nations Security Council because there was a faint suspicion that Iran could develop the same nuclear fuel refining capacity to which it was entitled under the NPT!
One definition of chutzpah has to be the calls for war against Iran by Israel, a non-signatory of the NPT, the possessor of nuclear weapons, and wager of multiple wars and acts of aggression against almost every other country in the neighbourhood. Obama’s forestalling Netanyahu is an outstanding display of vertebracy among recent White House incumbents, as well as bringing comfort to all who wondered when the odious Likudnik would get his comeuppance. And what is more, it was good politics.
Obama has also defied the Cuban exile lobby. Much of Cuba’s economic travails derive as much from pseudo-Marxist mismanagement by the government, but normalisation will at the very least deprive the Castro regime of its excuses and hasten reform.
So what about Hillary Clinton? She would be Blair in a trouser suit. They share a conviction that the business of politics is get wonderful people like themselves elected, and if that means taking money from people and doing their bidding, what’s the beef if they get elected. Hillary is as free with her political favours to corporate donors as her husband was to doting interns. But unlike him, she keeps her promises to them.
At the moment, she is faraway the front Democratic candidate, which impales any sensible person on the horns of a dilemma. But wriggling apart, in the end, is it better to have an utterly cynical and selfish president who is in the same dimension as the rest of us, or a Republican ensconced in the Twilight Zone? Remembering what happened when people deserted James Callaghan and got Margaret Thatcher, there will be many who will reluctantly but inevitably make their mark next to Hillary Clinton, who might or might not reintroduce Rodham back as her middle name depending on what the polls tell her.