Waitin’ for a superman

October 20, 2008 at 9:57 am | Posted in Barack Obama, U.S. Politics | Leave a comment

I don’t know whether it’s due to guilt, but there’s a trend among certain sections of the Decent Left to diminish  or dismiss the disastrous consequences of the Bush presidency with excuses like “you don’t know him like I know him,”/”he wasn’t all bad”, or by pointing to Barack Obama and saying some variant of “see, everything turns out fine & dandy in the end”. On Harry’s Place, a guy who shares my first name opts for both approaches and lists the reasons why we should all be glad that Bush defeated John Kerry in 2004. The reasoning isn’t strong.

1. The four years since 2004 have allowed Democrats to become more serious about international relations and back away from the Daily Kos activist fringe mentality. They have rediscovered internationalism, and retreated from a risk of isolationism.

First, if you’re going to make the mistake of judging a candidate by the caliber of their internet supporters then you can make exactly the same argument against George W. Bush; I don’t recall the right-wing blogosphere of the time placing great stock in temperance and rationality. Second, ‘the Daily Kos activist fringe’ had almost zero policy influence among John Kerry’s advisers, so quite why he raises the spectre of a bunch of keyboard-bashers typing the country into oblivion is a mystery.

2. The Democrats have avoided taking a major hit on the economy, so stand a better chance of two straight terms.

Certain sections of the economy were already in decline in 2004, not least in Ohio, which became a critical and decisive swing state. Whilst Bush wanted a privatisation of social security which recent events have shown would’ve been catastrophic, Kerry promised to implement a more progressive tax policy, discourage outsourcing and create incentives for companies that created jobs. Had he been elected and succeeded in implementing his reforms, it’s possible that the effects of a global downturn wouldn’t have been so deeply felt. Could he have stopped the banking collapse? Probably not. Would he have managed it better than Bush? Well, it wouldn’t have been hard, would it?

3. It gave Bush a chance to push the surge in Iraq through despite vigorous opposition from both Democrats and Republicans. Remember Baker Hamilton’s recommendation to pull troops out of Iraq? Only Bush could have pushed the surge through, since he had little to lose. The surge has been a success. Long-term success is less dependent on Washington than it was in 2004, and more dependent on the Iraqi determination to succeed.

But as soon as he’d been re-elected, Bush spent two years pursuing the same fruitless & self-destructive strategy in Iraq and it took the demolition of his congressional majority in 06 to force him into changing things. We don’t know, of course, whether a Kerry administration could’ve brought about some semblance of stability to the country, but we do know that he was committed to staying there until it had been achieved and we can be certain that he wouldn’t have wasted two years ‘staying the course’.

4. Bush’s actions on HIV and tropical diseases in Africa should be recognised by more people than Bob Geldof. We may not see its like again.

This is certainly true, and Bush’s financial commitment to Africa – even taking into account the absolutely sinful ‘abstinence only’ stipulation – is one of the few credits of his Presidency. Yet this statement operates under the unspoken assumption that a Kerry administration wouldn’t have shared the same commitment, when the record shows that he opposed a cap on foreign aid and had already offered a more substantive aid proposal.

5. It has allowed a situation to arise where Obama has had the opportunity to become President, perhaps for two terms, at precisely the time that the rest of the world is becoming more open to the US – even before Bush goes. An Obama Presidency will change things.

This is a perfectly valid opinion. Personally, I think Obama’s political skills are such that he could’ve won the Presidency in several hypothetical scenarios, but it’s undeniable that the circumstances have benefited him.

The main reason I think it’s misguided to assume that America would’ve been better enduring two terms of George W. Bush, despite all it has wrought, and waiting for Obama, is that it’s unlikely that he’ll be able to correct all of Bush’s mistakes in 8 years. Obama isn’t superman, and whilst his presidency will certainly change things, that change requires more than one President to make it last. For him to leave the country with a lasting legacy will require his successor to share similar values and refrain from dismantling any good that he’s done. For that reason, it would’ve been better for the country and the world if he’d been running to succeed President John Kerry in 2012.


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