Obama has a dilemma

Zhang Guoqing
0 CommentsPrintE-mail China.org.cn, September 21, 2009
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US President Barack Obama has found himself in a bit of a quandary lately. First, his decision to use the phrase “acted stupidly,” with regard to the arrest of a renowned black scholar, disappointed local policemen. Second, his efforts to initiate changes to the country's health-care system continue to face significant public resistance. Now his administration has imposed tariffs on Chinese-made tires before the G-20 summit; this not only sparked a clash with China, but also proves that he is leaning toward trade protectionism.

What has happened to this political super idol? What has caused him to stumble?

He has moved too fast. For Obama, popularity has been a double-edged sword: Taking advantage of it, he made history in the presidential election and gained extensive support at the beginning of his administration. However, high expectations from the public, media and interest groups have also resulted in impatience over the progress of his policies. Like a pair of invisible hands, expectation pushed him to implement new policies hastily after his election.

To follow through on the promises he made during the campaign, Mr. Obama has put forth some premature programs such as the economic stimulus package and the health-care plan, enabling his opponents to have a hold on him. After his administration’s honeymoon, the public’s disappointment over his track record in resolving problems left by the Bush administration has continued to grow. The decline of his approval rating is a clear sign of this.

Moreover, he is not prepared for upcoming challenges. Frankly speaking, it’s essential to make changes to the domestic health-care system, but President Obama should be prepared to both win public support and negotiate with various interest groups before implementing changes. It’s a pity that his administration is unaware of such strong and widespread resistance. For now he seems willing to bet his political career on this issue with great bravery. But the future is gloomy.

Mr. Obama is also overly-optimistic about economic recovery. At the one year anniversary of the financial crisis, ahead of the G-20 Summit, some American officials were already talking about discontinuing the economic stimulus plan. Furthermore, to my surprise, Mr. Obama has adopted a protectionist philosophy when it comes to Chinese tires, which is in sharp contrast to his attitude in the past.

Most Americans, on the contrary, are less optimistic than the officials. To the American public, Obama’s economic stimulus plan is not very successful and the media is worried about another recession that could be caused by prematurely removing the economic stimulus plan. Moreover, the Sino-US trade row may stall economic recovery.

All in all, Obama is not ready for his role and does not have a clear vision of the crisis. Compare Obama with FDR (Franklin Delano Roosevelt), who formed his team during governorship and was well prepared for the Great Depression, even though he used two presidential terms to see the US economy to recovery. After all, Rome wasn't built in a day.

(This article was first published in Chinese on September 14 and translated by Li Shen)

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