Obama in trouble

A year on from the cold winter day when Barack Obama was sworn in as President of the United States, he must be wondering where it all went wrong. On Tuesday, his party suffered a serious setback in a Senate seat election in Massachusetts, a defeat that might scuttle his defining project of reforming the healthcare system. A relatively unknown Republican state legislator, Scott Brown, defeated the Democratic candidate, state attorney-general Martha Coakley, to snatch the seat occupied by Edward Kennedy for nearly half a century until his death in August 2009. This loss puts an end to the 60-seat majority the Democrats enjoyed in the Senate, essential for avoiding filibusters by the Republican opposition. Healthcare reform is particularly vulnerable because Congress is poised to reconcile two versions of the reform bill, awash with differences, of the House and the Senate. The Massachusetts defeat puts tremendous pressure on Democrats to either get the House to accept the Senate version as it stands, thereby avoiding further debate in the Senate, or get the Senate to create a budget reconciliation bill based on the House's amendments, which could then be passed with a simple majority. In either case, there is likely to be intensified intra-party wrangling - the very style of politics that Candidate Obama made such a show of eschewing.

The loss in Massachusetts mainly reflects President Obama's declining approval ratings, which have already come down to 50 per cent. Mr. Obama now admits that "we lost some of that sense of speaking directly to the American people." If so, he must spend his second year in office doing two things. First, instead of temporising and constantly seeking the middle ground on issues of great import, he must be venturesome and battle it out. He must learn to act in the spirit and style of a great helmsman-in-crisis, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, on issues of vital concern to ordinary people - unemployment, healthcare, recovery from a demoralising economic crisis, and of course counter-terrorism. With a lot of hard work and some luck, there should be some positive results to show in the Congressional elections of November 2010. Secondly, Mr. Obama must, reprising his inspired presidential campaign, reach out to ordinary Americans, square with them on whatever his game plan is and the obstacles to realising it, infuse in them hope - and give them real reasons for believing that this is not going to end up as a one-term presidency.

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Printable version | Oct 23, 2020 8:05:13 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/Obama-in-trouble/article16838873.ece

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