Second term blues

Barack Obama Is Sworn In As 44th President Of The United States

So that’s it. Obama has been re-elected and sworn in for a second term. He can’t run for a third time even if he wants to. So now he can just put his feet up? Right?

Wrong! In fact, every president since the two term limit has been imposed who has been re-elected has experienced a “difficult” second term. Obama should heed their example. And consider: would any of them have run for a third term had they been able to anyway?

Dwight D. Eisenhower (Rep).

Elected: 1952. Re-elected: 1956.

Americans liked “Ike” so much that they gave him two landslides both times beating the same opponent: Adlai Stevenson. But Eisenhower’s second term was undermined by Cold War concerns that the USSR was gaining the upper hand over the US. Castro took over Cuba in 1959 and Eisenhower was harmed by his role in the 1960 U2 spy plane incident after he denied that a US plane piloted by one Gary Powers which had been shot down had been spying. It had.

To some extent, the perception that the USSR was ahead of the US was a nonsense, however. The supposed Soviet “missile gap” over the US much discussed in the 1960 elections didn’t exist. There was a gap but in fact it was the US who had a lead. Republican candidate Vice President Nixon well knew this but was unable to reveal it for security reasons.

That said, thanks to Sputnik and Yuri Gagarin’s journey into space just after Eisenhower left office, there’s no denying the USSR led the space race at this time.

Third term?: Ike was already the oldest US president ever for the time by 1960 (he was 70) so would probably not have run again even if he had been able to.

 Richard M. Nixon (Rep).

Elected: 1968. Re-elected: 1972.

January 1973 was the high point of Richard Nixon’s career. He had re-opened relations with China, brought a form of “peace with honour” to Vietnam (or at least ended US involvement) and had just secured a 49 state victory over Democrat George McGovern.

But, in fact, the seeds of Nixon’s destruction had already been sewn. The Watergate investigation was already quietly underway and became spectacularly public with the resignation of four key Nixon aides in May. Nixon famously promised that “there will be no whitewash at the White House”. But had he sought to cover up the legal investigation into the break-in at Democrat HQ at the Watergate Hotel n 1972? If not, why didn’t he hand over the White House tapes on the matter?

In the end, Nixon resigned in disgrace in August 1974 and was succeeded by his second Vice President Gerald Ford. Other than dying in office, (which at least might have enhanced his reputation) his second term could hardly have gone worse.

Third term?: It’s easy to imagine that without Watergate, Nixon who was then only in his early sixties, would have relished a third term had it been possible. Alan Moore’s The Watchmen envisages just that with Nixon remaining in the White House well until the Eighties. But in reality as we know, Nixon didn’t even get through his second term.

Ronald Reagan (Rep).

Elected: 1980. Re-elected: 1984.

Like Nixon, Reagan had secured a 49 state victory. And his second term, in some ways, went well. Initially slow to respond to the peace overtures from the new Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev after 1985, Reagan eventually conceded some ground precipitating a clear thaw in the Cold War by the time he left office. In truth, this was more to Gorbachev’s credit than the US president’s.

The big trouble spot of Reagan’s second term came after the revelation of the disastrous scheme to exchange weapons for hostages in Iran and then use the proceeds to finance the anti-Communist Contras in Nicaragua in 1986.

The plot was illegal, unethical and in defiance of Congress. Reagan probably only survived because (unlike Nixon) he had great reserves of personal charm, oversaw an apparently booming economy and because he was close to the end of his presidency anyway. Democrats in Congress had little interest in putting Vice President Bush in the White House ahead of the 1988 election.

Third term? Despite Iran-Contra, Reagan was still popular in 1989 and is the only figure mentioned here to serve two full terms before being succeeded by someone in his own party. That said, Reagan was 77 by the time he left office and was possibly already suffering from the Alzheimer’s disease which would mar his old age. So, no.

Bill Clinton (Dem).

Elected: 1992. Re-elected: 1996.

Clinton is probably the most successful president of the last iffy years but his second term was tarnished by the Monica Lewinsky scandal which almost saw him removed from office in 1998. But while Clinton was undeniably foolish, the scandal has a trumped up feel about it. Unlike Watergate or Iran-Contra, there was no serious crime at the centre of it. Obama should be wary of any sore loser Republicans attempting a similar plot against him.

Third term?: After the humiliations of the Lewinsky scandal, Clinton may well have had enough of high office by 2000. On the other hand, he remained more popular than either Al Gore or George W. Bush who actually fought the 2000 election and was still one of the youngest ex-presidents there has ever been. Despite this, with Hillary Clinton, the First Lady intent on launching her own political career (she was elected as a Senator for New York in 2000), Bill would doubtless have stood down anyway.

George W. Bush (Rep).

“Elected”: 2000. “Re”- elected: 2004.

Bush achieved a historic feat in delivering a second term that was almost as disastrous as his first overseeing a financial crisis and totally mishandling the response to Hurricane Katrina. By 2008, the President – perhaps the worst in US history – was popular with less than a fifth of American voters.

Third term?: Highly unlikely. The name of Bush was mud by the time he left office.Imagea

Hillary’s last chance?

Poor Hillary Clinton.
While it is tempting to think of her recent illness purely in terms of its likely impact on her presidential prospects, it should be remembered that the Secretary of State faces a very serious medical condition. We all wish her well.
However, Mrs Clinton’s agony will undoubtedly have been compounded by the possibility that the news of her blood clot may well prevent her becoming the first woman president of the USA. Even more annoyingly, she has already had two great opportunities to achieve this in the past…
2004
It’s easy to see why Hillary didn’t run for the presidency in 2004. She had only been elected as a Senator in 2000, after all, and incumbent presidents – even terrible ones like Bush – are rarely defeated when they run for re-election. It made much more sense to hold out until 2008, when the field would be clear. Had I been writing this blog in 2004, I’d probably have urged her to hold out until 2008 too.
Yet in retrospect, 2004 might well have l have been the former First Lady’s best ever chance of winning the presidency for herself. Senator John Kerry who was not, after all, the most inspiring presidential candidate the Democrats have ever produced came within a hair’s breadth of dismounting Bush (Kerry is now, of course, Clinton’s most likely successor as Secretary of State). Bill Clinton too, it should be remembered, seemed to have little chance when he announced his candidacy against a post-Desert Storm President George HW Bush in 1991. A bolder attitude would perhaps have favoured her in 2004.
But then nobody knew about Barack Obama…
2008
Hillary Clinton came tantalisingly close to securing the Democratic nomination in 2008. Yet in truth, this time, she didn’t deserve it. Her campaign shared many of the faults of David Miliband’s campaign for the Labour leadership in 2010: arrogance and assumption that the prize was owed to them by right as well as support for the unpopular Iraq War.
Admittedly, Hillary was not to know just how strong a candidate her opponent Obama was to prove. She stayed in the race long after she should have pulled out, feebly claiming she needed to be on hand in case Obama was assassinated. It was not her finest hour.
2016?
Age does not seem to be the deterrent to high office that it can be in the UK. In the late Seventies and early Eighties, elderly leaders were the norm in Britain. Jim Callaghan was 68 when he stood down as Labour leader in 1980. The resulting leadership contest was between Denis Healey (62) and Michael Foot (67).
All of these men would live into their nineties: Healey is still alive today. Yet Foot’s advanced age was widely seen as a major factor in Labour’s landslide 1983 defeat. Since then, Britain’s leaders have got younger and younger. John Major became the youngest PM of the 20th century in 1990. He was 47. His successor Tony Blair was 43. David Cameron in 2010 was younger still. Today all three party leaders are well under fifty.
In the US, Reagan seemed to set a different precedent. While Foot had long white hair, a walking stick and glasses, Reagan (who was in power at the same time as Foot was Labour leader) had somehow retained his dark hair despite being two years older than Foot. Reagan was the first ever presidential nominee to be over seventy. Since then Bob Dole and John McCain have followed his example. Although, of course, neither won. Mitt Romney was 65.
So Hillary being 69 in 2016 was not seen as a serious obstacle to her running in 2016. And the omens looked better than ever after a successful stint as Obama’s first Secretary Of State.
But the blood clot is more serious. Hopefully, both Mrs Clinton and her presidential prospects will make a speedy recovery.
19th International AIDS Conference Convenes In Washington

The Class of 2016

The dust may have only just settled on the 2012 race but already thoughts are turning to 2016. Obama can’t run again due to the two term limit, Romney is unlikely to stand again either. So who’s in contention at this early stage?

Hilary Clinton (Dem)

Secretary of State, former First Lady and near winner of the party nomination in 2008.

For: Certainly, the most famous of any of the possible contenders, she has been a success as secretary of state and any wounds left by the bitter 2008 primary race against Obama now seem to have (largely) healed.

Against: She is getting on in years (she will be 69 in 2016) although seems good for her age. There are also a lot of Clinton-haters still in the US (although most are more obsessed with Obama now) and, oh yes!: the US has still never nominated a woman as presidential candidate for any major party, let alone elected them president. Then again, until 2008, they had never elected a black president either…

Joe Biden (Dem)

Vice President.

For: With the exception of the corrupt (Spiro Agnew), the evil (Dick Cheney), the mortally ill (Nelson Rockefeller) and the stupid (Dan Quayle) every Vice President in the last sixty years has gone on to eventually win the presidential nomination for themselves. Four out of the last ten Veeps have gone onto the presidency too (Nixon, Ford, Johnson, Bush I). Biden performed well in this year’s TV debates.

Against: Age again. Biden will be 74 in 2016 and he has already proven gaffe-prone. His 1988 presidential bid was scuppered when he delivered a speech which turned out to have been plagiarised from one previously delivered by British Opposition leader Neil Kinnock (an unknown figure in the US).

Paul Ryan (Rep)

Wisconsin Rep. Mitt Romney’s running mate.

For: Romney’s confused introduction of Ryan as “the next president of the United States” may yet prove correct.

Against: He could be tainted by defeat. He lied in his convention speech and he and Romney both lost their home states in 2012.

Rick Santorum (Rep)

Former Senator for Pennsylvania.

For: Ran against Romney in 2012. A Catholic who will benefit if the party shifts to the Right. Anti-gay marriage and in denial over climate change.

Against: Just horrible.ImageImage

Why it must be Obama

In March when I began this blog, I based my first entry on one prediction: President Barack Obama would be re-elected as president this year.

Despite everything, that still seems to be the most likely outcome of this week’s election. The fact that it has proven such a close content against Governor Mitt Romney, a man who would not normally get anywhere near to winning the White House is hardly to the president’s credit.

For the Obama Administration been slightly disappointing in some areas. The economy has not recovered fully from the mess the disastrous Bush team left it in. Perhaps no administration could have achieved a full recovery in one term. Even FDR’s New Deal didn’t end the Great Depression immediately: that took World War II. Obama has certainly behaved responsibly and put the US on the road to recovery but his failure to achieve this has undeniably been the key factor undermining his popularity. Liberals may also be disappointed by his failure to close the camp at Guantanamo Bay. Surprisingly, Obama, a great orator during the 2008 campaign has also been poor at conveying his message to the general public.

On the other hand, he has enjoyed real successes: healthcare reform was a key tenet of his 2008 campaign: he has now achieved it.

Bin Laden has been killed. The war in Iraq has ended. The car industry has been saved.

In recent days, Obama has also demonstrated his cool head in a crisis. The aftermath of Superstorm Sandy has seen “no drama” Obama at his best.

Compare him to Governor Mitt Romney:

A man who believes the federal government should not have been involved in the Hurricane Sandy relief effort, believing private donations would have been more ideological sound.

A man who flip flops: Governor Romney supported gay marriage in the 1990s and now opposes it, keen as he is to curry favour with Tea Party extremists.

Worse, Governor Mitt Romney doesn’t seem to understand public service. His supporters see his business credentials as his chief asset. In fact, they might be his Achilles Heel. Unlike Obama, Romney doesn’t understand he should be aiming to represent ALL Americans, not just those who can make a fast buck.

In this sense, Obama is both the better American and the better candidate. Americans should not let their disappointment with Obama or the economic situation lead them to a choose a wholly unsuitable candidate to replace him.

The trouble with satire

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It is a truth almost universally acknowledged that political satire only tends to truly thrive under Tory Governments.

This has been true ever since the birth of the first modern satire boom of the early Sixties. Peter Cook, Dudley Moore, Beyond the Fringe, Private Eye and That Was The Week That Was all prospered during the dying days of the Tory regime of Harold Macmillan and Alec Douglas Home. Likewise, although rarely overtly political, Monty Python’s Flying Circus (1969-74) enjoyed its true heyday under the government of Ted Heath (1970-1974). Then came Thatcher and Major. Margaret Thatcher’s election in May 1979 coincided almost exactly with the birth of alternative comedy. But it wasn’t just that. Not The Nine O Clock News, Spitting Image, Have I Got News For You, Bremner, Bird and Fortune, If…, Dear Bill, The New Statesman, The Friday Night Armistice and Drop the Dead Donkey undeniably got a boost from their being a Tory Government in power.

Why should this be the case? Partly, it’s because true satire rails against the Establishment and the Tories embody the Establishment better than Labour ever can.

It’s also because, in general, right wing people tend not to be very funny. Lady Thatcher, despite inspiring great satire herself, famously had virtually no sense of humour. Boris Johnson’s buffoonery amuses but he rarely says or writes anything which is deliberately funny. Jeremy Clarkson, meanwhile, is quickly out of his depth in the world of politics (as opposed to motoring) and rarely gets beyond saying anything shocking or childish when he venture into the political arena.

The myth that the politically correct Left lack a sense of humour is ill founded. It’s actually hard to think of anyone funny who isn’t on the Left. Ask anyone for a list of funny right wingers, meanwhile, and most likely their list will solely consist of the obscure, the racist or the dead.

After the 2010 General Election something clearly went wrong, however. We now have a Tory Prime Minister again. So why are we not enjoying a new satire boom?

Part of the problem might be that because New Labour were arguably almost as conservative as the Tories, satire never really went away under Blair and Brown. The Thick of It owes its origin to these times and in fairness, is still great. But Have I Got News For You and Mock The Week are clearly past their best and 10 O’Clock Live has never really got off the ground.

I blame the politicians. Whereas in the Eighties, politics was filled with colourful characters ranging from the Bennite ultra-Left to the uncaring Thatcherite Right, the Blairisation of British politics has been fatal to satire. Blair was the most successful politician of recent times: little wonder everyone wants to be like him, elect a party leader like him and fight for the centre ground like him. Cameron, Miliband and Clegg are all essentially Blair wannabes: posh, PR friendly men in suits. Miliband would never wear a donkey jacket, Cameron would never drive in a tank. From a comedic point of view, this is bad news.

The Coalition confuses things further. Try as we might to pretend Cameron’s lot are the new Thatcherites, this is only partly true. They are occasionally uncaring, more often incompetent, sometimes liberal and, yes, sometimes actually Liberal as in Democrat.

The global scene doesn’t help. The idiotic George W Bush was satirical gold, just as President Reagan had been two decades before. But Barack Obama, an intelligent, moderate, slightly disappointing but well meaning black president is hardly the stuff great satires are made of as the failure of the novel O demonstrates. In this respect alone, perhaps Governor Mitt Romney would be better.

British politics seems to lack the colour of the past too. But perhaps I am wrong to blame the political set up. Take the former Tory Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd. He is a decent man, yes. An exciting man? No. Trust me: I have seen him speak. And yet in the hands of Spitting Image, voiced by Harry Enfield, with his hairstyle strangely coiled, his puppet was frequently hilarious.

There is surely enough material in the current political class – Michael Gove, Boris Johnson’s eternal rivalry with David Cameron, Ed Balls, the never ending evil that is Rupert Murdoch – to inspire great satire? Perhaps it’s simply a case of “could do better, must try harder.”

Five worst US presidential candidates ever

Okay! So it’s becoming horrendously clear Mitt Romney is an unusually poor presidential candidate. But he’s not the first disaster area to be nominated by a major US political party. Here are a few others:

5. Richard M. Nixon (Rep. Lost 1960, won 1968, 1972). It might seem odd to choose a candidate who was victorious twice to go in a list of bad presidential candidates. But Nixon’s success if anything exposes the flaws in the system. In 1968, with Nixon’s poll lead narrowing, the Nixon team used an insider to actively sabotage Vietnam peace talks fearing a sudden breakthrough would give his opponent Hubert Humphrey a last minute boost. Interestingly, the Humphrey campaign learned of Nixon’s chicanery at the time but chose not to expose him as they expected to beat him anyway. They were wrong. Four years later, the Nixon team again used all manner of dirty tricks to crush their most feared Democratic opponent Ed Muskie in the primaries releasing mice into a Muskie press conference and smearing Muskie’s wife as an alcoholic. Break-ins later in the campaign ultimately led to the Watergate scandal. Nixon would win heavily in 1972 but his victory would be short lived. He must rank amongst the most corrupt post-war presidential candidates.

4. Michael Dukakis (Dem. Lost 1988). What went wrong for Duke? In the summer of 1988, having beaten seven rivals to the nomination, his soaring Kennedy-esque rhetoric gave him a 15% lead over his Republican opponent Vice President George HW Bush. But in the last months of the campaign, Dukakis, who like Romney was a Governor of Massachusetts barely put a foot right. He unwisely refused to respond to any attacks the Bush campaign launched upon him and was soon irretrievably tainted as a tax and spend liberal (a bad thing in the US). Even his principled opposition to the death penalty in the TV debates went against him.  Despite being quite a bland candidate himself, Bush ended up romping home to a forty state victory.

3. John McCain (Rep. Lost 2008) An ex-Vietnam POW, McCain may have been a fine candidate in, say, 1992, but by 2008, he was much too old and grumpy for the task. His repeated attempts to distract attention from his opponent’s superior campaign by repeated references to “Joe the plumber” proved a failure. His worst decision, however, was undeniably his poorly researched choice of Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as running mate. Initially boosting the flagging McCain effort, the decision backfired horribly once Palin’s many shortcomings became all too apparent. McCain soon had his chips.

2. Barry Goldwater (Rep. Lost 1964). Although the GOP occasionally flirts with extremism, they rarely embrace it. The moderate Senator Bob Dole saw off Pat Buchanan in 1996 for example while Mitt Romney beat the even more odious and unprincipled Rick Santorum earlier this year. 1964 was different however. In the year after President Kennedy’s assassination, they rejected the moderate future Vice President Nelson Rockefeller in favour of the alarmingly pro-nuclear Senator Goldwater. “Extremism in the defence of liberty is no vice,” Goldwater (sometimes nicknamed Au H2O by science geeks) would opine. He also advocated a form of racial apartheid. The result? The Johnson team produced one of the best campaign ads ever (showing a little girl being blown to smithereens by a nuclear attack). Ex-actor Ronald Reagan was moved to defect from the Democrats to the Republicans. Everyone else went the other way. President Johnson beat Goldwater by a record margin.

1. Mitt Romney (Rep. 2012). Okay! So it’s not over yet. Things may improve for the hapless Mr Romney. But as it stands, this looks like the only poll Romney’s going to come top of this autumn…

Why this clumsy Coalition of clots isn’t working

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The oddest thing about Britain’s Coalition Government is that so few people saw it coming.

Coalitions are quite rare in the UK, it’s true. No party has won more than 50% in a General Election since 1931 but the First Past the Post system is designed to almost guarantee big majorities. Yet occasionally, as in 1974, this doesn’t happen. It happened again in 2010.

I’m not blaming anyone but it also seems odd that so few people anticipated the eventual Conservative/ Liberal Democrat Coalition. Most people seemed to assume either that the Tories would win outright or that the third party would fulfil its usual role of backing Labour. Until the 1920s, Labour would generally support the larger Liberal Party in Hung Parliament situations. When their roles were reversed, the Liberals generally did the same for Labour as with the 1977-79 Lib-Lab Pact.

This wouldn’t have made sense in 2010. The arithmetic did not favour it. The right decisions were made. The problem is that the current situation pleases nobody.

Tory supporters are just frustrated that they didn’t win outright. The Conservative agenda is frustrated by the fact that the people clearly didn’t really want them back in power. Every u turn is blamed on the Lib Dems. In truth, David Cameron is starting to look like a weak leader anyway.

Labour supporters aren’t happy either. They are glad not to be part of the Coalition. But they are still denied power.

The Lib Dems are also unhappy. The party leadership is guilty of treachery in many supporters’ eyes. The party has failed to fulfil any of its own desires (such as electoral reform or changes to the House of Lords). Nor is it adequately restraining the usual excesses of a Tory Party in power. The Lib Dems more than anyone else risk annihilation in 2015. Nick Clegg looks increasingly vulnerable as leader.

But who is to blame? Normally the wishes of the electorate can be summarised in one sentence e.g. 1979 people had grown weary of strikes and slow growth and wished to give Mrs Thatcher a chance or  1997 with the Tories hopelessly split and damaged by sleaze, the public flocked to New Labour.

But what verdict did the 2010 result send out? People don’t like Gordon Brown but don’t really want the Tories back either?

Ultimately, the country was ready for change in 2010, but even after thirteen years in Opposition, the Tories had still failed to transform themselves into an appealing alternative government.

The Tories have failed democracy and failed Britain too.

Welcome to the Muppet Show…

The Muppet Show returned last week. Or to be more precise, the Republican National Convention met in Tampa, Florida.

For such a stage managed event, it’s surprising how many things went wrong. Most disturbingly and indeed almost unbelievably, some racist Republicans reportedly threw peanuts at a black camerawoman claiming: “This is how we feed animals.” Vice Presidential candidate Paul Ryan then used his speech to blame the Obama Administration for the closure of a General Motors plant. The truth soon came out: the plant had in fact closed under Bush.

Prospective First Lady Ann Romney was judged to have done well with an appallingly sentimental speech. Remember Sarah Brown’s introduction of her husband Gordon as “my husband, my hero” at the British Labour Party Conference a few years back? Ann Romney’s speech made this look positively restrained by comparison. Indeed, some of Mrs Romney’s attempts to make the ultra-rich Romneys appear normal, barely made sense. “I read somewhere that Mitt and I have a storybook marriage,” she said at one point. “Well, let me tell you something. In the storybooks I read, there never were long, long rainy winter afternoons in a house with five boys screaming at once.” Er, no. Okay then…

Mitt himself didn’t mince words either. Recognising the key issue that worries many Americans – how happy was the marriage of Mitt Romney’s late parents – the former Governor of Massachusetts was extremely reassuring. “Mom and Dad were married 64 years,” he said. “And if you wondered what their secret was, you could have asked the local florist – because every day Dad gave Mom a rose, which he put on her bedside table.” Never let it be said that Mitt Romney has dodged the all important “parents’ marriage” issue.

The Republican Party is incredibly short on glamour these days. Recognising that they are both extremely unpopular, former President George W Bush and ex-Veep Dick Cheney did not attend the Convention at all. Sarah Palin, the heroine of the Convention, just four years ago, kept her head down too. Hence why Clint Eastwood was given a ten minute speech. Had the ageing star restricted himself to a few simple platitudes: “Obama: make my day” etc, the speech might have passed off successfully.

As it was, the eighty two year old Eastwood rambled, muttering his way through the speech dreadfully. Things got even worse when the actor began speaking to an empty chair, pretending it was occupied by President Obama. Oddly, most of the joke seemed to revolve around the invisible Obama supposedly swearing at Eastwood and telling him to “shut up” (not actually things the President is renowned for doing). Little wonder much of the audience looked on in apparent abject horror. No actor has done such harm to his reputation with a political gesture since the late Charlton Heston started appearing at pro-gun rallies.

But the scariest fact of the whole week remains this: bland as Romney undeniably is, with unemployment still so high in the US, Obama is barely more popular than Romney. Contrary to the prediction in my first blog entry back in March, Romney could actually win in November.

Three cheers for political correctness!

Few terms have become so debased within the lexicon of political discourse than political correctness. Like the term “liberal” in the United States, the term has become almost an insult. Peter Hitchens describes it as “stern, fierce movement which is completely sane and sets out deliberately to stop us from saying – and thinking – various things. It is not a joke.” Newspapers like Hitchens’ own Mail and the Daily Telegraph routinely blame political correctness for everything under the sun. Some even liken it to the tyrannies of Nazi Germany and Stalin’s USSR.

What are these bold claims based upon? Basically, it comes down to this: Fifty years ago it was acceptable to make sexist, racist and homophobic remarks and jokes in public. Now it isn’t. Most people recognise this as a good thing. The Right have never come to terms with it. So the next time you read any garbage about “political correctness gone mad” remember: that’s all the writer is complaining about. They want to be racist or offensive in some way but society has changed so much it no longer permits them to be so.

That’s all there is to it. And no one is more humourless about it than the modern Right.