Is Competency Too Much To Ask For In Washington?

At a point well beyond the last minute the House of Representatives voted to accept the Senate legislation designed to prevent the United States from plunging over the self-appointed fiscal cliff. This was a total abdication of political leadership on either side of the political aisle in a situation that had only arisen due to the inability of Republicans and Democrats to agree to a budget for the past several years. However, this package, designed to shock Washington out of its short-term approach to monumental problems has been totally undermined. Rather than causing politicians to sit down and thrash out their differences, the total lack of adequate leadership on either side of the political aisle has resulted in brinkmanship, grandstanding and posturing that has left the United States in little better shape than before. Indeed, it may have inflicted more harm than good with the Congressional Budget Office suggesting that this move could add a further $4 trillion to the deficit.

Since the midterms elections of 2010, the White House and the House of Representatives have been unable to agree on a federal budget. Not for the first time in history, a Democratic President is at odds with a Republican Congress. In the past a compromise solution has been found and the nation carried. This time, however, Republicans declared that their number one aim was ensuring Barack Obama became a one-term president, which infuriated the White House. This was coupled by poor Congressional relations from the White House. With both sides at fault, the so-called Super Committee convened in the summer of 2011 to formulate a series of policies that would need to be enacted should the two sides fail to come up with a solution. These included ending the Bush-era tax cuts (which would result in taxes increasing by aprox 5% on all Americans) and the introduction of spending cuts (including aprox 10% from the Pentagon budget). Logical really; the nation is $16.4 trillion in dept and this needs to be rectified. Democrats are loathed to reduce spending, whilst Republicans are opposed to tax increases. Someone has to give. Alas, the deal that has been reached only raises taxes. It has failed to grasp the nettle of spending cuts that would be necessary to reduce the budget deficit substantially. Little wonder that this package is one that few are happy with and was one that most Republicans refused to endorse in the House of Representatives. As a result, the Republican Speaker was forced to rely on Democrats to get the measures passed.

Few have emerged with their reputations enhanced, least of all the President and the Speaker, each of whom have hit an all time low in recent days in terms of performance. The President’s remarks from the Eisenhower Office building prior to the Senate vote had the potential to derail the entire proceedings due to the passive-aggressive tone. Meanwhile the Speaker’s inept effort to get his fellow Republicans to agree to tax rises for those earning over $1 million backfired terribly and led him to effectively throw in the towel and pass the buck to the Senate! It was in these negotiations that perhaps the only success emerged, in last minute negotiations between the vice president and the Senate Minority leader. This reveals the true nature of how politics in Washington works: Intimate conversations, based on years of association, between two people who have worked together in the past. Megaphone politics doesn’t work and President Obama should know this. Or at least he would if he had served any serious time in the Senate before deciding to run for the presidency. The deal struck is the latest in a series of short term, quick fixes that leaves the US economy in a terrible shape, with reputations in tatters and with much left to do as Obama begins his second term.

JDB on SKY News Tonight with Andrew Wilson

I am delighted to announce that I will be returning to the international airwaves this evening, in conversation with Andrew Wilson on Sky’s Six O’Clock Evening News.

With debate continuing in Washington on the U.S. federal debt crisis, what are the implications for the United Sates and the wider world? What implications are there for the impending presidential election, and how much is this casting a shadow over the proceedings?

These are the questions that I will be addressing, so do tune in at 18.20 UK time to find out if you agree with my answers!

The State of the Union Address

With the presidential election looming on the horizon (well, ok, technically it’s at the end of NEXT year, but you understand), tonight’s State of the Union address is a vital occasion for President Obama. In recent weeks his polls have improved and it seems he has ‘benefited’ from the shooting in Arizona. Just as in 1995, the crazies may end up saving a liberal Democrat president by making him appear to be the voice of moderation in a world gone insane. Political violence is the great spectre that risks over-shadowing the forthcoming election cycle. It remains the great taboo in American politics, but that is a matter that will have to await another occasion…

Tonight will be Obama’s chance to showcase his credentials in primetime, to an audience of millions, at home and around the world. Forget what you may think, this is quickly becoming a global presidency, with the eyes of the world focused on the Capitol Building tonight. This is not simply a speech for the chamber. Tonight really marks the start of the race for the White House in 2012. A poor speech will knock the president off track, force him onto the defensive and give impetuous to the Republicans. A strong speech will remind Americans as to why they voted for Obama, of what he stands for, what he is against and what he has done so far. If Obama has demonstrated a weakness so far, it is in providing a narrative of his time in office. This needs to change, big time and tonight needs to be all about that change. Not ‘change we can believe in,’ but change that is tangible.

Two years ago, Obama basked in the glory of election and seeming universal adulation. Tonight he stands before the American people and those of us overseas who recognise the importance of the speech, as an older, hopefully wiser chief executive. I say hopefully because so far there is not necessarily the evidence that the Obama team have learned the lessons that Clinton did in the mid 90s, but time will tell. Obama has one big advantage going into the election season: No credible challenger from within his own party or even the Republicans. The Speaker of the House, John Boehner, has a singular claim to fame: An apparent inability not to burst into tears at any given moment: Hardly Commander-in-Chief material. His propensity for handkerchiefs is exacerbated by the prowling lipstick–wearing Pit-Bull/Grizzly Mama Bear better known as Sarah Palin, whose shameless self-promotion and inability to take one foot out of her mouth without replacing it with the other, makes her a rather inauspicious, though highly compelling candidate: In the same way that people watch NASCAR for the impact collisions. Of vital importance is the lack of a challenger for the Democratic Party’s nomination. I say vital because of a singular, salient fact: Incumbents who do not face a battle for their party’s nomination secure re-election. Period. Those who have to fight a rearguard action lose. End of story.

Obama’s mission tonight is to emerge head and shoulders above his Republican opponents. In the past they have actually helped him in this exercise by proving equal to their lowly billing. Tonight Obama needs to set out a path to re-election that ignores the results of the 2010 midterms and focuses on the big-picture; jobs, security, prosperity and legacy issues. He needs to think about what he wants Americans to be doing in January 2013. He needs to paint a picture of that and in so doing, make it happen, just as the Gipper and Clinton proved so capable of doing.

America’s greatest presidents have been those that have given voice to America’s greatest hopes for tomorrow and found a way to communicate that vision in an articulate and accessible manner. Tonight is Obama’s opportunity to continue to wide the wave he mounted in his reaction to the Tucson shooting (expect a massive play on this).

Can he do so? Can he deliver? Can he read from his teleprompters? Time will tell…