Understanding the American balance of Power
We’ve had a couple of rounds of griping at Obama again. People this side of the Atlantic in particular seem rather disgruntled by the lack of outcome on certain key issues, and possibly even confused by the outcome of some of the others, and in several cases I think this comes down to one thing: American politics is more complex and less dictatorial that we imagine.
It would be fairly easy to argue that, under current conditions, the President of the United States (POTUS) is actually less powerful than the British Prime Minister, especially right now within their respective political climates. Where the Prime Minister essentially commands the majority of the votes in the House of Commons, using his whips to order people into line, the President is part of a complex set of balances, in part because the Administration and Legislature have been separated: if he wants something to become law, he must go to two separate bodies of which he is a member of neither, and which both value their freedom from him quite highly.
And in some ways, the British system has become worse in recent years, particularly during the Blair years, when things got more “Presidential”. This isn’t actually true; the Prime Minister, whilst becoming ever more the centralised in power, didn’t get any more distant from the legislature, but instead remained totally in command of the main house.
What Obama has now successfully done has included getting legislation into the House on a taboo issue, one that hasn’t been brought before the house in over a decade, and which has inspired massive amounts of money being thrown at TV advertising explaining why any change is bad. We don’t have that here, and to be honest, we don’t see the ads the Americans see, either. Imagine having a commercial break in East Enders or Corrie include a £1million 1 minute lecture on why increasing investment in the NHS would bring death and chaos.
Those who demand that Obama “grow a spine”, or something to that extent, sound worryingly like they are advocating an Hugo Chavez style removal from air of TV stations running adverts against his plans. Is that really what we want to see? Public opinion, especially amongst the middle-classes who pay the bulk of the tax, is not favourable, and the most insane of critics are being funded to keep shouting loudly, often by drugs companies who would far rather have someone else do the talking for them than be clear about their interventions.
Then you have the military, the so called Hawks, the people who have military life running in their veins, and yet who are ever present on Capitol Hill. Taking away their war, their ability to practice what they love best, is kind of difficult. They can always go and find people, especially in the Legislature, to make things difficult. If a President wants a difficult time, get on the wrong side of these people.
And that’s before considering the middle east situation. There have been many positive developments in recent months, but the problem is, the President has little say in the millions in aid that go to Israel, and to curb the donations and subsidised equipment would be political suicide. AIPAC are huge. They have more power over government in the States than almost anyone except the CBI and the Defence lobby in the UK does. Thankfully someone has established an alternative for peace-seeking Jews who are increasingly uncomfortable with AIPAC (or rather, increasingly able to be vocal because the President, at least, is on their side).
Also, we’re less than one quarter of the way through this presidency. Obama doesn’t need to rush things through and fail as a result; too many lives are at risk. The lack of progress on free medical care at the point of delivery should be set against the lack of even a discussion during previous administrations. Turning on Obama at this stage would create a self-fulfilling prophecy, and political point-scoring is not going to make things better for those suffering at ground level.
Somewhere in all of this is an almost hypocritical set of demands being made of Obama. First, he must exert more power. Second, he must be less of a dictator. This especially riles me with regards Israel, actually. Obama should stop interfering in Afghanistan and interfere in Israel instead. Afghan sovereignty is more important? The current disengagement of America from Israeli politics, isolating Israel on the international diplomatic stage, if not financially, is something I find encouraging for a succession of reasons, some of which don’t revolve around the Israel-Palestine conflict, but rather around the need for a more equal global society.
And indeed, listening to some people, it sounds like we want Obama to become “our kind of dictator” rather than actually build up American democracy. After all, wanting the American people to have a democracy and wanting them to do and accept exactly what we want them to have sounds eerily like imposing Democracy form outside. Isn’t that what we accused the Bush regime of?