Can Obama really rescue America?

Obama-mania is sweeping the globe but campaign promises may yet prove his downfall, writes Karen McCarthy.

HE exploded into US politics with a message of hope and change that has people around the world believing President Obama will save America and the planet.

He’s running a veritable Santa’s Grotto stacked with promises of health care reform, protectionism in trade, cheaper petrol, more money for schools, the space program, veterans, students, infrastructure, as well as lower taxes. He’s promised energy security, an end to the Iraq war, to befriend America’s enemies and remain unindentured to big business and lobbyists.

A less optimistic panel of Harvard thinkers at the Centre for Public Leadership recently said the problems facing America today are so immense that they’re “almost beyond the capacity of any human being.”

“He’s raised expectations to an absurd degree,” said Gene Healy, the author of The Cult of the Presidency during a recent interview on Al Jazeera English. “He’s not a shaman, he’s going to be constrained by the political realities of the US”.

Yet Obama-mania is sweeping the world, particularly in Africa.

But despite being half-Kenyan, analysts say the half-term senator has not shown a strong track record of interest in African affairs. He proposed action to resolve the Darfur crisis, but when it came to trade he backed a farm bill to protect US farmers at the expense of the Africans.

One Ugandan columnist, Timothy Kalyegira commented on Obama’s decision to give his first post-primary speech to a pro-Israel group and not to African-Americans.

“[This] should open the eyes of those who imagine that Obama is going to advance black interests or those of Africa. Prepare to be greatly disappointed.”

Further east, the Arab world also had its first major Obama-qualm, when the Senator placated Jewish voters who disapproved of his willingness to talk to Iran and Syria, by promising unshakeable support for Israel with Jerusalem as its undivided capital.

Libyan leader Muammar Gadhafi criticised the Senator for what he calls a failure to fulfil his promise of “change”.

Obama has been accused of more back-peddling by Senator John McCain, who said he’s retracting campaign promises to meet leaders of Iran, Syria, Cuba and Venezuela without preconditions. Obama since qualified his statement saying his willingness to talk to leaders of countries considered US adversaries, doesn’t necessarily mean an audience for Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

This kind of political manoeuvring, his vow to respond “forcefully and swiftly” to an Iranian attack against Israel or any other US ally, and his willingness to attack al Qaeda inside Pakistan without Pakistani approval, prompted one Abu Dhabi based newspaper to conclude: “Not much time was needed to prove that the Arab expectation of Obama grew out of a sense of hopefulness rather than an accurate reading of [his] priorities and political views.”

Closer to home, efforts to court Florida’s influential Cuban-American community, has the Senator calling for the normalising of relations with the communist island if preconditions — like the release of all political prisoners — are met.

His support of the Cuban embargo has drawn criticism from McCain, who accused him of changing his position.

Obama presents himself as a new-style politician, determined to reform Washington and steer clear of contributions from interest groups and lobbyists.

Unfortunately, while he refused any money from federal lobbyists or political action committees, he received $2.5 million from political action committees during his senatorial race, and he’s lending his name to the fundraising for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee that’s less discerning.

Nevertheless, he still leads McCain on domestic issues, particularly on the economy, and has launched an economy tour through the largely blue collar states of Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

However, his recent appointment of Jason Furman as director of economic policy is considered tantamount to hiring a Wall Street economic team.

Ultimately, campaign promises may be his biggest problem.

Whether or not he can be radically different from his predecessors, become the saviour of the middle-class, bring peace to the Middle East or democracy to Africa, he will be judged harshly because he has promised so much.

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