Obama rallies the troops…
Barack Obama’s State of the Union address was ostensibly addressed to the American nation but in reality it was a battle-cry issued forth to rally his activist base. It was, as I saw one commentator remark, his most left-wing address for some time. However, not only did it create some clear blue water between him and the Republicans but it also emphasised the reversal of positions between America and Europe. Once upon a time, America was thought of as a citadel of red-eyed, claws drawn, free-market capitalism. Europe on the other hand was a socialist paradise by comparison. State intervention was frowned upon in America but taken as the norm in Europe (I am including the UK in Europe, though it has traditionally hovered between the two positions). Obama however is slowly but surely changing that and shifting the terms of the debate in America.
He did this by coming to power on a wave of popular enthusiasm which in some ways mimicked that which carried Tony Blair to power on this side of the pond. Sustaining that was always going to be tricky. It seemed that until recently Obama wasnt going to manage and could be heading for an early exit. However, the Republicans made a huge tactical error in precipitating the budget gridlock – a dispute they got the blame for starting.
They did so under the influence of the malign Tea Party which it seems, if the race for Republican nominee is anything to go by, has suffered a slight diminution of its power following that fiasco. Obama might well bemoan that, had somebody whose politics are obviously un-hinged as Sarah Palin’s are been made the Republican candidate then motivating his core supporters would have been easy. However, now he has to rely on his own pulling power.
Both Mick Romney and Newt Gingrich are a testimony to how bereft of anything approaching political talent the GOP are and how, consequentially, they are going to lose the presidential election in November as much as Obama will actually win it. The only sparkle either of them have is their respective tax and personal scandals – nowhere near enough to challenge the Obama machine.
The Presidential election will make fascinating viewing for a European audience if only to show how much America is changing. Obama is tentatively suggesting a larger role for the state and has taken state-led stimulus approach to the crisis – something that Goldman Sachs predict will see the US avoiding recession (compare and contrast with the UK and Europe which is crashing and burning). However, given the culture of the US which is instinctively hostile to the state playing a large role in the economy and in the provision of things like healthcare it remains to be seen whether Obama can re-frame the debate in a way which lasts beyond his two terms.