More Obama Reax

The ramifications of Obama’s electoral victory last Tuesday are still percolating through the European political consciousness, if the steady supply of commentary in the media there is any indication. We surely would not want to miss, for example, the just-issued commentary from L’Humanité, the organ of the PCF, the French Communist Party, which in its (web-)pages asks United States: Change of an Era?

Don’t worry: of course the L’Humanité editors do recognize a change, and they are pleased with it. “The possibility of a man from a minority to accede to the White House legitimately stirs up the pride of a people regaining confidence in their capacity to evolve. But for this pride to really influence the conditions of life, there is quite a bit of road to go.” First off, there’s a serious recession to confront, and the editors express their regret that Obama seems to have no intention “to really break with the capitalist fundamentals that have lead to this situation.”

But at least his victory is at the same time a defeat for American neo-conservatism, a defeat which “was just as much awaited, if not even more, on the international scene as in the USA itself.” Now the question is, in the international realm, whether Obama will be able to succeed in leveraging the new spirit of goodwill towards the United States to disarm the reluctance shown, especially within Europe, to what the editors call “the American will to hegemony.”

Credibility is All

So far, so doctrinaire. For an assessment that is a bit deeper as well as more nuanced we can look to former German foreign minister (and famous Green Party head) Joschka Fischer, writing in Die Zeit (Over dream and reality in politics). Fischer is also pleased with Obama’s victory – delighted, in fact. He compares it directly (and you knew this was coming) to November 9, 1989, and the fall of the Berlin Wall, when “once again one thought oneself to be dreaming, because something came true that one had so often hoped for but at the same time not considered possible.”

Still, and just as the L’Humanité editors were so quick to point out, Fischer acknowledges the gravity of the problems awaiting Obama’s assumption of office: there is not only the world economic crisis and its particular incarnation in America to address, but also a war to end in Iraq, the moral standing of his country to rehabilitate, climate change and national health insurance to move forward on, etc. (By the way, Fischer has no problem in calling these “the mountain of unresolved problems, crises, and conflicts left behind by his predecessor George W. Bush.”)

Will he be able to make any progress? Will the main result over a couple of years be disappointment? After all, writes Fischer, look at how Bill Clinton’s ambitious legislative agenda (mainly centering around health care reform) was stifled within his first year in office, which was then followed in the 1994 elections by the Newt Gingrich-led “Conservative Revolution” in Congress.

Fischer does hold out hope that Obama will be able to match the sky-high expectations now surrounding him. In his view, the achievements of Obama’s campaign team against first the Clinton and then the Republican political machines have already shown his considerable potential for accomplishing policy success. Yes, there will inevitably be gaps between a policy vision and what that policy turns out to be upon implementation; there will be gaps of time, when what progress that is happening proceeds too slowly in the eyes of those who feel that they are his constituency; and there will of course be mistakes – not to mention completely unexpected events coming along to upset all calculations.

In Fischer’s view, though, all of that can be handled, as long as Obama realizes that his main resource is his great stock of credibility (Glaubwürdigkeit) – the credibility of his person, but also what will presumably be the credibility of his proposed policies. That will get him through whatever setbacks, emergencies or unavoidable compromises occur with his political support intact; Fischer warns that he needs to “protect it like the apple of his eye.” After that, he needs to have the ability to see things through (Durchsetzungsfähigkeit) and, don’t forget, also luck and intrepidness – because “whoever in politics does not get up again after blows, and who completely lacks the necessary luck, will not have success for very long.”

But Joschka Fischer sees no reason for worry in any of those areas. In fact, he expects the successful beginning of an “Obama Epoch.”

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