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A great President?

MARION O'CALLAGHAN Monday, November 26 2012

Lara Marlowe in her Irish Times column writes of Obama, as a Senator, seeking inspiration at the Abraham Lincoln Memorial. “As a President”, she writes, “he was sworn in on Lincoln’s bible, and has several times invited the nation’s leading historians to dinner at the White House to ask them what Lincoln or other great presidents would have done in his position.”

Few would contest Obama’s declaration that this election was over a certain vision of society. Spielberg, director of the film on Abraham Lincoln, would call it over that equality fundamental to a Republic. What was also at stake was Obama being more than the first African-American President. As that he could be condescendingly wiped off in the future.

He had to be one of America’s great Presidents. It is generally accepted that a second term President has only two years or so before political parties begin the horse-trading and internal lobbying for the next Presidential elections. At that point Obama is likely to become a lame duck President, as were others before him. What then is on his plate today which can affect greatness?

A New Nickname

With this election Democrats strengthened their position in the Senate and won back what had been Senator Ted Kennedy’s seat. Ted Kennedy failed in one thing: not being able to push through Health Service reforms before he died. Democrats made inroads into the House of Representatives, but not enough to dislodge Republican control.

The situation with Obama’s getting legislation through both Houses remains the same. There is one major difference: the state of the Republican Party. Mitt Romney had been grudgingly accepted by a number of Republicans as their candidate for the Presidential elections. He had gained the support of the Tea Partyers at the Nomination Convention by his conversion to the Right Wing Fundamentalism of the Partyers. Even so, that he was a Mormon left him suspect to some of the Christian Biblical Fundamentalists. Old fashioned Republicans were pleasantly surprised at Mitt Romney’s embracing of a centre position in that first television debate. That was scuttled, however, by the 47 percent non-taxpayers video. The few African-Americans among Republicans could hardly be expected to be pleased with the Party’s new nickname: The White Party. Certainly Colin Powell, one of the most widely respected of Republicans, had publicly disowned Mitt Romney’s economic programme and endorsed Barack Obama. Romney’s remarks that Obama had won the election only because of “gifts” to African-Americans and Hispanics, was for a number of Republicans another of Romney’s insulting “miss-steps”, to use a Trini expression.

That Fiscal Cliff

In all of these recriminations, Obama maintained the vision of Americans united beyond Party. It was together that they won through, he insisted. To vote was more important than voting for Republican or Democrat. He had words of praise for Mitt Romney. In doing this he made it clear that mashing up the Republican Party was not on his agenda. If there was bitterness, that was between his wife Michele and his pillow. The unity of the country came first. Lincoln would have agreed.

And so I am willing to bet that there will be the cooperation needed to pass a budget and to avoid that fiscal cliff of automatic (and high) taxes and of draconian slashes in public spending at year’s end.

It is known that a President’s second term is likely to be about his place in history. Barack Obama has already marked American history – and perhaps beyond America – with his health care provisions. These he has already declared that he would strengthen.

“Obama Care”, as Republicans called it, may well be not a sneer but an Obama recall throughout history. The importance of Irish Americans, Hispanics and Caribbeans in this election is a reminder that all three have lobbied for the regularisation of “undocumented immigrants” and for changes in the immigration laws. Add to this settling the Puerto Rico situation at last. One hopes for Cuba…

It is under Obama’s watch that the future of an America, major oil producer has been discerned. America will no longer be dependent on that Middle East oil which has sometimes skewed her politics.

Will this probability make it possible for Obama to move ahead with the two-State solution for the Israel-Palestine conflict? If Obama does, he will have consolidated democracy in the Middle East and consolidated the Jewish-American vote for the Democrats. He would also have drawn the teeth of Jihadists. This is not the only question of peace facing President Obama.

Afghanistan and Pakistan are still there. As a major Asian power, cooperation rather than conflict with China is yet to be worked out. Obama is more likely to understand this than a “Gung Ho” Mitt Romney. Disarmament is certainly still there. And few can be satisfied with drones as the ultimate answer to troops on the ground.

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