Obama's double-edged sword

Economic woes boost candidate but may destroy hopes held out for him at home and abroad.

    Barack Obama received a rapturous welcome during his summer visit to Europe [AFP]

    Here in Paris, as in the rest of Europe, there is overwhelming support for Barack Obama to become the next president of the United States.

    That's hardly surprising given the strength of feeling against the Iraq war.

    However, European support for Obama doesn't translate into votes and notoriously Americans don't like to be advised by Europeans, especially the British, as to how they should vote.

    Seddon's diplomatic diary

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    Part 3: Beijing: Nothing left to chance

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    Part 5: Global crisis reinvigorates Brown

    Obama's trip here in the summer was a veritable love-fest; but Obama and his campaign team are not going to use footage from his visit to Berlin, where he was treated like a rock star, for the folks back home.

    Obama's critique of some aspects of the turbo-capitalism that was, for a long time, recommended as medicine to the French and Germans who persisted in maintaining a manufacturing base to their economy, goes down well here.
    In truth though, his voice is being drowned out as those with the power to influence events make decisions.

    Here in Europe, it is difficult to remember anything that Obama has said recently that would make matters better.

    What are his policy prescriptions? Does he believe, as does Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president, that capitalism must now be reformed?

    Is he for a new Bretton Woods or even a Roosevelt New Deal?

    'Economy stupid'

    Meanwhile, across the Atlantic - and it is certainly true that supporters of the Obama campaign dare not say it for fear of it being used against them - each time the global economy and particularly the US economy takes a hit, their campaign gets another lift.

    "We all knew that Bill Clinton's memorable election claim of the early nineties that 'it's the economy stupid', made sense, but this time it really is making the difference", says an old friend of mine from the Democratic National Committee.

    And so it should in any rational analysis of the US election.

    McCain's links with Bush present an awkward backdrop to his call for change [AFP]
    John McCain is a Republican, and much as he may present himself as an outsider looking in, he has been an active member of the administration of George Bush, the US president, an administration that remained loyal to Reaganomics throughout.

    That "economic philosophy" brought America - and the world - privatisation, deregulation, "Big Bang", the emergence of derivatives and, of course, what for some form the unacceptable face of capitalism, the hedge funds.

    But then it is fair to say that the the Democrats under Bill Clinton, the former US president, became fellow travellers.

    In fact, the lurch towards allowing mortgages for virtually anyone who wanted one regardless of income, came courtesy of Clinton's administration; who wanted a short cut to home ownership as a way of cutting inner city crime.

    Fortunately for Obama he has not been a member of either administration, and even before the great global meltdown he was attacking the "trickle down" economics of his opponent.

    This put him some way to the left of European leaders such as Gordon Brown, the British prime minister.

    Brief party

    But there the familiar territory of left and right ends, since Bush is now engaged in the biggest state intervention and nationalisation programme that the US and probably the world has ever seen.

    In focus

    In-depth coverage of the US presidential election
    Suddenly, voters on both sides of the Atlantic, always uneasy at the sky high salaries and bonuses being stacked up by bankers and traders, but quiescent because it was deemed unfashionable to criticise the God that was the Market, have woken up.

    Now everyone is lining up to take aim, and those politicians and parties most identified with the years of excess are being punished.

    Step forward then John McCain, whose campaign seems already dated, since it is focusing very much on the character of Obama, when the rest of America is focused on its mortgages, jobs and bank accounts.

    For the first time I won't be reporting on the US presidential elections.

    I can only watch from this side of the Atlantic as many of the movers and shakers I have known for years prepare, they hope, to reap the economic whirlwind and see their candidate, Barack Obama, move into the White House.

    If they do, the party celebrations are likely to be brief.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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