Thursday, November 6, 2014

Compromise or Dig In: Obama's Choices

Compromise or Dig In: Obama's Choices
United Daily News Editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
A Translation
November 7, 2014

Executive Summary: Obama has two years left in his term. He must cooperate with his rivals, even under adverse political circumstances. He may then be able to preserve his legacy, and help his own party's presidential candidate win in 2016. If so, he can avoid becoming a lame duck stymied whichever way he turns.

Full Text Below: 

US President Barack Obama delivered a speech following the midterm election defeat. He said he has heard the voice of the people. He said “Obviously, Republicans had a good night. And they deserve credit for running good campaigns.” He decided to meet with congressional leaders of both parties today. The executive branch and Congress will discuss how they can work together. He said they must work together, to “try and make this town work."

Try and make this town work. That is easier said than done. If a chief executive permits passions to determine his behaviour, if the ruling and opposition parties remain at loggerheads, if a consensus cannot be reached, no town can ever work. Take a long look at  America's problems. For people on Taiwan, it is like looking into a mirror.

Since the 2010 midterm elections, American politics has been embroiled in endless battles. Obama feels he has a popular mandate. His successful re-election was followed by vigorous Republican opposition. He has even threatened to issue executive orders overriding congressional opposition. By contrast, in 2010 and 2012, Republicans obtained a majority in the House, forcing the White House to defer to a "new mandate." The two parties find themselves at loggerheads over Obamacare, the immigration bill, the debt ceiling, and even the budget. The federal government is shutdown, the public blasts Washington, and the world looks on in disbelief.

During the mid-term elections, the Republicans scored another win. They achieved an unprecedented majority in the House of Representatives, the largest since World War II. They also achieved a majority in the Senate. They took both in one fell swoop. Does this mean Obama has become a lame duck? Must he now take orders from the Republican Party, and be trampled under foot? Consider the reaction from Wall Street. The three major indexes have reached new highs. That suggests that investors welcomed the result. Obama conceded defeat. He adopted a lower profile. But that does not mean he intends to give Republicans carte blanche. White House sources say that Obama feels the election results were unfair to him. Many Democratic candidates did not want his endorsement. He was denied the opportunity to show what he could do. Obama said "Congress will pass some bills I cannot sign. I’m pretty sure I’ll take some actions (use the veto) that some in Congress will not like. That’s natural. That’s how our democracy works."

Obama has only two years left in his term. The midterm elections were a disaster. He can choose to bow and compromise with his political opponents, and preserve his legacy. He can choose to fight to the bitter end, uphold his principles, and risk losing everything. Obama says he understands that he must “make this town work.” He will choose compromise on certain issues. On other issues however, he will fight to the bitter end, and refuse to yield.

Statesmen differ from politicians. To achieve their goals, they know when to compromise, without compromising their principles. Obama knows that he and the Republicans can promote certain policies, such as corporate taxes, trade and infrastructure bills, and in particular, the promotion of free trade.  Republicans must be be more aggressive than the Democrats. If the Republican-led Congress can pass the "Trade Promotion Authority Act" it will have a decisive influence on the Asian-Pacific TPP  and the US-Europe TTIP.

The Democrats suffered a major defeat, mainly due to the economy. The US economy has improved. But the general public, including families, are not feeling its effects. If Obama has a falling out with Congress, his achievements will come to naught. If Obama compromises with the Republicans, and ensures an economic upturn, over the next two or three years, Obamacare and minimum wage laws could pass. History could rehabilitate Obama.

Obama has spoken with House and Senate leaders since the election. Today he will meet with leaders of both parties, to discuss means of cooperation. Republican congressional leaders welcome the prospect, and expressed a willingness to cooperate. But some Republicans think they should put Obama's feet to the fire. If the Republicans are given an inch, but take a mile, if they abuse their advantage in Congress, they might alienate the American people. The Republicans now control both houses of Congress. They must assume responsibility for governance. They cannot shirk responsibility and repeatedly promote deadlock.

Obama and the Republicans are also willing to cooperate on diplomacy. This weekend, Obama will travel to Asia to participate in three-day international summit, the APEC Leaders Meeting, the East Asia Summit, and the G20 summit. Some leaders, such as Putin from Russia, may revel in the defeat of the President. Some leaders, such as Japan's Abe, may fear US policy change.
They may attempt to cozy up to Obama. Beijing however, is realistic about the Obama-Xi meeting. Diplomatic power belongs to the President. Both underestimating and overestimating one's opponents is unwise.

Obama has two years left in his term. He will still have a direct impact on the 2016 presidential election. The midterm elections involve a peculiar political phenomenon. The Democrats lost. But this has inspired the party to seek the presidency in 2016, and unite under the most obvious candidate Hillary Clinton.
The Republicans won. But this has resulted in infighting over coveted posts, and the party's “seven dwarfs” refusing to yield to each other. The GOP has no obvious front runner, creating a situation favourable for the Democratic Party.

Obama has two years left in his term. He must cooperate with his rivals, even under adverse political circumstances. He may then be able to preserve his legacy, and help his own party's presidential candidate win in 2016. If so, he can avoid becoming a lame duck stymied whichever way he turns.

2014.11.07 02:20 am












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