More fizzle than sizzle, Obama is yesterday’s man

by Kevin Meagher

The central assumption underpinning Ed Miliband’s 25 minute meeting with Barack Obama the other day is that an audience with the US President makes a British politician walk taller in the eyes of the voters.

Indeed, it sometimes works the other way too. When candidate Obama was seeking to burnish his credentials as a nascent international statesman he met with Gordon Brown, David Cameron and Tony Blair. He is later said to have described, Brown as having “substance”, while Cameron was all “sizzle” but Blair was “sizzle and substance”.

But Obama himself has turned out to be more fizzle than sizzle. The 44th US president is now a busted flush. A let-down. A talker, not a do-er. Even his flagship achievement in office – state-subsidised healthcare – hit the legal buffers yesterday.

It may be recoverable, but the failure to implement Obamacare effectively is just the latest in a string of flops that have bedevilled his presidency. His famous campaign mantra of “yes we can” has been reduced to, “no we can’t”. Certainly when it comes to closing down Guantanamo Bay, making headway in the Middle East, protecting Christians from Genocide in Iraq and Syria or even, nearer to home, raising US living standards. Obama simply hasn’t delivered.

In fact, if Ed Miliband wanted to visit a world leader to learn about paying the price of promising big and delivering small, then he could have taken the Eurostar to Paris and met with Francois Hollande and saved himself the air fare to Washington.

The most maddening aspect about Obama – habitué of the golf course these days – is that he is content to just coast along, a second term bed-blocker. Like his infamous drones, he seems to operate on auto-pilot, presiding over an unprecedented retrenchment in US influence around the globe and a sluggish economy at home. (Indeed, a brutal editorial in this week’s Economist describes him as the least business-friendly president in decades).

His personal approval poll rating, at just 43 per cent, is ten points lower than the post-war average for US presidents. At exactly the same stage of their two-term presidencies, Ronald Reagan was on 63 per cent and Bill Clinton on 62. Even George W Bush was only four points lower than Obama is now.

Yet the stardust British politicians hope will be sprinkled over them by association with the American president is a blind faith, bedazzling politicians of left and right and Miliband joins a long line of homage-payers. Some, it has to be said, more fortunate than others.

During a visit to the White House in 1987, Ronald Reagan mistook shadow foreign secretary Denis Healey for the British ambassador and publicly criticised Neil Kinnock’s (then) policy on unilateral nuclear disarmament.

John Major got on well enough with George Bush Senior (who was even greyer and duller than he was); but fluffed the subsequent relationship with Bill Clinton after dispatching Tory researchers to dig up dirt on his student adventures when he was at Oxford.

George W. Bush’s relationship with Tony Blair requires full-scale psycho-analysis, but Junior yelling “Yo Blair” to attract a Prime Minister’s attention at a G8 summit was hardly a high watermark for “the special relationship” in anyone’s estimation.

Still, marginally better than Gordon Brown being rebuffed five times by Obama’s team when he was angling for a private meeting, settling, as Brown’s former press secretary, Damian McBride, noted in The Times earlier this week, for a “passing chat in the United Nations kitchen.”

Only Harold Wilson comes out of this asymmetric courtship with any credibility. By refusing Lyndon Johnson’s generous invitation to deploy British soldiers in Vietnam, Wilson earned his not inconsiderable Texan wrath, but the stand emerges as perhaps Harold’s finest hour.

To be fair, Ed Miliband’s trip to see Obama seems to have passed off well enough with their chat centring on a tour d’horizon of geopolitical hot spots. Indeed, Ed’s love of the Boston Redsox – a totally unusable attribute in British politics if ever there was one – seems to have served as a useful ice-breaker. (Albeit, the trip was dangerously over-briefed. What would have happened if Obama had not found time to “brush by?”)

But despite the bonhomie, Obama is a false idol for those on the British left looking at how to govern successfully in 2015. Making a go of office means being hard-headed, realistic and focused on delivering outcomes. Obama may be able to campaign in poetry, but Ed Miliband needs to govern in prose.

Kevin Meagher is associate editor of Labour Uncut


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8 Responses to “More fizzle than sizzle, Obama is yesterday’s man”

  1. Ex labour says:

    I couldn’t agree more with this analysis. Obama has been a busted flush for a long time, probably even before his second term. Why UK politicians want to meet him is a mystery to me as, for various reasons, he has no love for the British.

    Talking to a US friend of mine at the time of the BP spill I said Obama was anti- British and his response was “hell he’s anti American”.

    How much did that little chat cost the UK taxpayer ? Or did cash strapped Labour stump up for it ?

  2. Tafia says:

    Obama was yesterday’s man the minute he won a second term. Because you can’t serve more than two terms as President, if you win a second term you are basically a dead man walking.

    All your own party is concerned about is finding a replacement and all the other party are concerned about is who you are going to pick.

  3. Dave Roberts says:

    What happened to the slogans ” Change we can believe in” and ” Yes we can”. Isn’t one of te people who dreamed all that up now working for Labour?

  4. I wonder how business-friendly FDR was regarded by the magazines of that period?

  5. swatantra says:

    I have never read such an awful load of Tosh in all my life !
    Obama has more glitz and energy and razzle than Blair Brown and moribund put together
    OK he, didn’t get his Obamacare through and Guantanamo is still open for business and he’s made absolutely no progress on the Palestine Problem and he’s misread Russia’s intention and the wealth gap has increased and 1/3 Americans are in poverty and he’s messed up the Arab Spring and … (I could go on, but wont..) But the fact is Obama is and never was a Socialist. Labour people here think the US Dems are on the Left, well they’re not. They’re as Conservative as Daves Tories are. They believe in profits and the American Way which basically means that you only get what you deserve and work for and if you come from a wealthy dynsasty all the better.
    My point is that Obama has done as much as he could giving the limitations that Americans view America as Gods own country and the rest of the world as coming off second best.

  6. Tafia says:

    OK he, didn’t get his Obamacare through and Guantanamo is still open for business

    They were supposed to be his two benchmark policies. He failed in both. Oresidents are only remembered for the benchmark policies so he will only be remebered as a failure. And he knows it.

  7. BenM says:

    “[Obama is] a talker, not a do-er. Even his flagship achievement in office – state-subsidised healthcare – hit the legal buffers yesterday.”

    That’s not the impression you get reading the analysis of the court decisions on that BBC page you link to.

    The Affordable Care Act is bringing down costs and the number of uninsured. Given the sheer criminal obstinacy of the irretrievably loony GOP that is some achievement.

    But the essence of the piece is correct – all presidents midway through their 2nd term are lame ducks.

    Worth noting though that Miliband isn’t worried about the US audience (and therefore their poll ratings) – to most Brits Obama still is the only recognisable US political character other than Hilary and that’s the stardust Miliband is trying to share in.

  8. Landless Peasant says:

    I was hoping Ed was there to pick up some tips on legalizing Marijuana, like our more enlightened American cousins are now doing in many States. If Miliband had any clue he would do that and instantly win millions of votes!

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