David Isenberg: SPIEGEL – The President of Disappointments

Corruption, Government
David Isenberg

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SPIEGEL 06/14/2012 05:49 PM

The President of Disappointments

How Obama Has Failed to Deliver

By Ullrich Fichtner, Marc Hujer and Gregor Peter Schmitz

Barack Obama entered the White House as a savior. But he hasn't delivered. The ideological chasms in the US are as deep as they have ever been, with Republicans blocking the president at every turn. Who is responsible for his failure?

The United States of America, where yet another mammoth presidential campaign is taking shape, makes up less than 5 percent of the world's population. Yet it consumes about 25 percent of the world's oil. It has close to $16 trillion (€12.8 trillion) in debt, its expenditures will exceed its revenues by $1.3 trillion in this fiscal year alone, and the war in Afghanistan is costing it $2 billion. Each week. Many in this country are demanding peace in Syria, even as Washington quietly fights a dirty drone war in Pakistan. Some 169 prisoners are still stewing in Guantanamo. In Washington, D.C., the divide between the two political camps is so deep that it resembles an abyss. Is the current president of the United States really named Barack Obama? Is the era of George W. Bush really over?

Obama's first term in office will end in just a few months time. The giant, many-faceted country, 27 times the size of Germany, needs a new plan — a new project for the staggering global superpower. A president will be elected in November for 314 million citizens. A new president? Perhaps. It is conceivable that the first black president, Barack Obama, hailed as a savior when he came into office, will be replaced by the pale Mormon Mitt Romney, a Republican with somewhat dubious conservative credentials.

The office both men are vying for is the most difficult in the world. The US president's agenda is constantly jam packed with the weightiest and the most trivial of matters alike, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Sometimes major national projects and monumental global tasks are relegated to the periphery of that agenda, because domestic sports scandals or sexual improprieties capture the headlines, because lunatic pastors decide to burn Korans, or because new statistics are released showing that three-fourths of all Americans are overweight, more than 46 million live in poverty and gunshots kill more than 30,000 people a year, suicides included.

The fact that Kim Kardashian's marriage lasted only 72 days can have a longer-lasting impact on the news in America than any environmental policy initiative. High gasoline prices (in the US “high” means that a liter of gasoline costs the equivalent of €0.77, or less than half the price of gasoline in Germany) are so important to so many people that they could decide the election.

The fact that 52 percent of Republicans in Mississippi believe that Obama is a Muslim, or that 46 percent of Americans believe that man was created precisely as is written in the Bible can make political debates extraordinarily tedious.

Impossible? Not in America

Those who believe the above factoids have little to do with each other lack an understanding of the true situation inside the White House. Last year, for example, as Obama was sitting through what he called “the longest 40 minutes of my life,” during the Special Forces operation against Osama bin Laden, he was concurrently embroiled in a debate, instigated by his political enemies, over whether his birth certificate is genuine. Impossible? Not in America.

Obama and his staff are constantly making decisions about what happens to be important at any given moment, based on daily events, click rates and noise levels. They stand in the middle of tornado made up of thousands of tiny news items, Internet discoveries and artificial scandals that a tireless, highly professional media industry is constantly producing — in alliance with the world's busiest web community.

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