Peter Bills: Clouds gather over Obama as problems mount


At times last week, the sun shone brightly over 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. But the occupant of this rather large, sumptuous property had good reason to look out the back window, for thunderclouds were rolling around Washington all week.

Right now, President Barack Obama's political fortunes rather mirror the meteorological state of a Washington summer. The temperature is hotting up but the outlook seems decidedly stormy.

Just a few of the many alarming statistics, facts and figures about the economy and the United States at this time, ought to be sufficient to concern Obama.

There are 13.9 million Americans who are unemployed. That frightening figure equates to 9.1 per cent of the population. Inflation stands at 3.6 per cent. The so-called "misery rating" for Americans stands at its highest rate for 28 years.

The deficit is US$14.35 trillion ($17.32 trillion). Since 2007, the country's debt has increased at an average of US$3.93 billion a day.

But there is more. The IMF recently lowered its growth forecasts for the United States for the next two years from 2.7 per cent to 2.5 per cent this year and from 2.9 per cent to 2.7 per cent next year.

By contrast, the IMF raised its growth forecast for Germany from 2.5 per cent to 3.2 per cent.

Now you might think the old joke still applies that Americans will put up with anything provided it doesn't block traffic. But I'm not so sure these days.

On the streets and in the bars of the capital, there has been open discussion about the nation's sickness and Obama's fragile situation. The only thing worse than the above stats for an incumbent president is the worrying fact that he must seek re-election in just 16 months.

Already, on the street stalls and in the tourist venues of Washington, T-shirts are for sale: "NOBAMA IN 2012."

On the bookshelves of the capital, left and right seem to be fighting their own war. And the right is scoring some heavy political points amid the widespread dissatisfaction with Obama's presidency.

No He Can't: How Barack Obama is Dismantling Hope and Change is the title of just one of the books vying for attention from readers. The right is on the march, or at least it would be if it could offer a serious, credible candidate as an alternative. But more of this next week.

It isn't that the United States' first black President is loathed, not in the way George W. Bush was so widely loathed. Indeed, when Bush jnr won re-election in 2004, some Californians decided life in another land was preferable to four more years in Bush and Dick Cheney's America. Easy to understand, that.

But what has so damaged Obama is the image he portrays of being aloof, above all this and a fantasist, an idealist who doesn't really want to dirty his hands trying to sort out the mess.

What has also damaged him are headlines, like the one in USA Today last week which said in bold letters: "In just seven weeks, America could run out of borrowed money."

If the world's richest nation is unable to borrow US$4 billion a day to pay its bills, it would risk default, so the argument goes. This is the kind of talk that is crowding the European airwaves about Greece's plight and there are some senior United States officials speaking publicly in such terms.

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke says a financial default would lead to "severe disruptions" in financial markets, lower credit ratings and damage to the dollar and Treasury securities. There is talk that such a scenario could cost upwards of 650,000 jobs. Not an appealing prospect in a land where almost 14 million Americans are already unemployed.

Already, right across the United States, property prices are sliding as fast as a kid down a water chute.

Where the President stands indicted on all this is in his apparent lack of interest in tackling the issue of the deficit far earlier in his term of office. The man's obsession with healthcare reform took precedence over just about everything else. He may have gained some kudos with the killing of Osama bin Laden, but that already starts to look like a brief glimmer of sunshine through the increasingly darkening sky.

The President resembles more and more a man at bay: out of touch, marooned in his vast property and under increasing attack from all sides. Republican Senator Rand Paul accuses him of running an unconstitutional war in Libya, thereby violating the War Powers Act, because he did not consult Congress.

How many more problems does the guy need?

- NZ Herald

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