30 Apr 2013

Second-term Obama – lame duck or lifeless cicada?

Some time in May when the local temperatures reach 26 C, Washington DC, Virginia and Maryland will be transformed into a film set for a horror movie starring cicadas.

They are called Brood 2. They crawl out of the ground in their billions. They look hideous, especially when they first appear from the nocturnal depths of the soil in albino white with angry red eyes. They are the stuff of nightmares and their collective clamor fills the clammy air like a thousand lawnmowers.

The astonishing thing is that they prepare for their moment in the sun for precisely 17 years. That period underground buys them two weeks of unbridled frolicking in the open air.  The frenzied mating period is followed by a sudden death, their carcasses litter everything and everyone, the ground beneath our feet becomes a crunchy carpet and a new generation of cicada babies will spend 17 years doing what their parents did.

You may disagree but I think there is an obvious comparison to be made with President Obama.

He spent two years and well over a billion dollars achieving re-election. And on the 100th day of his second term administration, what does he get? A question from a reporter in the West Wing briefing room asking: “Mr President, have you run out of juice?”

‘Lame duck’?

Barack Obama’s re-election is still a relatively recent memory and already he has been described as a lame duck. No wonder he was in a defensive mood today. At one stage he shot back rather archly by quoting Mark Twain: “Reports of my demise have been vastly exaggerated.”

But have they? The president has failed to achieve anything on the signature issue of gun control, which he launched in tears and after the Sandy Hook massacre. He handed the task of negotiating a deal to his Vice-President Joe Biden.

Inertia reigns

Perhaps the president himself should have got his fingers dirty on that one. But unlike Bush Junior or Bill Clinton, Obama likes to stay aloof from the contact sport of politics.

He has still failed to pass a budget. And according to his critics he has shown caution bordering on inertia over Syria.

In today’s press conference he was defensive on that issue too, citing all the things the administration has done to work for the people of Syria. I suspect the people of Syria don’t have a clue what he’s talking about.

Mr Obama is right to lay most of the blame for his second term inertia at the feet of the Republican majority in the House of Representatives. They are back in blockade mode, especially house Republicans who held on to their majority. They are determined once again not to give this president an inch. It’s a case of paralysis full steam ahead.

But once again even Obama’s supporters are left wondering whether the schmoozer in chief has used all the tools of charm, bribery and strong arming at a president’s disposal.

Immigration reform

The real test will be immigration reform. This is a vital piece of legislation, which could change the lives of millions of illegal mainly Mexican migrants living and working in the shadow of the US law, forever fearing deportation.

Their plight is felt by the entire community of an estimated 50 million Latinos in this country. Obama would not have got re-elected without their help and now they want some concrete reforms in return.

Many senior Republicans know that their party has run out of white men to secure election victories. Demography is not on their side. So they have been going out of their way during the election to show that they too are pro-immigration reform.

Let’s put it this way, a lot of white senators from marginal states where Latinos hold the swing vote have been learning basic Spanish.

The case for immigration reform is low hanging fruit. If Obama fails to muster the requisite forces for this one too then he is indeed quacking like a lame duck and those who opposed him are intent of committing political suicide.

Beware cicadas. They could become his swarm of locusts.

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