Opposition, accountability and who controls the media agenda

January 5, 2011 § 1 Comment

Cameron and Clegg could learn from where Obama's gone wrong.

As I’ve mentioned previously here on ‘A Liberal Helping,’ I have a great interest in American politics.

It often has great lessons for other political leaders across the world, not least here in the UK.

Sometimes that is about us following the American agenda when it sets a good example, but-as in the case I’m going to set out here-sometimes our politicians need to do exactly the opposite to what some of their Stateside counterparts are getting up to.

I believe, at the moment, that David Cameron and Nick Clegg could learn a very important lesson from contemporary American politics.

President Obama has achieved some truly historic landmarks  in his first two years in the White House from healthcare reform (he didn’t go as far as many liberals and progressives would have liked on this, but has still given greater healthcare protection to more than 30 million more Americans than previously had it), repealing the discriminatory law called ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ the rule which banned gay and lesbian people from openly serving in the US military, withdrawing US troops from Iraq, to name but a few.

His whole agenda far surpasses what many of his predecessors managed to achieve in their first two years in office.

Unyet, unyet…for some reason he fails to gain the recognition for this, even from some of his own core supporters.

There is a growing belief that Obama will lose in 2012 and will be just a one-term President.

Now I hope and believe that such speculation is wrong and, frankly, ridiculously early but, the question remains, why is Obama not winning the PR war, even as he wins the legislative one (he managed to run rings around the Republicans in the so-called ‘lame duck’ session in Congress-the period whereby Democrats retained a majority in the House of Representatives even having lost in the recent majority, because the new Congress didn’t come into force until Jan 1st this year)?

Part of it, of course, has to do with the fact that the right-wing dominates the US media, with such ‘journalistic’ enterprises as Fox News (‘fair and balanced’? Yeah, right) and countless right-wing radio stations…with such presenters as the vile Rush Limbaugh and the equally horrific Glenn Beck.

But that’s not the whole reason.

I believe it’s because, though not intentionally, Obama and his team let the agenda slip from their control; they dropped the PR ball…even whilst achieving great things…and let it be picked up by the likes of the dreadful Tea Party movement (Taxed Enough Already) who’ve since ran with it and, it has to be said, at least until very recently, managed to keep hold of it.

Things are set to change, however.

Now, the Republicans have a share of power…they control the lower House of the US Senate…and, therefore, can’t just be about opposition for opposition’s sake, as they have been over the past two years.

Now, they must be held accountable for their actions.

If they don’t help Obama get the measures through that are needed to help create jobs and revitalise the US economy then they’ll have to account for that.

So, suddenly, if he and his team play their cards at the right time, Obama may be able to fully wrestle back the agenda and may yet prevail in 2012.

So, what lessons are there for our political leaders here in the UK?

Well, with all the gloomy news surrounding the economy and the harshest effects of the cuts, needed to drive down the deficit, likely to be felt this year, it is fairly likely that-even without any policies of their own to speak of-Labour will begin to take back the agenda and will try to pigeonhole the Coalition and, especially, to make scapegoats of the Liberal Democrats.

Opposition, in that sense at least, is rather easier than Government.

But, just as with the Republicans in the US, Labour must be held accountable for how they-if in office-would be trying to get us out the economic mess we’re in…and must be called-out when making hypocritical statements opposing Coalition measures, when they would have had to make similar moves.

Even despite his achievements, Obama has disappointed some of his core support, partly because he hasn’t reached out to them enough, spent enough time explaining his decisions and why he’s had to be a bit more conservative (small ‘C’) in some aspects than he would have otherwise liked.

Nick Clegg, especially, must learn from this and, in 2011, be ready to spend a good deal more time than over the last six months, explaining to us-his party- why the Government is taking the decisions they are.

If Cameron and Clegg learn the lessons of Obama’s failures and make sure they don’t emulate them, whilst pledging to learn the lessons of his undoubted legislative achievements, then maybe they and he will both be celebrating re-election in a few years time.

Time will tell.

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§ One Response to Opposition, accountability and who controls the media agenda

  • Liberal Eye says:

    I must disagree. It may well be true that Obama’s PR has been less than stellar, but that’s not the main reason he so disappoints and will, I very much hope, turn out to be only a one term president.

    His big problem is that although he campaigned on a message of change and hope, once in office he has actually provided continuity to the point where he is increasingly seen as Bush III. Continuation of hopeless foreign wars is perhaps the most obvious expression of this but the most important by far is the economy.

    The economy got into a mess because of years of junk economics invented to dignify and justify a power and money grab by a small elite – a strategy that’s worked amazingly well and which was enabled by the apparent reluctance of most of those on the progressive side of politics to trouble themselves about economics.

    Seen in this light Obama in office has merely offered alternative management of a government that demonstrably does not govern for the benefit of all but rather for the benefit of the top 1% or so and any explainations he may provide will only dig the hole he’s in deeper. In particular he reappointed GWB’s economic team and has worked hard to save the TBTF banks despite massive amounts of evidence that they are up to their necks in fraud up to using fraudulent affidavits (legally equivalent to sworn testimony) in court actions.

    In other words the hole is so deep that the rule of law really no longer applies to the big banks. Yet Obama keeps on digging and keeps on pandering to them. It is true that part of the difficulty is that the US political system is pretty well broken with lobbyists having more influence in Washington than the electors but he’s done nothing to fix this although any sensible initiative would command massive support so he cannot evade responsibility this way.

    There is a clear lesson for us here in Britain and particularly for us Lib Dems. We too are in an economic mess created largely by the neoliberal economics (sounds good, is actually toxic) introduced by Thatcher. It’s hardly surprising that the Conservatives would want to carry on with their earlier plan or that Labour, who under Blair and Brown stupidly accepted the Thatcherite analysis, are clueless. But Clegg’s decision also to accept the failed analysis put him like Obama in the role of offering only alternative management of a failed economic paradigm.

    Better explainations are not where it’s at; bettter economics is and the sooner Lib Dems reallise that the sooner we can start to recover.

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