Friday, December 4, 2009

Season for Hope

Amid hopeful signs that the U.S. economy is slowly improving, President Barack Obama called today’s report of a decline in unemployment “good news for the season of hope.” But House Minority Leader John Boehner charged that the president’s policies “had nothing to do with putting Americans back to work.” Bah! Humbug!

With the all-important Congressional midterm elections just eleven months away both political parties are jockeying to win the perception battle among potential voters. So this is the season of hope at the White House, for sure, as the president pushes his agenda on several important fronts.

Take the all important counter insurgency buildup in Afghanistan, known as “COIN” among the 68,000 American troops based in that country. After an in-depth review with his national security team and other important stakeholders, President Obama announced he will add about 30,000 troops to the cause, and he said he will begin a drawdown in eighteen months. Given Afghanistan’s history, rugged terrain and largely illiterate population there are plenty of reasons to be pessimistic. But the Obama administration has received support from many allies, and today NATO, which has 48,000 troops there, announced it would send in 7,000 more.

General Stanley McChrystal has devised a comprehensive and complicated strategy to defeat the Taliban and terrorists that includes efforts to help train local police and military, and teach the population to take control for themselves. The drawdown date is when the first troops will be withdrawn not when all American troops will come home. But this timetable puts real pressure on President Hamid Karzai’s government to strengthen his country’s military and reform his government. Afghanistan is not likely to be a deciding factor in the Midterms unless there is a sharp increase in deaths among American soldiers.

Meanwhile Congress is slowly moving toward passing health care reform legislation. It seems there will be some form of public option, maybe an “opt-in” or “trigger” mechanism. Health care lobbyists have spent millions of dollars trying to derail reform and their efforts have watered down the impact of the bill. But early next year President Obama will likely sign a health care reform bill, something no other American president has ever been able to achieve.

Earlier this week the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released its third quarter 2009 estimates showing that “an additional 600,000 to 1.6 million people were employed in the United States, and real gross domestic product was 1.2 percent to 3.2 percent higher, than would have been the case in the absence of the (government stimulus package).” Today it was announced that the nation’s unemployment rate dipped two-tenths of a percent to 10%. Meanwhile, Bank of America has said it will return to the government $45 billion in TARP money, giving reason for further optimism in the nation’s banking sector. Of course, much needed banking reform is still needed and Wall Street is not Main Street.

President Obama will focus on cutting the deficit in his January 2010 State of the Union address. No Congressmen favors cuts in the funding going to his district, so political battles are certain to ensue. Republicans have already attacked the president and Congressional Democrats for the growing deficit. Take Leader Boehner’s recent barrage, "Washington Democrats' so-called 'war on deficits' is about a year late and more than a trillion dollars short.” But where was Leader Boehner during the Bush Presidency when deficits exploded?

The dominant party always loses some Congressional seats in the Midterm elections. But this year the Republicans lack strong leadership, a clear vision for America and a unified strategy. They also may be losing the all important perception battle. With an improving economy, a plan to deal with deficits, health care reform and a reasonable strategy for victory in Afghanistan, this may indeed be the season of hope for President Obama.

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