I have been interested in American Government & Politics for 22 years . Half of my A-Level grade was dependent on a good grounding in the basics of their electoral and party political systems.
Recent times have made the whole thing a spectacle that brings extreme response wherever you stand on the political spectrum, but before this particular Circus, was the election that brought Diversity into the Oval Office for the very first time.
This BBC documentary series take the British behind closed doors to examine the Obama Presidency in depth by addressing three areas of his presidency that have been controversial or particularly divisive. I purposefully waited until all had aired so that I might bring my take on the episodes in relatively quick succession.
Before we begin, let me nail my colours to the mast.I make no bones about it. I am an Obama fan and on the US political scale I would be staunchly Democrat. I think however the fact that this show has contributors from both sides of the house makes a fair representation of History.
The first 100 days.
The euphoria of election night was to be short lived. Before Obama became the president elect, before he even received the winning vote, he knew that the level of unemployment was going be forecast with massive increases. His cross to bear, his farewell gift from the outgoing Republican administration was an economy in crisis. What he had not realised was how fast the situation was about to become cataclysmic.
When he received the unemployment figures 533,000 jobs had been lost with the following two months looking to add to those figures, bringing the figure to around 750,000 left jobless before Obama had even taken Office officially.
The situation was made infinitely worse when it became clear. That 1/3 of all mortgages were in arrears and if everyone defaulted it would bring down the banks. The grim reality was there was a one in three chance of a economic collapse equal in destructiveness to The Great Depression.
He knew that this one issue could topple the Jenga tower of hopes and promises that had galvanised support behind his campaign. All other policy plans would need to be placed behind this in priority, but he still had Hope.
“Hope” had been a buzzword in his rhetoric for the election ,as had the notion of breaking down social boundaries so that colour,political bias, sexual orientation and geographical heritage would be secondary to the central idea that as Americans, they were in it all together, that they lived in a nation that might finally be truly United against the issues affecting every citizen.
In this spirit, He went to congress to seek a fiscal stimulus bill of $800 billion. It would need Bipartisan support to pass and Obama had a mountain to climb. The sheer scale of this injection of money would be hard to control as many Democrats had waited their entire political careers to finally instigate Good economic and Social Policies that had been impossible in the Bush Years and the resulting fall out for Clinton in the “interregnum” period. George W Bush had been against this kind of funding and starving all bills brought before the house in this area.
Some Democrats were hoping for bigger amounts to fund bids to increase child benefits. One campaigner was seeking a reduction in earnings to qualify, to £8000. In the end, Speaker Pelosi was able to broker this down to £3000 .
The Democrats were optimistic, they had a house majority in congress
When the Republicans finally got to read the bill it was almost up to a demand for a trillion dollars. They were agog.
John Boehner stated that they seemed to have the flawed notion to “borrow and spend back to prosperity”
Republicans suddenly found themselves irrelevant, so when on 20/01/009 when Barack Obama was inaugurated mood in the Party was subdued.
Frank Lutz a Republican Pollster described it thus, “the world was full of democrats , the weather stinks, their situation stinks and the future looked bleak”
On the 26th of January, the President announced that in the space of days.Microsoft, Intel, Home Depot, Caterpillar, United Airlines and Sprint Nextel announced they were cutting thousands of jobs.
Obama was counting on a. Bipartisan vote, so made a good portion of it in tax cuts. A action that generally Republicans support. He even went House Republican caucus to explain the bill, his priorities and putting in 300 bill dollars in tax cuts,but as he was journeying to that meeting, Republican Whips were instructing every caucus member to vote no on the bill.
“They (Democrats)would have loved our support, but at the end of the day, we did not think it was up to the task and on the off chance it did work and we were wrong about that, The President was of course to get the Credit and we would have just been sort of Bystanders and perhaps a backdrop to this Bipartisan Roadshow” Rohit Kumar, Head of Policy , Senate Republicans.
In other words they were afraid the president might look effective!
Not a single Republican voted yes , despite historical Democratic assistance with Bush’s Crisis Bill in the administration before. The Democrats had fought him on many issues, but attempted to be conciliatory for the sake of the economy.
Within the bill were efforts to increase green energy sources, improved roads and school building. Obama had fifty eight Democrats in the chamber and needed sixty votes to pass it ,so two Republican votes were needed as no one wanted to be the Decider so two Rep votes needed for the sake of face. Harry Reid was tasked to find and persuade them.
A group of potential eighteen swingers were gathered , in political parlance this is called a Gang. After extensive discussions they petitioned the White House to reduce cost of the bill by $100 billion. A hundred billion could have cut 0.5% off unemployment rate.
To ensure victory Obama accepted the cuts.
Harry Reid wondered whether he could do it, Susan Collins the Republican Senator in Maine objected to a school building programme saying it would look like too much of a change in the, federal role in education and Republicans would not swallow it, so they juggled the funding into community health clinics, Obama phoned into the meeting to sign off on the changes as they were agreed. In the end Sixty One voted yay and Thirty Six Nay.
This was Largest stimulus is US history and had come about in just six weeks.
Home values were down by 50 to 100%. The "face"of the issues was Henrieta Hughes, a lovely lady who spoke to Obama at a Town meeting. She begged him tearfully for help with housing.
100 million people were living in homes where the mortgages was higher than the value of their houses. To solve this Bankswould have to absorb 750 billion losses or Government would pay off the debt themselves which would have led to HUGE protest.
The banks had stopped lending.
Tim Geithner was to give a very important speech about how to free up Credit lines again. The problem was there was no fully formulated plan, so he had to speak in Generalities. He was mauled in the media on satirical shows like Saturday night live.
The News Channels had not helped the situation by (rather naughtily) running the Stock Market Tickers on large graphics which almost obliterated the feed from the speech The Red downward arrows showed Market values reducing before viewers very eyes and would make a mockery of the whole proceedings.
Obama was displeased to say the least, but the White House forged on.
Named “The stress test” a plan was was instigated, an inspection programme was devised to force Banks to open their books to see if they could survive another crisis. The plan was to ensure sufficient capital was readied should a Depression hit, be that from private means or federal capital.
Radical ideas were touted as the only option to solve this. The Republicans such asSanator Lindsay Graham were strongly advocating nationalising the banks themselves.
The argument against was relatively straightforward. If the President went on National Television and declared Citi Bank (For Example) insolvent, the shareholders in all the other Banks would be left with stark choices, Hold and ride it out, Buy all the stock they can in a humongous gamble or sell everything in a pre-emptive strike, creating a massive “Run” on some or all of the major banking establishments on Wall Street.
The team had to decide how much of a likelihood this was to be, the answer eventually came down to “too likely to risk it”
The gamble paid off, The Stress Test worked and the banks began lending again!
Obama was finding it lonely at the top
The blog continues Tommorrow with the second half of the round up of the struggles and strife of those first One hundred days!