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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2738

For Most Americans, Obama no Savior

Sunday Column by Dr. Richard L. Benkin

Dr. Richard L. BenkinDr. Richard L. BenkinThe arrest of Rod Blagojevich, the Governor of US President-elect Barack Obama’s (and my own) home state of Illinois has been big news for weeks. In the early morning of December 9, 2008, FBI agents arrested Blagojevich at his Chicago home and charged him with what prosecutors described as a "crime spree" of corruption; a corruption so deep and pervasive as to boggle the minds of even veteran cynics. The final straw that forced prosecutors to move against Blagojevich was his attempt to sell Obama’s now vacant US Senate seat for his personal enrichment.

More on that below:

No American would suggest that we do not suffer from public corruption—especially those of us who live in Chicago and its county Cook (the next level of government between the city and the state). We are notorious for it. It was rumored that one former Chicago mayor, Big Bill Thompson, took his orders from the famous gangster Al Capone who provided him with a lot more money that the city did. The current President of the Cook County Board, Todd Stroger, was given the office by his father, John, and ran for re-election on a promise not to raise taxes. Almost immediately after the election, Stroger gave a number of his friends and allies jobs on the public payroll paying over $100,000 a year. He then complained that the County did not have enough money and—you guessed it—raised our taxes to the highest in the nation.

Blagojevich’s taped conversations and alleged corruption, however, have shocked this nation that is perpetually ranked among the twenty least corrupt nations out of the almost two hundred in Transparency International’s "Corruption Perceptions Index." In 2008, the US was tied for eighteenth. Barack Obama’s election as the 44th President of the United States required him to resign his seat in the United States Senate.

The procedure for replacing him is a straightforward one. The governor of the state, in this case Illinois, appoints the replacement; and the process is the same whether the vacancy is due to the senator’s election to higher office (as in Obama’s case), death, resignation, or any other reason. The appointment is supposed to be made on the basis of what will be best for the state and the nation, but prosecutors allege that Blagojevich was going to base the appointment on what was best for him personally.

As the scandal has unfolded, more and more questions have arisen with regard to Obama’s own actions and those of his surrogates. It is significant that the international press—which began fawning uncritically over Obama almost since he announced his candidacy for president—has assiduously ignored the story, which contradicts the myth that most Americans see Obama as a sort of savior, especially after the Bush years. In fact, most Americans are sick of the false picture it is painting about the American President-elect.

Recently, one of the US’s most authoritative polling organization asked Americans what they thought. According to Rasmussen, 45 percent of US voters—close to half—say "it is likely President-elect Obama or one of his top campaign aides was involved in the unfolding Blagojevich scandal in Illinois." Twenty-three percent of all respondents believe that is "very likely." That is, unlike the image propagated by the international press and others, Barack Obama has not taken the United States by storm, and he likely will not effect the major changes that have many of the US’s traditional foes and detractors drooling in anticipation.

In a nation of more than a quarter billion people, Obama received only nine million more votes that John McCain. Moreover, a large portion of Obama voters were casting a vote against President George W. Bush and his party more than they were voting for Obama.

And it took an unprecedented economic collapse to get him that far. Things began to unravel publicly for the US economy around September 15. Up until that time, the two candidates had been neck and neck. Rasmussen and others even had McCain up by a small margin at that time. But it is accepted that a bad economy will trump all other issues and that the party in power at the time will shoulder the blame. Thus, it was only as the economic bad news hit the American public that the polls began shifting in Obama’s favor.

As Rasmussen described things:

"Then on September 15, the 158-year-old investment banking firm of Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy protection, marking the largest bankruptcy in U.S. history. The bursting housing bubble had hit Wall Street. Other firms fell like dominoes, and the resulting 'financial meltdown' dominated the front pages….There was plenty of blame to go around, but for voters it was the final nail in the coffin of the Bush years and Republican governance."

None of this is to suggest that Barack Obama is going to be a “bad” president or that he is somehow any less legitimate than any other US president. As I told my colleagues in Asia who feared an Obama victory would mean appeasement of Islamist terrorists, "One of those two men [Obama or McCain] is going to be elected and whoever wins will be my president; and he will have my support and best wishes along with those of every other American." But these facts should make it clear to those who from afar believe that Obama has somehow captivated Americans as a new kind of politician that their perception is way off the mark. Americans’ opinions about Obama’s possible involvement in the Blagojevich scandal alone demonstrate that.

Whether Barack Obama’s presidency is a success or failure remains to be seen; but two things are clear. First, he will enter office with huge challenges both domestically and internationally. With respect to the former, it does not appear that he will be able to pull the economy out of its doldrums until it does so itself some time in 2010. The recent Mumbai bombings, along with increased tensions between India and Pakistan, have increased the pressure to take concerted action against the Islamist terrorist groups internationally. Plans for a “regional solution” in South Asia will sputter and fail as previous attempts at such solutions have.

Second, Obama’s attempts to resolve these challenges will be long and hard and require a great deal of compromise and negotiation; and every nation and international movement that has any understanding of how to get their points across in Washington will be working overtime to do so.

- Asian Tribune -

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