Monday, November 10, 2008

Joschka Fischer on Obama's prospects for enacting his vision

Joschka Fischer is not only the former German Foreign Minister. As a long-time Green Party leader, he has some very practical experience in reform politics. He is quite optimistic about Obama's seeming determination to make constructive changes (Über Traum und Realität in der Politik Die Zeit 10.11.2008) [All translations are mine]:

Barack Obama and his team were tested in the most difficult ways in the endless battles with Hillary Clinton and then in the campaign against John McCain. He has successfully survived against fear-mongering campaign machines. And in doing so, he was shown all the virtues that he needs to become a great President.
Fischer appreciates the historical significance of Obama's election without pigeonholing him as "the black President(-elect)":

In America what was once held to be impossible has become reality. The television images of Brack Obama's triumphal election victory are almost reminiscent of that nigh in Berlin, on November 9, 1989, when the [Berlin] Wall fell. One believes in dreaming again, because something has come true than one had so much hoped for and yet at the same time didn't believe possible.

The expectations and hopes that now rest on the future President Obama are huge; they are probably rivalled only by by the unsolved problems, crises and conflicts that his predessor in office George W. Bush leaves behind for him. Can one man really justify these enormous expectations?
And as one would expect following a lead-in like this, Fischer lists a number of cautions.

A reform agenda can be sidetracked quickly by unexpected events. There are a number of major issues to be dealt with but they nevertheless have to be prioritized in time. There will inevitably be disappointments and mistakes. Luck and determination will play important roles.

Fischer's confidence in Obama's prospects as President is based on what he has observed of the President-elect on the public stage. And speaking from his own long experience as a leader of the German Green Party, he writes:

His personal credibility is the greatest resource at his disposal and he must guard it as the apple of his eye. He can survive every detour, every compromise, even every mistake, as long as he maintains his credibility. And just behind credibility stands the practical ability to put things through, that is, to deliver what he promised.
Put another way, Obama's credibility will enable him to get things done. And getting things done is necessary to preserve his credibility. Accomplishments, not winning the short-term praise of the media priests of High Broderism for his "bipartisanship".

That is also why the Republicans in Congress and in the broader Republican noise machine will try their hardest to damage Obama's credibility at every opportunity. Watch for their favorite tropes, like "Liberals are liars! Liberals are liars!"

In his previous column, Die Krise als ökologische Chance Die Zeit 04.11.2008, Fischer makes a proposal that is completely outside the conventional Big Pundit wisdom that Obama has to govern like a Republican, because the financial crisis supposedly makes it impossible for him to do anything except bail out the financial institutions that brought on the crisis and work on balancing the budget.

Fischer directs his argument in the first intance to Germany's Grand Coalition government lead by Chancellor Angela Merkel. But it applies as well to the Obama administration. Fischer argues that we should see the financial crisis with the worldwide recession it has induced in connection with the crisis posed by global climate change:

We're really dealing in both crises with a double failure of the market on a global scale. Then why not now connect the solution to both these crises and establish a new, "green" cycle of investment in infrastructure, in the energy system and in transit, together with an historic effort in research and education?
Sure sounds like a good idea to me.

Nobel laureate Paul Krugman seems to share something of Fischer's evaluation that now is a time for big undertakings, as he explains in Franklin Delano Obama? New York Times 11/10/08. Krugman reminds us that while there are risks in bold action, there are also risks in being too timid. He argues that "Obama’s chances of leading a new New Deal depend largely on whether his short-run economic plans are sufficiently bold. Progressives can only hope that he has the necessary audacity."

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