Presiident ObamaObama at the Crossroads


It was reported yesterday, November 26, 2010, that President Obama sustained an injury in a game of pick-up basketball that required 12 stitches. He was seen peering out of a White House window with an ice pack on his upper lip as the White House Christmas tree was being delivered. Adding insult to injury, an unnamed White House source claims that President Obama is suffering from severe depression.  While such a claim is at best unsubstantiated, President Obama has a variety of foreign and domestic issues on his plate, enough to give any president cause for concern. Somehow, he must have known what he was in for when he announced to the world in February, 2007 that he was running for President of the United States. What supporters and opponents alike what to know is: does he have the stomach to weather the storm, bringing both his presidency and the nation to the other side of the challenges before him?


President Obama’s next few weeks will be critical in determining his chances for re-election in 2012. Two major issues before him include (in roughly descending order of importance):


In Foreign Policy


The Korean Crisis: North Korea has launched mortar attacks against the South Korean island of Yeonpyeong twice in one week with a death toll of four South Koreans, two civilian and two military personnel. The United States has directed the aircraft carrier USS George Washington to the Korean peninsula with the intention of engaging in combined war games with the South Koreans. In the meantime, little has taken place on the diplomatic front. President Obama called Chinese President Hu Jintao to exert pressure on the North Koreans to cease their aggression against the South. All of this takes place with the knowledge that North Korea has unveiled a new and improved nuclear weapons development plant that has the ability to enrich weapons-grade uranium.


What are President Obama’s options? If he reacts by using American technology and firepower to disable the North Koreans, he could spark either a second Korean War or a third world war. Failure to act with sufficient forcefulness might indicate to the North Koreans that the president is weak and lacks the will to stand up to the poorest and most totalitarian nation in the world. President Obama’s decision will set the stage for the ascension of Kim Jong Eun, the young son and presumptive successor of the ailing Kim Jong Il. Like JFK needed to find a middle ground that exuded strength along with restraint during the Cuban Missile Crisis, so Obama must find a way to avert a wider crisis while clearly safeguarding both American and South Korean interests in East Asia and across the globe.


In Domestic Policy


The Bush-Era Tax Cuts:  President Obama campaigned on a platform of hope and change, appealing largely to the middle class, a segment of American society that had apparently suffered under the Bush years. Obama promised to cut taxes for the middle class while allowing the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans to expire. Allowing those taxes to be reinstated, according to Obama, would bring badly needed revenue into the treasury, thereby reducing the Federal deficit and bolstering the American economy as a result. Republican opponents claimed that raising taxes in the middle of a recession would only hamper the recovery by preventing small and large businesses alike from hiring American workers. Obama’s critics continued to point to the persistently high unemployment rate, still hovering around 9.6% in spite of some signs of growth in gross domestic product (GDP) since Obama took office. 


Enter the new Republican majority in the US House of Representatives. Pundits claimed their victory was a referendum on the Obama agenda, an about-face from federal spending in the form of the stimulus bill and health care reform from which Americans neither benefitted nor wanted to see pass. Democrats held on to their majority in the Senate, but just barely. Their numbers fell far short of the 60 senators needed to end Republican filibusters of future legislation. The question before the President and his advisors: whether to compromise with the Republican House and extend the Bush tax cuts as a signal of bipartisan cooperation, or stand firm on campaign promises regarding wage earners over $250,000 in the hope of keeping the left flank of the democratic base in line? It seems unlikely that the democrats will be able to get the Bush tax cuts repealed by the end of their lame duck session in mid-December of this year.


The course of action taken by the Obama White House as the 112th Congress convenes:

In January of 2011 will determine which segment of the electorate to alienate or to mollify. Compromise with House Republicans may require temporarily extending the Bush-era tax cuts for those who earn up to $1,000,000 for one year. The stimulative effect of such a move might delay progress on the deficit, but it may restore enough confidence in the US economy that capital-bloated US corporations may start their long-awaited hiring spree. If Obama can get the unemployment rate to nudge southward from its current plateau, he may just be insuring himself a second term. He can leave the problem of the deficit to his successors.


President Obama must project a veneer of strength in both of these areas if he is to survive politically. Many in his own party see him as weak and unwilling to stand up for the goals he outlined in the campaign. President Obama must show he has the ability to lead and not just campaign. If he can do that, his next campaign will be as successful as his first.