Monday, 16 March 2009

The dangers of repetition in Obama's America

Janet Daley in today's Telegraph has succumbed to the delusions prevalent among many Republicans in the United States. She believes that Obama has 'staggered to the left' which would be good news for them. Aside from the fact that Obama is too cautious even to consider the level of state ownership that has been brought in here in Britain, Daley and her soulmates in the Right wing magazines, on Fox News and in rightwing talk radio Stateside are making precisely the same mistakes that the Tories made in Britain in 1997. In other words, they are fighting the pre-election battles after the election has been won, believing their own propaganda along the way.

The fact is that Obama is both governing as he said he would and is doing so largely from the centre. On Iraq, he may withdraw combat troops but will leave 35,000 others there, for example. He has scrapped the more egregious of Bush's doctrines, and he is a stronger believer with Hillary Clinton at State in tough diplomacy. But he is no pacifist. And on health and education, his policies involve taking on vested interests where necessary, for example to improve educational accountability or to provide affordable universal health cover.

With approval ratings above 60%, the Republican attacks have little traction beyond the usual suspects. But this is not to say that Obama is not in danger of repeating an error of the early Blair years himself. Before the 1997 election, Labour made relatively modest pledges on things like class sizes. But by creating a raft of aspirational if over-ambitious targets in the following years - largely at the insistence of the Treasury apart from the initial literacy targets - the Government allowed relatively good progress in the public services to be portrayed as 'failure' because those targets had been missed. The level of Obama's ambition is such that he could suffer a similar fate. For example, nobody believes there will be univeral health cover in the US by the time of the next election because of the complexity of change: Obama should set milestones that can be met along the way to demonstrate progress towards the greater goal.

Nevertheless, it is the Republicans who are suffering most in their delusions at the moment. Like the Tories in 1997, they simply haven't come to terms with the simple fact that they lost the election.

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