Thursday, 11 February 2016

Carter, Obama and Sanders

Jimmy Carter was unlucky in office as president of the United States. Partly because of the economic climate, partly because he was unable to overcome the checks (without the balances) of a largely hostile Congress, he was never able to put through all his ambitious programme of reform. His most humane action, of giving the exiled Shah of Iran refuge so that he could receive top-class medical treatment for his cancer, rebounded as Islamic Revolutionaries regarded it as a hostile act, leading to hostilities which have only recently died down. The juggernaut of the Reagan charm offensive prevented Carter from benefiting in a second term from improved economic conditions, to which his administration had contributed. But what he has achieved internationally since leaving office has been remarkable. There was just one example only last week when the ex-president recounted to their Lordships what his foundation, the Carter Center, had done for eradication of a nasty third-world disease.

President Obama has at least another eleven months to serve, yet even some of his erstwhile supporters have already judged his eight years (a term more than Carter managed) as a failure. I believe this is harsh and history will be more kind to him. He did at least get the beginnings of a federal health service on the statute book, which is more than the Clintons managed. There is also something more intangible: he immensely enhanced the United States image abroad as a nation where the colour of ones skin is not a bar to the highest office. But I believe the best is yet to come. Even the energetic Carter will have to concede to his age some day. Given a few years off during which his daughters will be at a critical age, Obama will surely take up the mantle of US goodwill ambassador.

Both Carter and Obama have been termed liberals by their fellow-countrymen, yet in so many ways in British terms they are conservative. If transported over here, they would sit quite happily in a Blairite Labour party or on the liberal wing of the Conservatives. Bernie Sanders, currently leading the hot favourite Hillary Clinton in nominations as Democrat party candidate, is more like a traditional British liberal than what he describes himself as, a socialist. He wants to break up the big banks (something we hoped we might do in coalition); a socialist would surely nationalise them. (There is more here.) It is not surprising that he has attracted some admiration from fellow Liberal Democrats on Facebook. He has also inspired the young even more than Obama's first campaign did; one has to go back to Eugene McCarthy for a similar phenomenon . His campaign budget may seem enormous to activists here (unless one is fighting a by-election for the Conservatives) but it is lower than the top three Republican spenders and a fraction of that available to Hillary Clinton. It also benefits more from working people than from corporations.

 Sadly, that "socialist" appellation is going to be a millstone if he ever gets to be a candidate. Hillary Clinton will surely be that candidate, but one trusts that she will take note of the sentiments which have inspired the Sanders campaign and map out her programme accordingly.

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