Hard times for government leaders

Barack Obama. | Photo by BU Interactive News, Flickr

Barack Obama. | Photo by BU Interactive News, Flickr

The soap opera currently unfolding daily in the Canadian Parliament overshadows another leader’s woes. I am referring here to Barack Obama. You may think that Stephen Harper is having a tough time. Well, Obama’s life isn’t any rosier.

Not unlike Harper, who thought that news about the tentative European free-trade agreement would be enough to blot out his troubles with the Senate, south of the border, Obama thought he had overcome his adversaries following the budget crisis.

If you think that our Parliament is dysfunctional, the grass isn’t necessarily greener elsewhere. This is not to condone our senators’ blunders or those of their acolytes in the House of Commons or in government, but to suggest that keeping matters in perspective is required.

Back to the American president. At the close of the debt ceiling crisis, public opinion favoured him over the Republicans, who seemed to be held hostage by Tea Party members within their own ranks. However, as usual, he wasn’t able to capitalize on the situation for very long. His healthcare legislation and flagship project, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act – Obamacare, as it is often known – tripped him up the minute it came into being. As we saw in the last budget standoff, Obamacare has immense symbolic significance for many Republicans and their supporters. To them, it represents a clear example of Big Brother – the government wanting to insert itself ever more tightly into people’s private lives.

The Oct. 1, 2013 rollout of heathcare.gov, a central element of Obamacare and a key portal for Americans to enroll in the health care program, should have been a big day for the President. After a lengthy and bitter battle against his opponents, he finally had his way. At last, Obamacare had become a reality.

However, technical glitches have plagued the site since its launch and have undermined what should have been a moment of triumph.

Technology trumped political rhetoric, so much so that the President himself had to take matters into his own hands and make a public appearance to voice his immense frustration. We can relate: struggles with technology are a part of modern life. But when the man considered to be the most powerful on the planet has to take time off from his busy agenda to fix an internet site, it’s a little pathetic. His opponents immediately took advantage of the situation and delighted at the fiasco.

Obama must press ahead if he is to define his term as President. To date, he doesn’t have much in the way of a legacy. This is, perhaps, because he was brought into power riding an unprecedented wave of hope. However, it is he who promised hope of better days ahead and as yet, the promise remains unfulfilled.

Of course, his mandate runs to early 2017. Forget 2014 – it is a midterm year and the White House will be prudent. So, 2015, then. But Obama’s ability to rally his own troops in Congress will be contingent on the results of the 2014 elections and by 2016 his party will be looking at choosing a new leader, in preparation for the Presidential elections.

So, unlike Stephen Harper – who has two years ahead of him to regain control of his agenda – Obama cannot afford this luxury, since the American electoral system tends to paralyse government and curb major initiatives. Harper may count himself lucky by comparison.

Translation Monique Kroeger