Monday, April 25, 2016

Right-wing hatred of Obama is deep and irrational

Rupert Murdoch's Wall Street Journal pulls no punches in the opening lines of its opinion column attacking President Obama.

"Britons now know how Americans feel. The most politically polarizing U.S. President in modern history decided on Friday to inject himself into the British debate over the June referendum to leave the European Union, as ever leading with a dubious political threat."

Wow. Really?  The most politically polarising president of modern times?  Leaving Nixon in the shade?  Clinton?  Johnson?  That's some claim.  But it is very much the right-wing mantra.  Take a UK observer, Tim Montgomerie.  Normally a man of moderation and common sense, Montgomerie lets go of his moorings when he writes about Obama.  He started his Spectator attack piece by comparing Obama negatively against Donald Trump, suggesting Trump was a bit of a shrinking violet when stood against Obama's over-weening self-confidence.  "King Barack" Montgomerie called him, presumably to distinguish him from non-imperial presidents like Nixon, Johnson, Reagan et al.

The trans-Atlantic right's hatred of Obama merits serious academic study at some point (and Alex Massie pens a vigorous current assessment here), but for the moment it is worth just noting that his main sin is to be an articulate spokesman for liberalism, and that the facts on the ground point as much, if not more, to a laager-retreating Republican Party than a dementedly dividing president when it comes to polarising American politics.  Obama, after all, continues to enjoy buoyant and improving ratings as this election year goes on.  Every time a right-wing spokesman demonizes the president they manage to do it in such a way as to invite serious questions about their mental stability.  Which explains a lot about the current rosta of Republican leaders and presidential contenders.


Sunday, April 24, 2016

That Special Relationship - or not

I have blogged before on the one-sided nature of America and Britain's alleged "special relationship".  With President Obama's visit this week, it has once more come under the spotlight, with the president and David Cameron using the phrase many times during their press conference.  Others - notably Brexiters - have been decidedly sniffy about the relationship, while for the president himself it has been clear that he enjoys visiting members of the royal family if nothing else.

As to where it really stands in a modern world of powerful regional unions and multi-country trading alliances, it probably isn't a surprise to learn that strong though the emotional resonance may be, the reality is not terribly significant.  Michael Crowley on Politico analyses where the special relationship stands today, and suggests that other European countries (quelle surprise) such as France and Germany enjoy a more influential role than the one-time ruler of the thirteen colonies.  But Obama does love the Queen.

Big Bad Bozza - just the tip of the Leave iceberg


It's difficult for the Leave campaign.  Faced with using high profile spokesmen to get their message across they often end up having to choose between Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage.   The campaign hasn't really been kind to either man, although this might of course be the consequence of their well-embedded political personas which have now been unfairly exposed to harsh public glare.  Boris' once-cheery schtick of being a bumbling but well-meaning chap is increasingly seen as the incompetent antics of a jobbing journalist looking for headlines but uninterested in the grunt work of analysing detail.  Farage, meanwhile, is fulminating at what seems to be his increasing irrelevance in the very campaign he fought so hard to have, and spent much of his time today and yesterday excitedly pointing out that President Obama used the word "queue" and not "line" - clear evidence that his statement was written up by the Englishmen in Downing Street.

It's good to see the Leave campaign focus on the important issues.  The word "queue" for Farage, and the right of the US President to have a bust of an American civil rights icon rather than a British PM in his office for Johnson.

The Leave campaign's intellectual heft is meanwhile provided by Michael Gove, an undeniably intelligent (and apparently, in person, thoroughly nice) man but whose public persona suffered badly from his rather bombastic performance as Education Secretary.  Meanwhile, the chief bureacrat of the Leave movement is Dominic Cummings, arguably Gove's most wacky adviser at Education and now a man so steeped in his own importance that he begun his Commons select committee appearance with the announcement that he really couldn't give them much time as he had to be elsewhere.  By the end he had come off distinctly worse from committee chairman Andrew Tyrie's methodical and relentless grilling.

It seems like only a few weeks ago that Boris Johnson was being heralded as the likely next Tory leader, as George Osborne imploded and the British right-wing press went to war for Brexit.  Alas, poor Boris.  Even his champions are publishing articles suggesting his PM ambitions are simply the end-point of an extended political car crash.  Let's just hope the EU referendum doesn't go the same way, even as Leave do their level best to hand victory to the Remainers.


The importance of regionalism - A2 Global Politics


Observer commentator Andrew Rawnsley goes on holiday to Vietnam to celebrate his significant wedding anniversary and ends up ruminating on the EU referendum.  Which may have been trying for his wife, but is good news for us, as he produces a fascinating consideration of the nature of regionalism and why the eastern experience may be one which offers a guide to the British voters on the EU.

Vietnam is well entrenched in our historical memory largely because of the "Vietnam War" which still features on our GCSE history specifications, and has a cultural pull through a range of well known films in particular.  Some of which carefully discriminating teachers like myself show in class when it's really, really relevant and instructive to do so (say, Friday afternoons, end of terms, times when other pressures have pushed out the lesson planning, afternoons when you just want an easy life, an undue confluence between me and my students' lack of desire for anything more than thoroughly passive learning.....).  It is also increasingly popular on the student gap year trail - those years when teenagers can "find themselves" and realise they never lost themselves in the first place.

Anyway, the admirable Mr. Rawnsley provides us with a few useful pointers about the strengths of encasing a nation's future within helpful regional structures, and he does so by looking at the Vietnam situation.  He notes, in particular, that:

Two millenniums of resisting a succession of foreign invaders have forged a tremendous sense of national pride in the Vietnamese. At the same time, this is a country that has become an ardent joiner of multinational organisations and economic partnerships. “Deep international integration” is now its lodestar. Membership of Asean (the Association of Southeast Asian Nations) is seen as crucial to its security and prosperity. It takes pride in hosting summits of Apec (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation). It has signed the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which seeks to create a single market from 12 countries with a combined population of around 800 million commanding 40% of world trade. Modern Vietnam has grasped what its feudal emperors did not: you can’t wall yourself up against the world.

Any aspiring A2 Global politics student might find the point about the benefits of Asean particularly relevant to their exam preparation, while the rest of us may consider it a prescient warning about Brexit.  Rawnsley went on to note the contrast between the country's communist rule and its capitalist pretensions, with Prada, Gucci, Chanel and Cartier occupying city centre space just metres away from monuments to Ho Chi Minh, the country's communist founder.  And, of course, the west wants in, but Britain's best route is via the EU.

A Britain that wants to maximise its future prosperity will seek to be part of the future of coming countries such as Vietnam. There is Vietnamese interest in aspects of Britain, particularly a perceived British expertise in insurance, banking, science and technology. But compared with other global actors, we are not that significant in the Vietnamese scheme of things. Certainly not as important as its complex relations with the US and its Asian neighbours, especially the historic enemy and one-time occupier to the north. In so much as the UK matters to a country such as Vietnam, our influence is leveraged through membership of the EU. After three and a half years of negotiation, the EU and Vietnam recently signed a free trade agreement (FTA). When Mr Hammond came visiting, getting the FTA ratified was the main point of the talks from the perspective of his hosts.

Take or leave Mr. Rawnsley's conclusions as you wish - I prefer to take them if I'm honest - but the lessons from the far east about the importance and impact of regionalisation in a globalised world seem thoroughly on point.