Winston Churchill Reflects On President Barack Obama
The life and well-being of every country are influenced by the economic and financial policy of the United States.
From the schoolchildren in Ghana to the factory workers of China; from the computer inputting clerks of India to the tailors in Honduras; from the G-8 to the millionaire financiers on the London stock exchange – all are consciously or unconsciously affected.
For in truth Obama is an explorer who has embarked on a voyage as uncertain as that of Columbus, and upon a quest which might conceivably be as important as the discovery of the New World.
In those old days it was the gulf of oceans with their unknown perils and vicissitudes. Now in the modern world, just as mysterious and forbidding as the stormy oceans is the gulf between the producer with the limitless powers of science at his command, and the consumer, with legitimate appetites which will never be satiated. Plenty has become a curse.
Now has emerged in the United States the hateful spectacle of scores of millions of able and willing workers bordered out of closed factories, and subsisting upon the charity of diminishing unemployment benefits. And the people are asking themselves, “Why should these things be?”
And with increasing vehemence they demand that the thinkers and pioneers of humanity should answer the riddle and open new possibilities to their enjoyment.
A single man, whom accident, destiny or Providence has placed at the head of three hundred millions of active, educated, excitable and harassed people, has set out upon this momentous expedition.
Many doubt if he will succeed. Some — like Rush Limbaugh, and Fox News anchormen — hope he will fail.
Although the policies of President Obama are conceived in many respects from a narrow view of American interests, the courage, the power and scale of his effort must enlist the ardent sympathy of every country; his success could not fail to lift the whole world forward into the sunlight of an easier and more genial age.
There is therefore a widespread desire to look at this man in the midst of his adventure. Disconnected from the history of the United States by a Muslim name — Hussein, fathered by a black Kenyan, he was raised single-handedly by a white mother in a Muslim country.
To 99 men out of a hundred such an affliction would have terminated any desire to be president of the United States. He refused to accept this sentence.
He contested elections: he faced the hurly-burly of American politics in a time when they were exceptionally darkened by the hideous loot on Wall Street, and the credit crunch from a dumb war.
He subscribed to the Democratic ticket and made himself the mouthpiece of populist aims in his larger vision of a new America. He charmed the multitudes with his commitment, and eloquence.
He beat down opponents in the rough arena of politics. He stooped to conquer.
World events began to move. The George Bush administration could only gape upon the problems of depression through Wall Street greed, and the Iraqi war it should never have fashioned.
The eight years of the Republican regime was clearly drawing to its close. Five or so outstanding Democratic figures presented themselves, in busy scheming rivalry.
In the opinion of many of the shrewdest leaders of his party, Obama was the weakest of these contestants. And there were for long those who considered that in hard common sense and genuine statecraft Hillary Clinton, the wife of the former president, Bill Clinton, was unquestionably the strongest.
But Obama pulled his wires and played his cards in such a way that Fortune could befriend him. Fortune came along, not only as a friend or even as a lover, but as an idolater.
There were final moments in the decisive battle against the Republican, John McCain, when Obama’s victory, on account of his race, turned upon as little as the spin of a coin. But when it finally fell there was no doubt whose head was stamped on it.
Obama arrived at the summit of the greatest economic community in the world at the moment of its extreme embarrassment. Everybody had lost faith in everything.
Credit was frozen. Millions of unemployed filled the streets; and many having lost their grossly overpriced homes, and retirement incomes, wandered despairing about the vast spaces of America.
The rotten foundations of the banks were simultaneously undermined by bad loans, and exposed by dubious financial derivatives. The richest man, Warren Buffett, incited Americans to keep the faith and continue to buy American stocks without effect.
We must never forget that this was the basis from which Obama started. To compare his effort with that of Bush is to insult not Obama but civilisation.
The petty persecutions and old-world brutality like water boarding of captives in the Guantanamo prisons show their smallness and squalor compared to the renaissance of creative effort with which the name of Obama will always be associated.
The President’s second momentous experiment is an attempt to revive the financial system through bail-outs of failed banks, and the major auto industries including General Motors. Who can doubt that this is one of the paths that many other countries would have taken?
Thus the Obama adventure claims sympathy and admiration from all of those in England, and in foreign countries.
But very considerable misgiving must necessarily arise when a campaign to attack the monetary problem becomes intermingled with unhampered government controls. The capitalist millionaire or multimillionaire is a highly economic animal.
This money-gathering, credit-producing animal can not only walk - he can run. And when frightened he can fly. If his wings are clipped, he can dive or crawl. When in the end he is hunted down, what is left but a very ordinary individual apologising volubly for his mistakes, and particularly for not having been able to get away?
Meanwhile, great constructions have crumpled to the ground. Confidence is shaken and enterprise chilled, and the unemployed queue up.
It is indispensable to the wealth of nations and to the wage and life standards of labour, that capital and credit should be honoured and cherished partners in the economic system or it will lead to the dull brutish servitude of Russia.
I am writing as a former Chancellor of the British Exchequer for nearly five years. No one can write in this sense without at the same time feeling the justification there for the anger of the American public against many of their great leaders of finance, notably the perceived negligence of the likes of Alan Greenspan of the Federal Reserve System.
The burst in the price bubbles of houses, for one, and the fake derivatives concocted to cover the overexposure in the housing market, were roused by the indiscriminate deregulation conceived by Ronald Reagan, and our own strong lady Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s. And again, the greed and crooked misadventures of Enron, AIG, and others should give us all pause.
There are elements of contrivance, of housekeeping, which are essential to preserve all profitable activities. If these are destroyed the capitalist system fails, and some other system must be substituted.
No doubt the capitalist system is replete with abuses and errors and inequities like everything else in our imperfect human life; but it was under it that the United States produced the greatest prosperity for the greatest numbers that has never been experienced in human record.
A thousand speeches could be made on this. It is a very open question, which any household may argue to the small hours, whether it is better to have equality at the price of poverty, or well-being at the price of inequality. Life will be pretty rough, anyhow.
But President Obama has need to be on his guard.
To a foreign eye it seems that forces are gathering under his shield which at a certain stage may thrust him into the background and take the lead themselves.
If that misfortune were to occur, we should see the not unfamiliar spectacle of a leader running after his followers to pull them back. It is hoped that the strong common sense, the sturdy individualism and the cold disillusioned intelligence of the American people will protect their leader from such inglorious experiences.
However, we may view the Presidency which has reached only a fraction of its natural span, it is certain that Barack Obama will rank among the greatest of men who have occupied that proud position.
His generous sympathy for the underdog, his intense desire for a nearer approach to social justice and world peace place him high among the greatest.
His freeing the United States from the disrespects by the international community, and the support for universal health care — in a rich country where a good fifty million people are without guaranteed health care — proclaim him a statesman of world renown.
He has known how to gain the confidence of numerous communities; and the entire world watches his valiant effort to solve their problems with an anxiety which is only the shadow of high hope.
Will he succeed or will he fail? That is not the question we set ourselves, and to prophesy is cheap. But succeed or fail, his impulse is one which makes towards the fuller life of the masses of the people in every land.