Friday, 14 November 2008

Travels in Obamaland

New York Dispatch

“Wish you were here” is the headline on the New York Daily News, next to an obligatory picture of Barack Obama. The story is about the G20 meeting in Washington and how the other world leaders wish the President Elect were there.

“We want Bam, not his aides” say disappointed world leaders, according to the brash tabloid that tries to capture the spirit of the Big Apple in print.

Mr Obama has dispatched Madeleine Albright and former Republican Jim Leach to the G20 in listen and report mode but the 19 heads of state at the conference, the EU is the 20th attendee, all want to see the man.

Although this attempt at re-ordering the wold economy is essentially Mr Bush’s last hurrah nothing much that comes out of it will be certain without a nod from the new President when he takes office in January.

With the weekend conference being simultaneously hailed as historic and a non-event it is understandable how others might want to cast themselves as the fiscal stimulus substitute the event demands.

Enter Mr Brown from across the Atlantic. He understands the subject, he’s hailed by Nobel prize economists, but he has noticeably backed off the over the top rhetoric from earlier in the week when he claimed, in his Guild Hall speech, that Britain was leading the world on recapitalising banks and giving a fiscal kick to the ailing economy.

Backing Mr Brown is the current EU president, France;’s Mr Zarkozy. The French president has spoken to Mr Obama, has found common ground on financial transparency. But the European approach is collaborative but there is no guarantee that Mr Obama, although a Democrat, will want to join a cosy club that reforms the IMF and World Bank and diminishes US influence.

Wisely Mr Obama has left it to Mr Bush,who was signalled he would resist heavy handed regulation of the markets, to be the bearer of disappointing news to the summit.

Obama is still keeping his tinder dry, and so the world waits in anticipation. In New York there are still no signs of Obamamania faltering on the streets. At the newstands you can still buy the New York Times with the November 5th dateline recording the historic victory proving there’s no news like old news. Editions come in at a historic $1.50 a tattered copy.

Switch on the television and you’d still think the election was running. Correction, in Minnesota and Alaska, where they are still trying to count the ballots for the Senate, it is! And if you thought you’d heard the last of Sarah Palin... up she popped on all the news channels at what the anchors described as a “quote - odd” press conference at the Republican Governors Association conference.

There was more than a hint of chill in the air as Mrs Palin sucked the publicity out of the assembled press corps while her fellow governors, and 2012 rivals, stood in a dumb row behind her. One of them complained “quote - it made it look as if we were supporting her”.

Nor is there universal outpouring of love for the President Elect. In a bar at the Grand Central Station, where more people go for a drink than to catch a train, Heidi, a corporate head-hunter in Manhattan complains about the economic downturn.

Heidi, who looks as if she could be a friend of Sex in the City’s Carrie Bradshaw, used to be chairwoman of her father’s ten steel companies across the US. Her diamond studded ears are the only subtle sign of her wealth.

She declares herself a Republican - ironic that a first encounter in America should be a vocal reminder that 48% of people here did not vote for the change maker. But she reserves judgement on Mr Obama. “I don’t want to denigrate him like the Democracts denigrated George W Bush. He’s my President now.”

His policies are a different matter. She doesn’t believe in tax breaks for the poor funded by increases on the rich, a redistributive ambition of the President elect, a policy which Mr Brown dare not speak its name.

“It just doesn’t work that way,” says Heidi, sipping on her Californian pinot grigio. They don’t much like regulation in the Land of the Free and that could be a prescient warning for the hopes of the G20 this weekend.

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