Obama vs. Congress: the re-election campaign begins

With his speech on the jobs bill, Obama has set himself up against the "do-nothing" Congress.

It looks like Barack Obama has launched his re-election campaign. In a speech to Congress, he unveiled the American Jobs Act, and in effect dared Republicans not to pass it.

The bill reaches out to Republicans on many points. Much of it consists of tax cuts, with a $240bn expansion of the cut in payroll taxes promised, as well as a tax holiday for smaller businesses hiring new employees. He also said that Medicare spending needed to be cut. The bill also retains some spending commitments, such as $140bn for modernising schools and repairing roads and bridges.

In his speech, Obama eschewed the soaring rhetoric for which he is famed, instead urging Congress to "pass this jobs plan right away". Initial responses from Republican leaders imply that they are receptive, although it is unlikely they will pass it in its entirety.

With the lowest approval ratings of his presidency, currently floundering in the 40s, Obama faces the dual challenge of shaking off the public perception that he has failed to deliver on the economy, and the intransigence of the Republican-controlled House.

Tactically, this speech adopted a clever position. Obama's own approval ratings may be dipping, but an incredible 82 per cent of the US public think that Congress is doing a bad job. This suggests that the cynical politicking seen during the debt ceiling crisis did not go unnoticed.

Over at the Huffington Post, Howard Fineman suggests that the speech will set the tone for Obama's re-election campaign:

By putting forward a simply-named, to-the-point bill -- the American Jobs Act -- and by challenging Congress to pass it and pass it now, Obama hopes to create a win-win: either the Congress accedes or, as President Truman did in 1948, he can run against the "do nothing" Congress.

This strategy has the potential to be effective, given public frustration with politics in general. With some comments bordering on sarcasm, he presented the debate as a conflict between the majority of voters, and those who believe that "the only thing we can do restore prosperity is just dismantle government, refund everyone's money, let everyone write their own rules, and tell everyone they're on their own."

But the relentlessly confrontational stance that Republicans have so far adopted is not Obama's only problem: there is also the jobs question itself. Analysts predict that the plan, if passed, will encourage growth, but unemployment remains stuck at 9.1 per cent and it is unlikely that this bill -- however well-intentioned -- will substantially change that. However, after weeks of what many viewed as a frustrating lack of action, it is good to see Obama get off the back foot and go in fighting.

 

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

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Who was the boy on the beach?

Photos of a drowned Syrian child are dominating the front pages. Who was he, and how did he end up washed up on the Turkish coast?

Contains a disturbing image.

Britain’s conscience has been shaken this week by the images of a drowned toddler washed up on a beach in Turkey. The photos of the child, lying face down and lifeless on the shore, made almost every UK newspaper’s front page on Thursday morning.

So who is the child in this picture, which has succeeded where so many campaigners, charities, politicians and reporters have failed in bringing the urgency and desperation of Europe’s refugee crisis to the forefront of our minds?

Aylan Kurdi was a three-year-old Syrian-Kurd, who had been fleeing the war-torn border town of Kobani, the scene of multiple massacres by Isis, with his family. His five-year-old brother, Galip, was also found dead on the beach near the Turkish resort of Bodrum. The boys’ mother, Rehan, ended her journey there too, silent on the sand. Their father, called Abdullah, survived.

According to reports from the Turkish news agency, Doğan, their relatives broke down in tears as they identified the three bodies in the morgue of Bodrum’s state hospital yesterday.

One photo shows a Turkish police officer carrying the boy’s body:


They drowned alongside 12 others, five of them children, after two overloaded boats capsized carrying refugees from Akyarlar, on the Bodrum peninsula, to the Greek island of Kos – one of the main points of entry into Europe. The BBC reports that, of the 23 people on board these two boats, only nine are thought to have survived.

But Greece was not the Kurdi family’s final destination. They were apparently attempting to flee to Canada, as they have relatives there. According to the boys’ aunt, Teema, who lives in Vancouver, she had been trying to secure visas for them. She told the Canadian paper National Post: “I was trying to sponsor them, and I have my friends and my neighbours who helped me with the bank deposits, but we couldn’t get them out, and that is why they went in the boat. I was even paying rent for them in Turkey, but it is horrible the way they treat Syrians there.”

The Canadian MP, Fin Donnelly, confirms that he hand-delivered the Kurdis’ file to the Canadian Citizenship and Immigration Minister, Chris Alexander, earlier this year. Their visa application was rejected in June, according to Donnelly.

The family was unable to obtain exit visas from Turkey, where, according to the BBC, it is “almost impossible” for Syrian-Kurds without passports to secure documents allowing them to leave the country.

A familiar concoction of turmoil in the Middle East and lack of compassion in the West led to Aylan Kurdi's untimely death – and perhaps finally to the world taking notice.

Anoosh Chakelian is deputy web editor at the New Statesman.