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Posted on on January 30th, 2010
by Pincas Jawetz (

The pre-State-of-the-Union Sunday on US TV called to President Obama to stop acting like a Prime Minister and start rather be Presidential.
We guess that this meant a call for him to find ways to achieve goals he set to himself by using the Presidential regulatory powers – given him by the Constitution and by US law. The TV pundits were saying that the President got involved in the minutiae and lost the larger scope – he got involved in the messy legislative sausage making. The last President to have done this was President Johnson when pushing through the Equal Rights Act. He succeeded by getting Republicans on board to replace the reluctant Democrats – and then acted it out as a President
– but Obama did not manage to get any Republicans to his side.

The Republicans have been obstructionist – but the figures show the
public still likes Obama as a leader and the real question the public
has is – “has he effected the way Washington Works”; Fareed Zakharia
asked at the beginning of the CNN/GPS program “WHAT SHOULD HE DO?”

As that was the week with Haiti on our mind – the first question was –
what should the US realistically do about Haiti? We know that after
the immediate crisis is gone – people will go home and what then?

Former Secretary of State Zbigniew Brzezinski said that Haiti is a
National Security Problem to the US and how does it compare to other
security problems? A failed State next door could even bring in
Al-Qaeda. We do not need grand-style visits by leaders – but we need a
Statement of Purpose. We need a US push at the UN to create an

The participants reminded us of the history of colonialism and
imperialism and the troubled past US involvement in Haiti. They warned
of an International Trusteeship of the UN and pointed out that Haiti
has an important resource – human capital – that was not utilized. The
Haitians in the US demonstrated they are dynamic and creative – this
potential is terribly underutilized! Brzezinski called for a UN flag
so there is no perception of colonialism and said what we say all the

The Dominican Republic, shares the same Island and is doing fine – how
is it that the two had such a different path? The answer may be in the
deforestation in Haiti that changed its agricultural base. For the
immediate reaction – just drop food from the air – do not worry about
the internal conflicts at this time of need – then start building on
existing institutions like the church and their own local honored
society – I took this as a nod to the Voodoo culture.

Brzezinski also pointed out that Haiti takes US attention away from
the Iraq and AfPak regions and we must focus there.

In Haiti we must create a Nation State – this is a Nation Building issue, but Haiti is not the Germany of 1945. A Marshall plan is a huge commitment and Dominique Strauss-Kahn of the IMF talks of reviving a viable economy "with people building and selling." He says the Haitians must be in the driver’s seat. Calls for US, French, Canadians involved. Edmond Mulet – the French Guatemalan in charge of the UN in Haiti, after the previous French speaking Tunisian leader died in the earthquake, was also brought to the program, but this segment seemed rather like a call back to the old ways of the UN and the US.
I missed there the Latin and Central American true angle, and the evolution of Brazilian leadership – the Brazilians having lost more people in Haiti then other foreigners except the American citizens of Haitian origin. The US was also mentioned in regard to the TPS status that will be allowed for those in the US illegally now – so they surface for an 18 months legal status that allows the closing of the borders for next push by Haitians.

Edwidge Danticat, a successful Haitian-American writer from Miami, was brought to the Program – this as evidence of Haitian success when free to compete and unleash their talents, though fully aware of their close family having undergone oppression back home and here in the US. she Spoke of family loss in Haiti.

Peggy Noonan, with the Haiti topic out of the way, turned to the
President’s loss – just in one year – of the backing of the
Independent voters. She thinks – you must hold the center if you want
to prosper as a President. Even the Conservatives in Red States
(Republican State) are not safe – it is an Independent Vote that wins!
getting something done is another level of government – from here back
to Johnson and the Civil Rights Vote experience. He had George Aiken
introduce the bill – we do not see his legislative genius in action.
Had Obama gone to John McCain for support the legislation would have
been much more acceptable. We lost the probability to get results
because of the squabbling in congress.

Walter Isaacson, the author of “The Wise Men: Six Friends and the
World They Made” – this how the Johnson world was made to work – said
that the Massachusetts election to US Senate, that lost the Ted
Kennedy seat to a Republican, might be not so much of a blow as a
Blessing in Disguise! Obama said his Presidency should be
transformational – we need this!

Obama was in a different direction from the people, Reagan was in the
same direction with the people – that is why he succeeded better.
You cannot transform the country on a pure position basis – continued
Isaacson. Republicans produced books against government – but Reagan
did not walk in by saying government was bad! His success required
moving to the middle. It seems that the Isaacson books should be made
required reading in this White House.

The point is that Obama should go to the Republicans and say – we need
a health care bill and I want you on board. The same with other

As we waited for a week before writing up what was said last Sunday –
that is before the actual State of the Union speech, it is only fair
to note that Friday,last night, and now today, the TV and papers are
full with the news from President Obama being part of the Republican
conclave that met to discuss the State of the Union – and there in the
lyon’s den – Obama defends the truth in the face of Republican and
Democratic distortions. This psychodrama may not have immediate
results – but somewhere it might find its way to the better part of
the milder Republicans so they could help free the President from the
worse Democrats – just like in Johnson’s days – ot is this just my own
imagination’s hope for results of attempts at a mutual consciousness
raising session?

Sam Tanenhaus, who wrote “The Death of Conservatism”; looks at Rush
Limbaugh as the example of the takeover of true conservatism by the
right fringe.

Looking at China – Fareed Zakharia picked up the fact that China
government, with its rule of only 20 films from the West that can be
shown to its people during one year – disallows Avatar in favor of a
Confucius movie. But Fareed reminds the Chinese of the Confucius
YOURSELF” – in his interpretation – don’t become insular because
others might do this to you also.

We say – if they do not really become part of a Climate Change agreement- what is there to hold the rest of the world back from changing WTO rules so there are carbon taxes at the border?

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