Wednesday, October 31, 2012


The monster storm hit the East Coast of the United States and its punch was merciless. I am always surprised how the Americans are able to come together when they feel being in harm's way.  There is something awesome in this almost spontaneous interplay of hearts and minds. The sleeping Giant comes to life and teaches the world at large how problems must be confronted, head to head. The situation is dire but there is no room for complaints, bitterness or self-pity.  On the contrary, the country looks  united in battle, generous in solidarity. The waves were not allowed to rule.

It is almost as if the elements decided to intervene so that the toxic political debate could be humiliated, or look ridiculous at least.  For a couple of days, the acrimony and the vulgar accusations are in retreat, leaving the political battlefield rot in the debris the hurricane left in its aftermath. One shouldn't be complacent or naive.  Neither should one fail to pay attention where credit is due. Suddenly the contenders for the presidency both look presidential indeed, maintaining their respective disagreements but not letting the former stand in the way of the American values which need to recover after this endless bickering and mutual loathing between opposing parties. No doubt the candidates will try to benefit from this mega-catastrophe and Obama might get some credit for a policy which is all about "being there," which stands in stark contrast with President Bush's "being absent " during Katrina.  Romney has made the smart move to let reason overcome passion.  President Obama and the formidable Republican governor of New Jersey were able to act as partners.  It remains to be seen if this "humane" transformation of words and deeds will persist. At least a moment of grace was created and it showed the world that the United States can apply its soft-power when needed. 

Some radicals on the right and the left will still try to see Machiavellian intentions in the actions and words of whoever gets involved in remedying this situation which will certainly have consequences in the long-term.  The socio-economic fall-out will be gigantic. Yet again the role of government will cast its shadow over the political debate. Those arguments belong to the "normal" ; other vicious personal and ideological attacks on all sides should be swept away together with the waters which encroached on Manhattan and New Jersey.

This should be a moment wherein healing and respect can recover the territory which was lost after the assault of Durer's apocalypse-like hordes of special interests, super PACs, religious zealots, racist agendas and antiquated social machinery. This meteorological nightmare might end up creating an opportunity to calm down and return to American values which after all have proven to be more resistant than what the undertakers of all sides had predicted. The next president will be a "changed" man.  America might have begun finding its way back to what it is. This "perfect storm" might as well have brought closure to the hellish decennial which was ignited in the burning torches of 9/11.

Sunday, October 28, 2012


To understand the workings of the United States of America one is supposed to have digested Tocqueville's claim to fame, "Democracy in America," published in 1835. He visited the young republic, James Madison regnante.  He elaborated mostly about the Puritan founding, the American Constitution, the place of women (a "first" almost) and religion. No doubt his generally positive analysis was also indebted to the times of President Madison, who was an extraordinary personality, both as a politician and as a diplomat.

Tocqueville was an admirer of the way the American Constitution had created an architecture of checks and balances which could avoid at all times the trappings of despotism. His awe was nevertheless lucid enough to foresee possible shortcomings in a secular system, besieged by religion.

If he were to return he might have to write a different book. The United States today is a showcase for aberrations, which might occur when a society becomes unable to bridge structural gaps. The Congress finds itself prisoner of ideological prejudices. The Supreme Court is divided between those who adhere to the letter of the Constitution and those who want to give it a breathing space in time. The presidency is no longer judged on merits but on bias. The States of the Union follow paths which are often as divergent as what one might expect to find in the EU machinery (suffering from chronic indigestion, it found nothing better than to give membership to Croatia, foster child of Germany, the Vatican and others who better remain anonymous.)

One is tempted to assert that the American supremacy is over. This is contradicted by numerous facts which help to put the current crisis in perspective. The country continues to harvest Nobel Prizes and to attract immigrants who bring grey cells rather than empty pockets. The economy suffers as other economies worldwide do, given the globalization process. As painfully as it will be, the United States will be the first to regroup, thanks to the mobility of labour and the creativity of Wall Street, which has no parallel in the world. Obviously the caveats of the "fiscal cliff" at the end of 2012 and the debt must be addressed in the shortest term.  The "indispensable nation" is finally turning its back on costly, absurd wars and returning to rearrange a world order wherein the "multiple" is finally seen as an opportunity rather than as a "negative."

For sure Tocqueville would be lost in America today. He would also feel disoriented in Europe, by the way, but he might probably have the mental agility to take stock of a changed world. Europe does not even figure in the presidential debates. Voltaire's and Napoleon's premonitions about China have become a fact of life. The BRICS are pushing the doors open. America remains, nevertheless, the world's keeper and will remain so for the foreseeable future. Already one can see how it is switching from an Atlantic to a Pacific commonwealth while Europe finds itself captive of its former illusions, with more clients than allies.

The coming elections in the United States are over dramatised. Both candidates are able politicians who, unfortunately so, have to submit themselves to the applause of often undesirable followers. One does not choose his public. Obama is more philosophically inclined (but deserves credit for "redirecting" rather than "enduring"). Romney is the man of the praxis. The latter might fit more into the current mood of the country. The former might still appeal to the utopia America was built on.

Finally, it is high time for poison talk and poison pens, which are unworthy of this country, to take leave.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012


Depuis quelques jours la presse belge commente un livre "dit tout" sur S.A.R. le Prince Philippe et ses proches. Je prefere ne pas m'approcher de trop pres de l'auteur,Frederic Deboursu..  Pour ce qui concerne le contenu (dont je n'ai lu que des extraits) , il y a des poubelles pour cela. Ce qui est en cause c'est la deontologie. Jusqu'a preuve du contraire je n'accorde aucun credit a la veracite des assertions. Si certaines devaient s'averer verifiables il resterait un delit flagrant d'indiscretion et d'intrusion. S'attaquer a une personne et a sa famille,qui sont prisonnieres de servitudes constitutionnelles, depasse les bornes de l'admissible. L'heritier du trone est vise,mais son epouse,ses enfants,ses parents sont egalement traines dans la boue.
La fonction royale a evolue certes et on a le droit de critiquer ou d'etre republicain.Le Roi Albert II a fait preuve d'un stoicisme dans la tempete et il faut l'en remercier. Ces recentes indiscretions concernant le Prince Heritier sont deplacees et meritent d'etre sanctionnees car elles visent en meme temps une famille et la personne de la Princesse Mathilde et de ses enfants. Le procede est inexcusable, teleguide sans aucun doute et  reposant sur des suppositions aleatoires. En ce qui concerne les rares parcelles de verite il eut ete preferable de choisir le camps de la discretion plutot que de s'abondonner a la sensation. Il est vrai que les meutes a l'affut de proies faciles ne lachent pas prise. Plusieurs evenements recents intervenus dans d'autres familles royales ont fait assez de degats.
Que l'on me comprenne bien. Il ne s'agit pas d'etre un inconditionnel d'un systeme. Ce qui est en jeu ici c'est le mal que peut provoquer une narration illegitime qui peut infecter un discours plus large. La Belgique ne tient pas a un fil, elle tient au Roi. Il  convient d'etre clair. L'opposition est un droit. La vulgarite est une tare. Celui qui se sert de cette derniere pour atteidre un objectif non avoue joue avec le feu certes, mais il commet surtout un delit inqualifiable.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012


The final presidential debate yesterday demonstrated more debate fatigue than sparkle. Both candidates tried as much as possible to return to their stump speeches through the backdoor. Foreign policy became a band-aid for ulterior pedestrian motives. Certain predictable themes came up, and when they appeared they did so in a mostly sloppy fashion and were often unconvincing.  President Obama understandably showed more familiarity with the issues but Romney compensated certain insecurities by coming off as "over-presidential," cool and generally in command of the facts.  Both candidates had actually more in common than not. Romney made a U-turn and distanced himself from former more bellicose arguments a la McCain.  Strangely, Obama omitted to elaborate on the more interesting aspects of his foreign policy:  coalition building with new partners, up-to-date type of warfare, redirecting strategic priorities westwards. Both failed to mention the EU, the BRICS, Millennium goals or reform of the UN. Only China was considered an und fir Sich.

There was little fire. Obama might have won by a point but it was more a draw than a K.O.  I doubt that the electorate was spellbound and the situation looks as before, too close to tell.  I wonder if the not-too-subtle signals which the candidates sent to women, blue-collar workers, and particular swing states will have had any effect. Schmaltzy anecdotes rang, often contrived, and came over as artificial. The traditional ending with kisses, family and kids makes Europeans feel like throwing up (fortunately Justin Bieber was not invited).  Strangely, Europeans refrain from getting sick watching the acrobatics of Dominique Strauss-Kahn or Sylvio Berlusconi.

We have now two weeks post mortem in front of us, before V-day.  I feel that the longer this campaign dragged on, indifference dislodged enthusiasm. Both candidates adjusted their messages to such an extent (Obamacare excluded) that they became like Tweedledum and Tweedledee. The alpha males of the second debate decided to play "cute", almost. In the first debate Obama napped, in the third, both appeared to be operating on Valium.

The Tea Party must be in disbelief, seeing Romney's transfiguration (again) into a centrist politician and must be tempted to cry "no room, no room!" as in "Alice in Wonderland."  The military/industrial complex, for its part, must feel relieved after their Republican Caesar pleaded for an expansion of fleet and military budget.  It is sad that it had to end this way.  Both candidates turned their back on earlier promises, both played to constituencies which they manipulated and who will be forgotten as soon as the occupant of the Oval Office is elected. The economic doomsday is still a big chip on the future leader's shoulder, while the fiscal cliff at year's end and the national debt are creating a Swiftian metaphor wherein the United States risks becoming hostage to its lender (China).

The pundits are thinking already about 2016 and about who will come next.
Political addicts and pollsters are incurable. Statesmen are an extinct species. Only the taxpayers abound, lost in opaque cyphers. Whoever the winner will be, the voter will be the dupe, ending up paying the tab for the misleading promises made by both contenders.

Sunday, October 21, 2012


Finally, the Broadway success has arrived in Los Angeles.  I saw it and I liked it. Besides, with a Mormon running for the Republican ticket, the Mormon religion is getting a lot of attention. This farce helps to debunk the "sect" label of Mormonism and underscores the absurdities that are the backbone of every religion. The jokes never cross the line of disrespect and do not venture into the more tumultuous waters as Bill Maher or Christopher Hitchens do, with relish. 

Contrary to what happens in America, the religious narrative no longer appeals to Western Europe.  True, Western Europeans have become generally disconnected from religion.  Hence they tend to look with bewilderment at the proliferation of churches and God talk in the US. The same goes mutatis mutandis for the Muslims in Europe, who are more often seen as Huns than believers.  Paradoxically perhaps, the religious diversity which in America goes from the vulgar to the morally respectful might also help the Muslims to integrate better. The United States is a society which has not thrown God under the bus, while in Europe it is becoming gauche to mention God.  Churches are empty when not transformed into restaurants.  Parishes disappear because of "lack of service" and the Pope laments about the fading Christendom in his close realm.  Other forms of devotion which flourish in the United States and elsewhere also find few followers on the other side of the Atlantic, where God is almost becoming an unspoken word.

The "Book of Mormon" success story is the more remarkable given the socio-cultural American fabric, where mega-churches, sects and "Christian fatwas" abound and where the cross sits comfortably in between silicone Hollywood breasts, underscoring Hitchens' dictum:  "god is not great"   ...Hence there is room.

Meanwhile, God will continue to bless America (with what?) and the mint will remain the "In God We Trust" currency of Stuart Mill's descendants. As long as there is time for comedy all this becomes more palatable. The neo-cons will lament yet again about the war against Christmas, which looms larger in their little minds than the wars in Afghanistan and elsewhere.  True, I doubt that the European encyclopedists ever occupied a prominent role in their upbringing, as was the case with the founders of the Republic.  The belated sexual outrage following the scandals in church, boy scouts and the outings or bullying of gays and minorities risk also to be short-lived, contrary to what happened in Europe, where similar situations accelerated the decomposition of the corpse.

It might sound strange to attach importance to a Broadway play but there is "a play within the play."  There is trenchant humor and wit in this comedy of errors. The public stays, cheers and ends up applauding what is in fact an indictment of the religious machine in general.  Religion per se is not on trial here.  One deals more with Gogol's dead souls than with arithmetic of believers.  Spectators leave the show, after having enjoyed two hours, feeling liberated from dogma and ridiculous theology. The winners are reason, humor, and also outrage after realizing that we have been fed for too long with toxic fairy tales.  In the end we arrive at Pascal's cynical conclusion:  "If you believe in God, and there is a God, you win.  If you believe in him and you are wrong, so what?"   I think Pascal's "wager" would make for a good show as well.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012


De jongste gemeenteraadsverkiezingen in Belgie kenden hrt verwacht verloop.Alles draaide rond Antwepen en Bart De Wever is de duidelijke en verdiende overwinnaar. Hij is een handige politicus die zijn programma aan de man weet te brengen, zonder toegevingen.Hoogstens zal hij de rietstengel wat omplooien zonder hem te kraken.
Hij beschikt nu over de belangrijkste troeven in het Belgisch politiek kaartspel. Brussel is een administratieve doolhof.Antwerpen is het ekonomisch kroonjuweel.
Alarmisten zien in de Vlaamse politicus de doodgraver van Belgie. Zijn partijgenoten daarentegen beschouwen hem als de man die orde op zaken kan stellen, zij het in een uitgesproken vlaams perspectief. De waarheid is waarschijnlijk een berekende "mix" en de pokerspeler laat niet in zijn kaarten kijken.
Sinds het regionalisme en grensoverschrijdene initiatieven ook het nihil obstat van de EU hebben gekregen is deze koerwijziging  in versnelde manier beginnen te evolueren.Noord Italie,Catalonie,Schotland en Vlaanderen, eisen meer autonomie op, alsmede een rechttrekking van de geldstromen met inachtname van eigen specifiek belang. Op zichzelf is daar weinig op aan te merken,alhoewel het op zijn minst eigenaardig kan lijken dat terwijl Griekenland en Co. mogen rekenen op financiele steun van EU lidstaten, de onmiddellijke buur in eenzelfde land niet langer solidair zou worden behandeld. Dit is trouwens een probleem waarvoor ad hoc oplossingen en ponderatieregels kunnen worden gevonden.
Moeilijker is een kader te vinden waarin hervormingen kunnen worden overwogen. In een tijd van globalisatie en interconnecties zijn provincialisme/populisme te weren. in wezen denkik dat De Wever dit inziet.Antwepen is trouwens een wereldhaven en geen Vlaame haven. Zijn internationale troeven wegen zwaarder dan enige andere overweging. De Staatshervorming moet daarom dringend worden afgerond.Dan stelt zich de vraag minder om het voortbestaan van Belgie dan van welk Belgie .Op termijn is een bondsstaat nog haalbaar omdat hij ook de internatinalale toegevoegde waarde van Brussel helpt verzekeren en een positief signaal kan doorsturen naar internationale gebruikers en investeerders. Ipso facto geldt hetzelfde voor Antwerpen dat moet kiezen voor een model a la Singapour of Duinkerken.
Anderzijds moet Bart De Wever ook open kaart spelen en een duidelijke keuze maken tussen een profiel van een Jorg Haider-bis of van een modern politicus die bereid is verniewde bestuursmodellen viir te stellen binnen een verlicht Belgisch / Europees kader. De andere politieke families in Belgie zouden er trouwens goed aan doen versleten routines overboord te gooien. Met Elio de Rupo als uitgesproken briljante Federaal Premier zou zo een globaal gesprek moeten mogelijk zijn, opvoorwaarde dat hij er in slaagt afstand te nemen van een corrupt  waals socialistisch erfgoed dat o.m. verantwoordelijk is voor de kloof van armoede,vervuiling en ekonomische ondergang, die de broeders Dardenne zo scherp hebben gediagnostiseerd. De Belgische Premier moet Wallonie helpen overstappen van het passief/fatalistisch patroon naar een actieve veranderingsmentaliteit (nieuwe energie, technologie, politieke kultuur) die er kan toe bijdragen de Noord/Zuid spanningen,die er altijd zullen zijn,te relativeren.

Op korte termijn stelt zich de vraag van koninkrijk of republiek niet. Koning Albert II speelt een onvervangbare rol in het Belgisch politiek leven. Dit is te danken aan zijn karakter en talent maar ook aan wat overblijft van een gentleman's kultuur en het colloque singulier.De republikeinse De Wever kan de meerwaarde van afstand en diskretie goed genoeg afwegen.
Sommige buitenlandse en binnenlandse media slaan opnieuw de alarmklok.Deze lokale verkiezingen  draaiden vooral rond lokale toestanden (immigratie, tewerkstelling ,millieu, infrastuktuur enzv.) maar als ze niet korrekt worden afgerond en ingevuld, kunnen zij ook voor onaangename verrassingen zorgen,die in deze moeilijke ekonomische,sociale en fiskale tijden beter worden vermeden. Oplossingen  vragen trouwens om een multilaterale aanpak en kunnen niet  worden gevonden in een afbrokkelende Staat. Ook Bart De Wever weet terdege dat het eenvoudiger is een Staat te creeren dan hem af te schrijven. De faktuur zou duur uitvallen !


The American presidential candidates were at it again yesterday. This time both were awake and aggressive, to a point. They did forgo every decorum, which should be expected from a potential president, and went for the jugular. Cool Obama was vicious, granite Romney was wavering. The result was a draw, but advantage Obama on testosterone.  If this will compensate for the President's distracted  previous performance, it needs to be seen.

There is one looser in this war of words. The "future" remains an empty canvas, waiting to be filled.  Both candidates threw generalities at each other and mostly at the electorate, but avoided specifics.  They know that their numbers do not match reality. They kept talking about the deficit, spending cuts and taxes as if they mistook the public for dummies.  Soundbites are no solutions, sophisms are no believable answers.
Obama won on points and zingers. Both lost on substance. In the end nothing has changed. The race is a neck to neck affair, where problems give way to egos.  All this underscores an intellectual deficit in the American system which chose for a "lock out" over engagement. The fiscal cliff which is looming is almost ignored, while the enormity of the federal deficit is slowly becoming a fait divers.  Americans must feel betrayed by both candidates. Besides their deceiving, they do not venture into what is really at stake, the four years ahead.  Their cardboard plans are utterly unconvincing if not inexistent.

The third debate should center around foreign policy.  Hearing what the President had to say about Benghazi, or Romney's "Trump-like" criticism of the P.R. of China and Russia, one is tempted to run for the lifeboats.  This is regrettable, given the fact that Obama was able to turn certain Bush blunders around.  Memory is an unreliable ally and the Iraq tragedy is no longer a speaking point which sells. I even wonder if Libya will have lasting power, given that the buck has been reclaimed by almost everyone in the Administration, with the exception of Ambassador Rice, who doesn't even have the decency to hint that she might have spoken too early!

The questions raised by the "undecided voters" belonged to some bad high school rather than to this format of town hall meeting, which by the way, was trampled on by the candidates in the first place.  The moderator came out rather well but her tilting in the direction of Obama was unmistakable. Romney's hair looked less sculptured, Obama was looking for the scalp.  In the end the spectators must have been bored, watching politicians trying to portray themselves as the alpha males they are not.

Three more weeks of this? We all had better stock Alpha Bismol.

Sunday, October 14, 2012


This is the season of falling leaves and misty morning light. While Hollywood's Oscars bask in the limelight, Nobel Prizes shun it and are forgotten as soon as the laureates--often obscure writers, scientists and well-wishing NGOs--have left the awkward pomp and their Andy Warhol 15 minutes of celebrity.  After Gore and Obama were rewarded for the weather forecast and rhetorical skills (remember Berlin?), the jury found nothing better than to come up serendipitously with a surreal idea, attributing the prize to the European Union.  Brussels being Magritte's surreal lair, this "over the top" choice might be in line with the EU capital's inescapable, absurd merry-go-rounds. Their Swedish colleagues are equally famous for choosing the forgettable rather than nominating the meaningful (Marcel Proust, Gore Vidal, Christopher Hitchens,Tennessee Williams...shall I continue?) 

If the prize had been given to the European coal and steel community or to the Treaty of Rome or to the historic embrace between Adenauer and de Gaulle, the applause would have been general.  Admittedly, Europe has made extraordinary macro economical advances, enshrined in the EU, but military, political and financial strands lag behind.  Qualitative and quantitative inroads are not without pitfalls and ulterior motives. Certain recent scenes in the streets of Athens and Madrid are frankly unacceptable. The euro crisis is an unpleasant eye-opener.

Under these conditions, giving a prize to this post-Delors European hybrid is hard to phathom. Contrary to the European euphoria after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the mood today is cynical and frankly unpleasant. The images of the Soviet invasions in Budapest and Prague, the East German Stasi laboratory, the horrors in Sarajevo, Kosovo or Srebenica hardly fit into the narrative of a continent at peace since World War II.  True, Western Europe has no ownership of these events but it is undeniable that it often chose to look elsewhere rather than get involved. This attitude was not only incorrect, it was immoral.

I wonder who will be the recipient in Oslo, by the way. The President of the Commission? The President of the European Council? The rotating President of the EU? The member states, united by mutual loathing?  The EU's relevance has been diminished. The BRICS under China's de facto leadership, America's westward turn, Arab chaos, Australia rising, Russia's assertiveness (after having digested the loss of, inter alia, Eastern Europe and the Caucasus) have reduced the EU to a second-class power, which is ironic given the fact that it remains an economic giant, walking around in baby clothes (quote by Norman Davies).  Regionalism can be a good thing as long as it is not self-destructive, leading to the rise of  provincial, almost fascist entities. Europe should learn lessons from the disintegration of the former Yugoslavia if it wants to avoid a similar sinister slippery slope.

Maybe we can still hope that out of Oslo there will come a message which skips generalities and instead suggests hard choices, forgoing self-congratulation for the sake of a renewed daring vision.  The speech is not that difficult to come up with, it is the visionary speaker who will be hard to find.  Only nonsense is abundant these days. Oslo's deliberations in camera probably resulted from the fact that the cocktails served were shaken not stirred.

Saturday, October 13, 2012


A young girl was shot in Pakistan by the Talibans.  Her only sin was to be an education activist for women. Malala Youstafzai became an object of rage and vengeance in the realm of the cavemen who rule de facto in the Swat valley or Helmand in Afghanistan .  Pakistan plays aggrieved, while the madrases continue to brainwash children who grow up with a worldview loaded with hangings, honour killings and prussic acid.  I don't understand how Pakistani women still dare to represent this hell on earth as foreign minister or ambassador to Washington D.C.  Do they have any decency or shame? Meanwhile Imran Khan will have some words of sympathy and switch as fast as he can to drones talk and to the ugly Americans. The Pakistani exodus in London and elsewhere will continue to get high on booze and nail polish, unconcerned.

Pakistan and Afghanistan are today what the black areas were on the maps of the 1980s, god forgotten places, hearts of darkness where the gropers and thieves could fill their pockets and kill unabated.  I bet you that the Talibans are getting ready for a second round, once the NATO forces leave. Their perverse cosmology does not tolerate a passing star like Malala.  As soon as the Americans put an end to their absurd Afghan involvement, the beast will be back. It is almost laughable to see some girls playing soccer for CNN and to hear how much has changed since the start of the war. The Talibans, who do not appear to be the viewers of Comedy Central, might even have a chuckle when seeing the gullibility of the West. The likes of politician-former cricketer-toast of Mayfair-Imran Khan will shed some crocodile tears and regroup under the umbrella of  collective indignation because of the drones or poor Osama who had his summer quarters next to the Pakistani Intelligence Centre--speaking of coincidences! Together with Pakistan's tribal bent, Afghanistan is the other half of the twins from the dark ages which is equally better left alone.There is no room for embarrassment in intelligent assessment.  The Americans realize that this was a hopeless case from the start and have stopped denying.  Packing is the only way out. Too bad for the few enlightened individuals who saw from the beginning the ominous signs on the wall!

The tragedy is that we speak about people we know nothing about and who deserve respect while lacking introspection to collectively cut the head of the snake. The collusion between extremist ideology, corruption and drugs is creating a nightmarish monster, a toxic sum of Al Qaeda, the Haqqani and the Talibans.  Some see in this latest tragic event a possible game changer.  I do not. Hard line clerics will not move a finger and the situation will remain unchangd.  In the end outrage will, as usual, be replaced by inaction seconded by collusion. This is a "culture" of martyrs. There is no room for saints. So Malala Yousazai,still an intended victim, had to go to make room for Imran Khan & Co's motorcades who criscross the country not for the good but for the worse. We should be humanitarians still, but otherwise we are better off with this nightmare out of our minds and illusions stored for better ends. Malala and the many women flogged, mutilated and raped have showed the world that even in hell there might still be light. We should return to what we do best:  being a soft power. Hardliners fear seduction and enlightenment.

Friday, October 12, 2012


It might sound paradoxical to describe the vice-presidential debate as the junior league. Indeed Paul Ryan, the Republican contender is young but his Democratic rival can count the ways and the years. It showed. The latter was impressive, showing both a sense of entitlement and savoir faire. The former played more in a technocratic mode, which was impressive by the way.  In doing so, both helped the presidential candidates and the debate ended with some punchlines but without a match point.  Romney must be pleased, Obama should be relieved.

The President will have to look awake next Tuesday because Governor Romney will find in foreign policy matters ample ammunition.  I find this unfair because President Obama and his Secretary of State can boast considerable achievements after the dark Bush years. Their Asian Fire Wall strategy aiming at controlling the perfect storm which is menacing the South China Sea is timely.  Their calibrated handling of the Middle East mess is generally well-timed.  It is too bad that the American ambassador to the United Nations made a fool of herself and, by proxy, of the American policy in the region. This unfortunate event gives the Republicans the stick they were looking for, after the debacle in Iraq and the Afghan fiasco.

Romney continues to ascend, thanks also to the good performance of his running mate. He should beware of veering too much off course though, because there are certainly more Tea Party aficionados than independents. Obama must go for the jugular and his vice president helped him in this.   He almost made the viewers forget his age, his unpredictable temperament and a style of debate which was more geared to the mores of times past than to the cyberculture of times in the making.  Still, since he did not lose, he won, almost. The President meanwhile looks more like the man of hope in his first campaign but he will have to climb a steep mountain if he wants to keep an advantage, which is small. Romney might be short on details but in these economic hard times the voter might be more tuned to a financial record than to abstract lyricism. I do not pretend that Obama's bilan is unconvincing.  It is just rooted in a vocabulary which has not the concrete appeal which is needed.  The Americans hate the moral void and this in turn creates a feeding ground for the absurd, the birthers and the other camp. The neo-cons and evangelicals will brandish the spectrum of socialism, communism and a Moloch state, while they often have no clue of what those terms cover. The political landscape has become a wasteland right and left werein only beasts roam.  Foremost, the next president will have to be an animal trainer.  Both Romney and Obama have the class to come to terms with a situation which starts to look almost hopeless. It has to be hoped that the Democrat will be able to recharge his magnetism and that the Republican will not be distracted by the treacherous currents in his own party. A level field can bring the best out of both. It is Obama's turn to show that a bad moment should not be confused with a downspiral mood. Biden might have been the one who gave him the needed lift. Contrary to the movie, this is still a country were an older man can help a president jump through the hoop of a lackluster performance.

The President is still liked by a majority of voters but in these dire times, unemployment, foreclosures, and economic downturn might speak louder than a smile, which looked irresistible four years ago. On Tuesday, the second presidential debate may be judgement day and a redemption for Obama.  Better economic indicators and an improved labor market might help too, but the financial cliff will continue to claim victims.  The glass is still half-full and cheers remain muted for an indefnite time.

Thursday, October 4, 2012


The first presidential debate, October 3, was expected to be a duel between two superstars:  one, the President known; one, the contender in the making.
What we witnessed was a scoop showing the Republican candidate reinventing himself, while President Obama almost stumbled, as if he had skipped his homework. He was often incoherent if not "absent."  Governor Romney knew his numbers and was on the offensive "non-stop." The President missed opportunities to counter-attack (the "infamous" 47%  and numerous flip-flops of Romney) as if he was following the wrong script rather than his instinct of former days.

The pundits, Democrats and Republicans alike, agree that the Republican candidate scored, while the President under-performed. It is too soon to make hasty conclusions. After all there are two more debates, but on international affairs, the President finds himself in an uncomfortable situation amidst the Libyan cover-up (following the assassination of the American ambassador), the feared Afghan Requiem and the Syrian quagmire. The Republicans smell blood as the Democrats did after the WMD fiasco in Iraq.  Besides, the fiscal cliff in the USA, with the automatic budget cuts which would follow, creates a feeling of apprehension both on Wall Street and Main Street.

The "man of change" from the former campaign is no longer. This does not diminish his obvious intellectual qualities and personal appeal but it cuts him from XL to L. Romney occupies the void with assurance, professionalism, bluff and cunning. The businessman became a sterling politician. Paul Ryan, his running mate, is a shark who could very well drive Vice-President Biden into the danger zone of the "ridiculous."  It is almost sad to see the Republican glee while they are the main culprits of the stalemate in Congress, aided, involuntarily, by the shrill behaviour of the inept Democratic leadership.

The President remains popular as a person but as late he often looks like having lost his "mojo."  Mitt Romney, meanwhile, has ample opportunity to spin a narrative as being the saviour for these difficult times, close to business and finance, opposed to foes and promising an American "reformation," in pure Reaganesque form.  I doubt that his hyperbole will bring about the miraculous cure, but it is undeniable that he has picked up the frustrations of a large segment of Americans. The latter start to question in which direction their country is heading.

The United States has never been able to come to terms with the role of government. The debate is as old as the country and the path since independence has been more a roller-coaster than straight-sailing. The often unpopular wars and political stalemate have created a bitterness of late, which is un-American.  Obama was chosen for a vision he projected and personified.  He was the program. He lost it. Now he and his opponent have to come forward with a program instead. The President is bruised after his Pyrrhic victory in health care, Romney must come up with a plan, almost any will do. The Americans might still give the President a second chance, but some marriage counselling might be an appropriate choice ante.  The performance of the President in the coming debates will be crucial.  He had better look for his presidential mantle, which Romney appropriated yesterday, and regain his former body language, rather than avoiding eye contact and taking notes like some underling.

The coming times will be interesting!