While members of his Secret Service detail were not quite so secretly being serviced by Colombian prostitutes, US President Barack Obama was busy diddling the Brits.
Announcing America’s neutrality in the latest Falklands fracas between England and Argentina, Obama pointedly referred to the Maldives. To be fair, he probably meant to say Malvinas, Argentina’s preferred name for the Falklands, symbolically thumbing his nose at the United States’ closest ally. It’s possible America’s vacationer-in-chief’s mind was wandering over to his next holiday destination. After all, he had just announced that part of his job on his summit trips was to “scout out where I may want to bring Michelle back later for vacation”.
Or perhaps he was considering the presidential election campaign landscape for 2012, which is severely short of hope and, he will hope, also of change. Obama will face a far sterner task than all other presidential candidates of the past and present. For, though there are 50 American states, Obama once famously said along the 2008 trail that: “I’ve now been in 57 states. I think one left to go.”
Being geographically challenged can be difficult and make for diplomacy by apology, especially in the world’s hotter spots. The American president established his mastery of the situation when he told college students: “The Middle East is obviously an issue that has plagued the region for centuries.” Obama sets a pace for bloopers that matches the frequency with which Shah Rukh Khan is detained at US airports.
Verbal blundering tends to be more benign than actual action. Take, for instance, the nomination and subsequent election of Dartmouth College president Jim Yong Kim as the next president of the World Bank. The administration obviously felt that in a time of global economic stress, what it really really needed was a physician to head it. But there may be no truth to the rumours that the Obama administration’s next surgeon general will be a trained economist.
Choosing to caution the Supreme Court, which may rule to neuter Obama’s signature healthcare reform, the US president outlined the objectives in the summer of 2009: “The reforms we seek would bring greater competition, choice, savings and inefficiencies to our health care system.” Critics complain the first three aims may have been missed in the law that was enacted.
Obama has exhibited a tendency to gaffes while speaking unteleprompted that makes his predecessor George W Bush look like an articulate statesman who may just have been misunderestimated during his tenure. It’s somewhat fitting that Obama’s opponent in the November presidential election is now almost certainly Republican Mitt Romney, who can match the incumbent howler for howler.
The former Massachusetts governor is prone to making his disconnect with the non-multi-millionaire section of the American populace evident. Once asked about the number of cars his family owns, he explained how they were needed for several residences across the country.
Sometimes while speaking from the heart, he says stuff that makes you question his head. Earlier this year, he said, “I believe in an America where millions of Americans believe in an America that’s the America millions of Americans believe in. That’s the America I love.” Apparently it’s an America that has fallen prey to the wording of Bernard Woolley, the character from the Yes, Minister and Yes, Prime Minister series.
Both Obama’s and Romney’s campaigns have signalled they will hold nothing back, and indeed, the general election campaign season has just got off to an informal start with dogged potshots. Romney once strapped his dog to the roof of his car on a long drive, and Obama ate dog meat while growing up in Indonesia. No word on when they will get around to debating the trillion-dollar deficit.
Whoever wins in November, the American public can at least rest assured their next president, be it Obama or Romney, will continue to provide unsound sound bites. It is perhaps fitting that recent polls show that the contest between the two is within the margin of error.
Currently based in Toronto, Anirudh Bhattacharyya has been a New York-based foreign correspondent for eight years
The views expressed by the author are personal