Tuesday, September 06, 2011

2 Leaders Try Not to Join the Jobless

Nicolas Sarkozy, Barack Obama: two presidents now on parallel paths of bad unemployment numbers, lousy poll scores, and prospects for re-election next year that run from diminished to dubious.
Thus starts John Vinocur's article in the International Herald Tribune.
Not to mention weakening economies, a couple of shooting wars in Libya and Afghanistan, and countrymen who view their nations’ roles in the world as exceptional and universal — although the Americans more in terms of a burden of responsibility and the French as a pick-and-choose entitlement.

… Coming back to France after close to four weeks of unscientific watching and listening on the other side of the Atlantic provides an interesting contrast.

In the United States, the impact of markedly bad unemployment figures of 9.1 percent — the net job change of zero in August was the first of its kind since 1945 — has immense shock value in a country used to jobless rates regularly half those of Western Europe. People are truly taken aback.

Reporting on Mr. Obama’s August vacation island of Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, a center of left-wing chic, The Boston Globe said “Obama fever” on the island had become a memory, replaced by disaffection over partisan deadlock and the stalled economy.

But that was mild stuff compared with criticism coming from core constituencies — environmentalists who describe as a brazen sellout the president’s abandoning a major anti-pollution effort, or blacks complaining that he was avoiding focusing on dramatic employment rates in black communities.

America’s ambient noise has clearly changed. Strikingly, words like weak, ineffectual and mediocre to describe Mr. Obama have migrated and been transmogrified from talk-radio screech into reasonable on-air discussion.

… Mitt Romney, a possible mainstream Republican candidate asked, “Have we ever had a president before who was eager to address the world with an apology on his lips and doubt in his heart?”

… So a little more than three months before an election year, who’s better off? Mr. Sarkozy, who has limited popularity but a certain credibility in crises, or Mr. Obama, whose lifestyle and mannerisms don’t find contempt, but whose competence managing the American economy (and foreign policy) is increasingly in doubt?

… For both French exceptionalists and the general French public, victories are a relative notion — being in the game, being respected, and, when possible, doing things differently, à la française.

That’s a million miles from predicting a Sarkozy victory or an Obama loss, or vice versa. But while the two confront similar issues, an American president has unquestionably higher hurdles to clear in a nation where winning — and not oozing around the edges of loss or decline — is still an instinctive, national expectation.