The Know Nothing President

The Know Nothing President

President Obama is in a digital two-front war. The computers of the National Security Agency (NSA) are so modern that they can spy on the citizens of the world, including their leaders. The computers of Obamacare, the federal program for a universal health insurance, are so dysfunctional that the software blocked at the start. As things stand, there are more Americans who lost their insurance than Americans who managed to get new insurance. But the President of Hope and Change knows nothing. He is utterly unaware.

Obama claimed to know nothing about the NSA spying on foreign - especially allied - leaders. The German weekly Der Spiegel shows this week how the NSA is spying on Germany, starting with the mobile phone of Chancellor Merkel. This is a sensitive issue in a country that has both the Gestapo and the Stasi in its collective memory. Bild am Sonntag argues that NSA Director Keith Alexander informed Obama in 2010 about the spying on Merkel. Obama would want to know everything and would have asked to make a 'file'. The NSA said Monday, at the insistence of the White House, that Obama 'knew nothing'.

This isn't very credible. On 1 September it turned out that the NSA was overhearing calls of Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff. Obama tried to soothe the incident and claimed 'to know nothing', but the Brazilians were so angry that Rousseff canceled a state visit to the U.S. If Obama had been more alert, he would have stopped spying on allies at that point. But he did not and stayed vague ('others do it too') until it appeared that 35 state leaders are on the NSA radar.

Same story on Obamacare . In the land of Apple, Google and Microsoft, the U.S. government had 3.5 years to design Obamacare's website. But until the presidential elections of 2012, Obama did nothing, because the health insurance system is so unpopular. Only two weeks before the launch, earlier this month, the first tests were executed. Obama even got a strategic gift from the Republican opposition, who shot themselves in the foot. In exchange for agreeing to the federal budget, conservative Republicans demanded to 'delay' Obamacare. Obama refused, because Obamacare is his crown jewel. He preferred to let the government shut down due to a lack of money. The popularity of the Republicans suffered, because nobody likes a non-working state. Obama triumphed.

Republicans appeared to be self-delusional, as 'doing nothing ' was the best option. Obamacare stumbled in the starting blocks. Now ten Democratic senators are asking for a 'delay'. Congress has exempted itself from Obamacare and Obama himself isn't covered either by the health insurance that bears his name. He once promised that every American was free to keep his old insurance. That proved untrue. People can only insure themselves through the website of Obamacare. Obama called the digital problems 'a glitch', but as a policy project Obamacare seems unimplementable. In terms of paper it is a mountain of two meters; a maze of rules and exceptions. Minister of Health, Kathleen Sebelius, said that Obama 'knew nothing' about the poor state of the website. Makes you wonder what it is he does know.

Obama's digital stumbling has consequences. Internationally, confidence is harmed. The U.S. and the EU are negotiating a Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). The lowering of import tariffs that already are low is easy. What's difficult is to connect the legal framework of standards and regulations, especially on agriculture, financial services and medicines. This is painstaking and presupposes mutual trust. There are already insurmountable stumbling blocks, such as the issue of genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Another one has now been added: 'privacy'. The EU and the U.S. hoped to end negotiations at the end of 2014. That seems unfeasible. In addition, Obama will continue to weaken as long as Obamacare is stagnating. Next year there are Congressional elections.

Obama had no governing experience before his appointment. Neither did most of his staff. He gets little founded criticism. The established media are hardly interested the NSA scandal which is now overshadowed by Obamacare. The only fundamental opposition to NSA activity comes from Republican Senator Rand Paul; darling of the Tea Party. He fears the erosion of civil liberties. As to the 'glitch' of Obamacare, American media were understanding for a long time. George Bush would have been crucified under the same circumstances.

As the first black president, Obama is a historical figure. It seems like American media think for that reason that he cannot or may not fail. Which is why he risks failure. Every leader needs opposition: so does Obama.