The Economist magazine, based in London, often provides valuable windows into world events. But when it comes to American politics, its reach exceeds its grasp, succumbing to the worst, most self-satisfied Euro-cliches: A knuckle-dragging, ultra-conservative Republican Party vengefully attacking thoughtful, intellectual Democrats like Barack Obama. The two standards were on stark display in the January 16/22 issue, which covered President Obama’s State of the Union address and South Carolina Republican Gov. Nikki Haley’s response.
The title gave away the slant: “Barack Obama – A voice in the wilderness.” The man is just too thoughtful for America, and certainly too "cerebral" for Congress
To hear most of the contenders for this year’s presidential election tell it, America is in a horrible state. Republicans both mainstream and whacko, from Jeb Bush to Donald Trump, describe a country enfeebled militarily, ailing economically and culturally corrupted by seven years of Democratic rule; on the left, Bernie Sanders describes an economy rigged against ordinary Americans. In his last state-of-the-union message to Congress on January 12th, Barack Obama delivered a rebuke to that miserabilism—and to the ugly nativism it is fuelling among voters.
This was genre-busting stuff. The annual presidential address to Congress is traditionally a wishlist of legislative business for the coming year, with, in the final year of a presidency, an additional trumpeting of the incumbent’s record. Mr Obama’s speech contained some of that....Yet the main thrust of his speech was in a way more audacious: an effort to stake out, ahead of Iowa, the ground for legitimate debate in a civilised society.
America has not, Mr Obama ventured to suggest, gone to the dogs. Its economy is the envy of the world. Its armed forces are unrivalled. So is its global leadership....
Praising Obama's defense of welfare and his passivity in the face of overseas threats, the typically unbylined Economist reporters gushed:
This was vintage Obama, disdainful of the tribal emotions that have subsumed American politics, cerebral, unrelentingly reasonable. No doubt, it reminded many of his critics, who represent around half of Americans, why they abhor him.....When Mr Obama claimed that America was not enfeebled militarily, many Republican congressmen emitted a scandalised gasp. Yet mainstream Republicans candidates such as Chris Christie and Mr Bush, none of whom has denounced Mr Trump’s vile politics half as effectively as Mr Obama, must quietly hope Republican voters imbibe his moral lesson, and reject the rabble-rousers. While he himself must pray that Democratic voters, 30-40% of whom are currently tempted to vote for Mr Sanders, will instead rally to Hillary Clinton who, because more electable, is much likelier to protect his legacy.
....In the absence of much enthusiasm for electoral reform in Congress, he promised to “travel the country” making his case for it. That desirable change, which he himself once promised to bring about, “will only happen when the American people demand it”, he concluded. As so often, he is right and admirable in his diagnosis. Still, it is hard not to be dismayed by the image he left hanging in the divided House, of the president, once the change politician, reduced to wandering America like a mendicant preacher, appealing forlornly to its better nature.
The next page featured Nikki Haley’s response under the headline, “Haley’s Comet – The governor of South Carolina auditions for the Republican ticket.” So far, so good. But then The Economist condescended, damning Haley with faint praise for not being quite as big a troglodyte as her "xenophobic" party peers (like Donald Trump).
The Economist praised Haley’s criticism of her own party -- “...she acknowledged in her speech that Republicans shared the blame for America’s political dysfunction” -- before piling on some criticism of its own making.
That combination -- fiscal ferocity and a capacity for conciliation -- has led to chatter, now intensifying, about Mrs Haley as a contender for vice-president. Then there is the potential of her biography. She is South Carolina’s first female governor, and first from an ethnic minority; five years into her tenure, she is still the country’s youngest (she will be 44 on January 20th). If the Democrats plump for Hillary Clinton, Mrs Haley could attack her in ways that might seem ungallant for a male nominee. She might help salve the rebarbative xenophobia of the Republican primary.
The magazine termed her a “hardline Republican” based on evidence that she held Republican views:
To her opponents at home, all this is somewhat ironic. Her burgeoning reputation for sensitivity would be better deserved, they say, if she had aided struggling South Carolinians by expanding her state’s Medicaid coverage under Obamacare (a programme she dutifully whacked this week). Hers is plainly the sort of up-by-the-bootstraps immigrant story that leaves little patience for special pleading: her family’s mantra was “Deal with it”. But another way of putting that is that Mrs Haley is, at heart, an orthodox, even hardline, Republican. For example, like many Republican governors, she has resisted the resettlement of Syrian refugees in her state. She once posted a snap of the Beretta she got for Christmas on Facebook.
The Economist let it be known it wasn't buying Haley's so-called "tolerance."
The Tea Party connection points to a potential weakness: an outlook that, beneath the patina of tolerance, can seem both doctrinaire and parochial....
(Bonus insult: Donald Trump was described in a subhead as “The Hippocratic oaf.”)
While many conservatives found Haley’s SOTU response mild and apologetic, The Economist insisted only right-wing extremists could feel that way:
....Except among those Republicans for whom any hint of moderation is anathema, her turn was widely applauded. On this evidence, voters would not recoil at the idea of her sitting a missed heartbeat from the Oval Office.
For the Economist, “voters would not recoil” amounts to high praise for a Republican politician. The rest of the praise was similarly backhanded and laden with caveats.
Even Mrs Haley’s critics concede that she has grown into her governorship, performing robustly during South Carolina’s recent floods. But they complain that she is more opportunistic than decisive. She tolerated the Confederate flag for years, they say, while others agitated for its removal; her vaunted record of job-creation owes as much to the wider economic recovery as to her leadership....