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Sunday 27 May 2012

Euro crisis is a real threat to Obama

Claims that Obama was born in Kenya are back but the economy will be the decisive issue, says Ruth Dudley Edwards

TIMES are challenging and we must get our laughs where we can, so before I write about the US presidential election on which so much depends, I must share with you the story of Harvard professor Elizabeth Warren, Democratic candidate for the senate seat of Massachusetts.

This senatorial seat was a Democratic redoubt from 1952, when John F Kennedy defeated the Brahmin Bostonian Henry Cabot Lodge. But in 2010, after Ted Kennedy's death, it was recaptured for the Republican Party -- to general liberal consternation -- by the little-known Scott Brown.

Warren has become a national laughing stock since it emerged that for years she had listed herself in the Association of American Law Schools' directory as a Native American and had been touted as a "minority faculty member" by the Harvard Law School on the basis of having allegedly had a Cherokee great-great-grandmother.

Disobligingly, genealogical records have failed to confirm that she is as Indian as President Barack Obama is Irish and she is now being referred to as "Spouting Bull" and "Fauxcahontas".

Identity politics play well with the liberal elite, but not with ordinary Americans, so a seat that the Democrats counted on winning back may well stay Republican.

Meanwhile, the row about Obama's background has taken a new twist.

For years, what were known as the Birthers -- Republicans who claimed that Obama had been born abroad and was therefore ineligible to be US president -- have doggedly clung to their suspicions.

Having been ridiculed for years, they have now been given a boost by the revelation that from 1991 to 2007, his literary agent's website recorded him as having been born in Kenya.

I've never been convinced by the Birthers' arguments, but nor do I believe the claim of Obama loyalists that this was simply an error by the literary agent.

In 1991 Obama signed up to write a book about race relations that was published four years later as Dreams from My Father: A Story Of Race And Inheritance. Obama was an ambitious young man and being born in Kenya rather than Hawaii made him a much sexier proposition.

As the commentator Mark Steyn put it: "After all, if your first book is an exploration of racial identity and has the working title 'Journeys in Black and White', being born in Hawaii doesn't really help.

"It's entirely irrelevant to the twin pillars of contemporary black grievances: American slavery and European imperialism. To 99.99 per cent of people, Hawaii is a luxury vacation destination and nothing else.

"Whereas Kenya puts you at the heart of what, in an otherwise notably orderly decolonisation process by the British, was a bitter and violent struggle against the white man's rule. Cool!"

As with the Warren nonsense, this story brings home how absurd the whole diversity industry has become in the US. But it also reminds us how unknowable Obama is.

Charming and clever he may be, but he's an enigma even to his colleagues. Many Americans feel uneasily that he's not one of them, not because he is black but because they think he doesn't really think like them or even likes them. The more sophisticated of his opponents see him as a European social democrat masquerading as a Yank.

It's significant that in the Democratic primaries he has doing badly with the working class against weak opposition. In West Virginia, for instance, a Texas prison inmate won 40.6 per cent of the vote.

Electors are a bit uneasy about Mitt Romney too, because they think that his Mormon religion is weird and feel that he changes his politics in order to suit his circumstances.

Can Romney beat Obama? Well, as Bill Clinton used to say: "It's the economy, stupid." Romney and Obama differ on what to do about the unemployment and debt that are frightening Americans.

Romney presents himself as a successful businessman who will solve the country's ills by slashing government waste and encouraging growth in the private sector.

Obama's supporters accuse Romney of being a hard-hearted corporate vampire who became a multi-millionaire by slashing jobs in the interests of quick profits.

Obama -- who is running a viciously divisive campaign even by American standards -- is presenting himself as the enemy of rich vested interests and the friend of those in need, particularly women.

They will spend hundreds of millions of dollars knocking seven bells out of each other over the next six months, but unless one or other messes up, the result of the election will depend mainly on what happens in Europe.

A eurozone disaster has the capacity to do great damage to the American economy and that could be catastrophic for Obama.

Those portentous visionaries who ignored reason and history by pushing ahead with the euro have more to answer for than they ever could have dreamed.

Ruth Dudley Edwards

© Ruth Dudley Edwards