For quite a while now, Obama’s success as President has been challenged not only by Republicans. We are now in the final two years, so most of what could be expected and accomplished has happened and it’s all in the wind up from here. In the midterm election with the clear victory of the Republicans in Congress, politicians have been making haste to distance themselves from the President. Clearly, the Republicans have disliked and obstructed Obama from the beginning, but yet he managed to reform healthcare and pretty much end the US intervention in Iraq. At the same time, he should receive credit for picking up the pieces after the 2008 crash, avoiding a much longer depression and coming out 6 years later with the stock market at all time highs and corporate profits continuing at record levels. Still business pretends not to like the president and the shrinking middle class does not feel any benefit from his economic policies. Even the supposed savings in health with the Affordable Care Act (ACA) are not palpable to many people. Obama seems aloof and tied to reacting to foreign policy crises such Russia in Ukraine, Islamic State in Iraq, Assad in Syria and Ebola in Africa. While I am certain that he is concerned about his legacy, he may be just too complacent and less than willing to defend his record and start any new major domestic initiatives at this point. I suppose he should take pride in two terms, the fact that he is the first Afro-American president and that history will eventually recognize his significance while current pundits emphasize his weakness and unpopularity.
So what is the situation with Dilma? Can we compare her to Obama, still generally recognized as the world’s most powerful figure? At first glance, Dilma seems strong. The press consistently ranks her as one of the most powerful women in the world, usually just below the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel. Dilma just won her second term in an admittedly tight race and she has a chance at a new start. However, like Obama she does not have a majority in Congress and her political skills are limited. She is wed to the social programs she inherited from Lula and now faces an economic crisis of slow to no growth and a flowering of corruption scandals. Thus far, she has been indecisive in the economic arena. While she has promised to replace finance minister Guido Mantega, she has been slow in signaling clearly to the market his replacement. The Real has suffered and now stands at 1US$ to 2.60 Reais and inflation is brewing. The rating agencies are threatening Brazil’s precious economic grade-bond status. And while Dilma keeps promising to deal with corruption, she has failed to make any real changes at Petrobras and other affected institutions.
Her legacy is that she is the first woman President of Brazil and has successfully (to date) continued Lula’s redistributionist policies through social programs and education.
Aside from health care, Obama has no major domestic success. Dilma, in spite of some continuity from Lula, has even less. So do we have two failed Presidents? Certainly, the right wing in the US thinks Obama is a failed president. In the same fashion, the right in Brazil finds Dilma anathema. The left in the US wants to distance itself from Obama as they see no gain in association with his policies that have done little to put more money in the hands of working people. The left in Brazil ties itself to Dilma, not so much for ideological reasons but because she controls the levers of power, the sinecures and the ability to allocate resources. Interest in her is more material than moral or ideological.
Obama, with his message of hope, perhaps offers greater immediate disappointment. Dilma with hardly any clear message does not offer anything except perhaps muddling through which in Brazil is nothing more than business as usual in the “pais do futuro.”