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Why Obama’s not visiting Malaysia

(Published in The Malay Mail on 7 October 2013)

Who in their right mind would cancel an all expenses paid trip to Malaysia, land of the exotic and of embracing welcomes? President Obama just did. He’s not in his right mind though, is he?

Far from it, the president is racked with anxiety over the destiny of his country, land of the free and the home of largely sane people. In President Obama’s speech in Maryland on Thursday, he said:

“The United States is the centre of the world economy, so if we screw up, everyone gets screwed up — the whole world will have problems.”

Bluntly put, but he’s right. And while his assertion that the US is pivotal to the global economy seems farcical given its staggering $16 trillion debt (, all eyes are firmly on America. If the current budget gridlock, caused by a largely insane minority group — the Tea Party Republicans — is not resolved soon, the US economy will quickly plunge into a: “very deep and a very dark recession” according to Mark Zandi, Moody’s Analytics’ chief economist. Its repercussions will be felt across the globe, particularly in countries still trying to claw their way out of recession.

Like everyone else looking from the outside in, I think the situation is ludicrous: a small group of loose cannons holding the government hostage by making funding for its operations subject to cuts or delays to Obama’s new national healthcare reforms, which they find disagreeable.

The Affordable Care Act, miraculously passed into law in 2010, is the biggest healthcare reform America has seen in the past 50 years. It tackles the problem of one-in-six Americans being without healthcare insurance and protects consumers from abusive insurance company practices. Last Tuesday, the same day the federal government went into shutdown, Americans were able to purchase health insurance from state and federal exchanges for the first time. I firmly believe that this signature piece of legislation will be Obama’s most enduring legacy.

The Tea Party’s destructive actions have rocked the country and the very democratic foundations on which America is built, namely governance by majority rule. And the effects of the failure to agree a debt-increase last Monday have already hit many levels of society, from the working poor to government employees.

A range of government services, including key programs for older people and children in need have been compromised. For example, Head Start, a preschool program for low-income families, has lost grant money for its programmes spanning 11 different states, impacting close to 20,000 children.

More than 800,000 government employees are on a leave of absence, and millions more have been forced to work without pay.

“CLOSED” signs hang from the entrances of federal sites nationwide. National landmarks, including the Statue of Liberty and Lincoln Memorial, have also been shuttered. Not much fun for visiting tourists.

Talk about American extremism. I had thought the likes of America’s absurd healthcare system, the continued presence of far right groups such as the Ku Klux Klan and batty gun ownership laws were bad enough, but a bunch of self-serving, rogue republicans riding rough-shod over Capitol Hill, holding the government, the country and its 300 million citizens to ransom, is just plain wrong.

And the above has nothing on what might happen if no deal on the debt ceiling is reached before the so-called 17 October deadline. At this point, America faces going into “default”, meaning it will run out of money to pay bills such as social security, military salaries and debt interest payments to China and other foreign creditors. America’s been in “shutdown” before in ’95 and ’96, but never in “default”.

There is much I truly adore about America: its can-do attitude, pioneering spirit, innovation and abundant opportunities. But this kind of abhorrent behavior we are now witnessing completely reinforces my family’s decision to ditch and run from the US late last Autumn after living there for six years, four in gun-toting deep south, two in the metropolis of Manhattan.

Talking late Thursday night to a close friend of mine living in Manhattan, the mood on the streets in this predominantly democratic state is one of disbelief. While waiting for a train to pitch up at Union Square Subway earlier that day, she overheard a conversation between two women in their 50s. Responding to a newsflash alert on her phone, one blurted out to the other: “Oh my god, have you seen this?” She then proceeded to read aloud the report of the Capitol Hill lockdown in response to shots being fired. “Whatever next?” she added. To which the other responded, rather bizarrely I thought: “I’m telling you, there’s going to be French revolution here.”

Be it a French-style revolution, an Occupy the Tea Party, the US equivalent of an Arab Spring—a people uprising might well happen. Until then, President Obama is well-advised to stay put and defend America’s healthcare, and fight like mad for the health of America’s democracy.

He’s excused from turning his back on Malaysia, just this once.

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