Even in the
worst economic crisis since the 1930s, New York knows how to throw
a party. For most of yesterday hundreds of thousands of people made
a sea of green that paraded up Fifth Avenue to mark St Patrick’s
Day. Tens of thousands lined the street to watch them. The all-day
party, fuelled by imports of Guinness and whiskey, seemed the more
intensely engaged upon as an escape from omnipresent financial gloom.
Away from the
party, the mood in America’s cultural and business capital
is more firmly anchored in stark reality, and quite different from
the euphoria that pervaded it when I was last here, on election
day. President Obama still enjoys the popularity that comes with
not being George Bush, especially in a city top-heavy with Democrats.
But his initial response to the global calamity that he found on
entering the Oval Office has not inspired popularity’s more
sober elder brother, confidence. Large constituencies, notably business,
are voicing their scepticism openly. The President’s much-vaunted
$787 billion stimulus package is being widely interpreted, even
by some of those (such as Warren Buffett, America’s second-richest
man) who openly supported Mr Obama for the presidency, as a serious
failure. And we are only just past the first 50 days.
Mr Obama is
lucky that his Republican opponents in Congress are disorganised,
incoherent and without ideas of their own. The White House branded
Rush Limbaugh, the populist talk radio host, leader of the opposition,
following an assault Limbaugh had made on the President's neo-socialist
policies. This remark was designed not just to humiliate elected
Republicans for their impotence, but also to attempt to terrify
the American public at the thought of a man widely seen as a demagogue
and an extremist leading a main political movement. It should worry
Mr Obama that while the former part of the strategy has hit home,
the latter hasn't.