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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Southeast Asians should fear the US Tea Party movement

Southeast Asians should fear the US Tea Party movement

THE wisdom of the old adage that all politics is local has rarely been more evident than in the current unfolding of affairs in the United States.

And do not think that small town wheeler-dealing in Delaware or Nevada does not concern Southeast Asia, because it does.

Those local aspirants take the pulse of the ground and run with it.

Later, when they move on to become congressional and national leaders, they set policy on trade, immigration and security.

In doing so, they make sure that the positions they espouse reflect the sentiment of the folks who voted for them in the first place.

Right now, given America’s tough economic situation and 9.6 percent jobless rate, those folks are upset at the administration of President Barack Obama and are increasingly receptive to a more nationalistic and protectionist agenda.

Consequently, many candidates running in next month’s midterm elections are embracing that sentiment with a vengeance. The extent to which those candidates prevail will be of tremendous importance to this region and its future development and economic well-being.

That is indisputable, given that the US remains ASEAN’s largest overseas market and its most valuable source of investment and technology. If the region’s trade and investment ties with America take a hit, we will all suffer, badly.

That is why the current pendulum swing in American politics was a key topic for the ASEAN leaders when they met Obama in New York last month.

Like much of the world, they have been watching with trepidation as Obama and his Democrat Party plummet in the ratings.

It now looks almost certain that so many Republican candidates will defeat their Democratic counterparts that they will seize back control of both the senate and the house of representatives.

That will mean that Obama’s future prospects of passing new legislation are almost zero. Perhaps even more ominously, it signals that Obama himself is likely to be a one-term president.

While this is not pleasant to contemplate, it must be admitted that it is Obama’s own fault. After the initial euphoria of his election as the first black president, he has frittered away the enormously deep emotional support base he had.

On top of that, he has lamentably failed to cultivate and maintain his rapport with moderate, grassroots, middle-American voters, especially women. They are deserting him in droves.

That is bad enough. Even worse is that, rather than supporting mainstream opponents, they are turning to the so-called Tea Party Republicans, a shrill, breakaway movement that champions a populist and highly nationalistic credo.

They take their name from the 1773 Boston Tea Party, a protest by American colonists against British tax provisions and other punitive measures.

In a nutshell, today’s Tea Partiers are antigovernment, anti-tax, anti-immigration, anti-secular, anti-China, anti-Muslim and indeed anti-anything that involves compromise.

Believing that trouble begins at the US border, they view what lies beyond it as a godless place peopled by druglords, terrorists and perverts who eat up financial aid from US taxpayers – only to belittle America in return and burn its flag.

Hugely popular, they are not only running ahead of Obama’s Democrats, but they are ousting establishment Republicans from Alaska to Florida and from Delaware to Texas.

In doing so, they are alarming America’s allies, including those in this region, who fear that their exports to the US may be threatened.

And they could be if these America-first Tea Partiers win control of the congress in Washington and then seek to introduce restrictions and quotas to protect all things made and born in America.

That would be catastrophic for Southeast Asia, the most export-dependent grouping on the planet, where trade accounts for nearly 100 percent of aggregate GDP.

So it must hoped that Obama and his Democrat colleagues get their act together in the next four weeks and turn the Tea Party tide around, else we shall all be in deep doodah.



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