In the first decade of the 21st century, the US is very different in terms of its domestic institutional structure and its global role than it was in the 1930s. Of course, the same is true for Europe and most of the world. Politically, economically, socially, and culturally, in the last eight decades America evolved from a great power to a superpower, showing steady signs of structural weaknesses since the end of Vietnam War.
The rest of the world also underwent drastic changes from multi-polar in the interwar, to bipolar during the early Cold War, and back to quasi-multi-polar after the collapse of the Soviet bloc and relative economic strength of EU, China and Japan competing with the US. There are six structural similarities and differences in a number of areas worth noting between the world of Hoover and today’s world.
Aspects of neo-isolationism (unilateralism and complete disregard of the UN) were evident from Reagan to the second Bush administration, with the US essentially dragging major allies to go along with militaristic adventures that added nothing but larger budgetary allocations to the Pentagon. At the same time, the US would not permit multilateralism on the crucial Israeli-Palestinian conflict which was and remains catalytic to regional stability and arms reductions for many large and small countries alike.
The "war on terror" notwithstanding, today's political/ideological polarization is not as sharp as it was in the 1930s. We do not know that the bourgeois democratic consensus will remain much longer but the US is not threatened by sharp sociopolitical divisions that existed in the 1930s and that F. Roosevelt very ably mitigated through his New Deal policies.
However, there is a multi-polar world that is questioning the hegemony of the US and the Bretton Woods system responsible for cyclical crises and perpetuating dependence and underdevelopment in the Third World. Many Third World countries, Russia, China, and to a lesser extent the EU want a new Bretton Woods system to reflect today’s world, a world where American-style capitalism does not determine the fate of the planet. How long can the US count on China and others to buy its debt (Treasury bonds) so that the US can continue deficit spending, without damaging consequences on the dollar as a reserve currency? As the US public debt remains above 100% of GDP, and as long as the balance of payments remain high, the threat of sociopolitical polarization will rise.
Sixth, the depth of the depression that caused chronic unemployment (20-30%) accounted for cultural shocks as described in the literature of that era. Today the US and EU have around 10% unemployment (much higher with hidden unemployment and underemployment), but not nearly as ominous as the 1930s levels. Moreover, governments today offer some relief through social programs, they are investing in some labour-stimulus programs, and it appears that by the end of 2011 job-growth may stimulate the next economic upturn. However, that may not last long. After the 2012 general election, there may be another economic downturn.
By contrast, Obama grew up in an era of marketing and packaging of politicians by PR firms, an era in which strong domestic and foreign lobbies shape political agendas and finance campaigns to determine who wins, an era when ‘spin doctors’ are far more effective than Las Vegas illusionists in shaping public opinion. Obama is a reflection of a superficial hedonistic self-indulgent culture that believes if hero-politicians look, sound, and behave as people want to perceive them, then all is well and success is ours if we merely call it so.
Obama is pursuing policies that exacerbate deficit spending (more foreign borrowing that consequently weakens the already debilitated dollar) and not necessarily to restructure the civilian economy on a sound basis but to feed the Pentagon’s bottomless money pit and the financial elites who caused the current crisis. Where is the evidence that Obama has done anything other than to strengthen the financial elites who have no intention of changing the way they do business, including collecting massive salaries, stock options, bonuses, and other corporate perks?
Where is the evidence that Nobel Peace Prize winner Obama has done anything substantive to end costly and destabilizing military conflicts, which were contributing causes to the current crisis? He appeared somewhat awkward receiving the Nobel Peace Prize and politely noted that others were more deserving – this speech on the day thousands more US troops headed for the land that produces 80% of the world heroin! If the grand accomplishment of this president is not in foreign affairs, and it is clearly not, and it does not rest in major economic/financial restructuring that would stabilize society, where is Obama's forte?
After eight years of Bush in the White House, Obama spells relief for America and the world but only as a symbol and nothing more. Beneath the symbolism, it seems that he is not and most likely will not evolve into another FDR, as some analysts would love to compare him whether they are motivated by approval or disapproval of his administration and its policies.
Nor does he measure up to Hoover who laid the foundations for FDR (Cordell Hull’s) foreign policy, managed the budget responsibly against immense pressures, and tried to conduct policy against a domestic and foreign environment that was not nearly as cooperative and welcoming to Hoover as it is to Obama. That he may win another term is probably a safe bet; but that he will accomplish even less in his second term as he becomes even more conservative in policies and he is unable to strengthen democracy by strengthening the middle class and workers is also a safe bet.