Obama praises Singapore’s education system

Senator Barack Obama mentioned Singapore at a Democratic party rally in Maryland sometime back. Thanks to reader “an old friend” who pointed this out to me.

Obama said, “How can it be that we haven’t made preparations to make sure we’re providing math instruction and science instruction for our children that matches countries like Taiwan and Singapore.”

Oops…he called Taiwan a country. Good for him! For one thing it shows that he is at least aware of Asia, a region that the Bush administration has largely ignored (except for North Korea).

Unfortunately some of our leaders do not think as highly of him as he does of us. Speaking at a recent IPS Forum, MM Lee Kuan Yew questioned the wisdom of supporting leaders like Barack Obama. He described Obama as a one-term senator with manifest intelligence and a gift for getting the right pitch.

“But you ask yourself: Is it going to be a safer world with McCain or with Obama?” he wondered aloud.

Maybe MM Lee forgot that he himself had only been MP for four years, and was only 35 years old when he became PM of Singapore.

I respect McCain and would support him if Obama wasn’t in the picture, but experience isn’t everything. In fact, sometimes the wrong experience can be worse than no experience. MM might have to eat his words if Obama really wins in November.

Author: Gerald Giam

Gerald Giam is the Member of Parliament for Aljunied GRC. He is a member of the Workers' Party of Singapore. The opinions expressed on this page are his alone.

16 thoughts on “Obama praises Singapore’s education system”

  1. Hi Gerald,

    Yerp… that is the same argument I use when someone from Singapore tells me Obama is too green. MM Lee wasn’t that old and wasn’t that experienced when he took up premiership.

    My reasoning is simple: it is about insights. It is about having the good sense, the insights, the judgements to make the right decisions for the country.

    Experience does help… but it is not everything.

    Honestly, I’ll trust a president who has the good sense to know a speedy (but not reckless) end to the Iraq war is in the best interest of America. I’ll be worried if the next PoTUS talks about staying in Iraq for 100 years.

    Sure, that’s not a bad idea; but it is going to bankrupt the country.

    An Old Friend

  2. Dear Gerald,

    Today’s papers in ST had a interview of MM Lee with UPI. MM Lee had also spoke of his preference for McCain as he believed McCain will not pull out of Iraq.

    While I have deep respect for MM Lee, yet I must disagree with him on this front. Yes Obama is young. Yes Obama is a one-term Senator. But politics in the US has become so bipartisan and polarised that maybe its time that a fresh and intelligent guy comes in to unite both parties together.

    The years when the whole world slams Bush and the GOP slams Bill Clinton has left US politics in a bad shamble. Getting Hillary into the picture will only makes things worse. McCain is a fine choice but his Republican background may work against him.

    Why do MM Lee keep speaking for McCain and against Obama? I do not know. I doubt he has much influence on US votes but I do hazard a guess that he is concern on the policies the US Prez will bring to asia when they take the Oval Office.

  3. “Maybe MM Lee forgot that he himself had only been MP for four years, and was only 35 years old when he became PM of Singapore.”

    One point of distinction, of course, is that leading a newly independent tropical island-state somewhere in Southeast Asia is rather different from leading the world’s largest superpower. Very little time to ‘learn on the job’ in the latter.

  4. As has been pointed out many times- Dick Chaney and Donald Rumsfeld were both highly experienced career politicians with decades of experience between them. Just look at the mess they created in the last 8 years. Ultimately their decades of experience didn’t amount to jackshit

  5. Hi Gerald, nice rebuttal to MM Lee’s comment on Obama. Here’s an excerpt from the transcript of Lawrence Lessig (founder of creative commons)’s video on how electing Obama would help in bringing about a more peaceful world and i think it acts as another good counter to MM Lee’s comment. The full video and transcript are on the following links btw:


    “But there’s one more crucial way in which Barack Obama can inspire, distinct from how Hillary Clinton could ever hope to inspire, and that’s the inspiration he would offer towards peace. We in this country need to acknowledge to the world a certain mistake that most of us understand we made. At the height of insanity, after this extraordinary and horrible bombing, of our own citizens on our own territory, we were led into war by a president who didn’t care to pay attention to the facts.

    This was the biggest political blunder, perhaps ever, that an American president engaged. It was extraordinarily destructive — destructive to us and to them. If we’re going to find peace here, then that peace will only come if we can signal our own change. A change that they understand is a change in who we are, a change that they can see.

    So I want you to shut your eyes and imagine what it will seem like to a young man in Iraq or in Iran, who wakes up on January 21st, 2009, and sees the picture of this man as the president of the United States. A man who opposed the war at the beginning, a man who worked his way up from almost nothing, a man who came from a mother and a father of mixed cultures and mixed societies, who came from a broken home to overcome all of that to become the leader in his class, at the Harvard Law Review, and an extraordinary success as a politician. How can they see us when they see us as having chosen this man as our president?

    There can be no clearer way that we could say, that we could say that the United States could say, that we have changed, than by electing this man. There is no way we could more clearly move on toward peace than this. He represents the very best of who we are, the best of character, of integrity and ideals. And someone who opposed the war from the start.”

  6. folks,

    i recall in an interview with Time 1-2 years back, MM Lee has stated his view that the world needs a US with strong foreign policies, esp a US that will take on the role to control Islamic extremist elements. He has stated all along he prefers to see US remain in Mid East as a “calming” influence on extremist elements.

    He sees the extremist elements as the biggest threat to global stability.

    But i think there’s another reason. Republicans are also extremely pro-business and quite possibly, much of Singapore’s success lies from good relationships with Republican presidents.

    A Democrat president focuses more on socialist/people issues, thus may not be good for Singapore.


  7. Hi Aygee,
    You have hit the nail on the head.
    For LKY, it is the Economic Imperative.
    Whichever president will be better for Singapore’s economy would be his choice.
    This is usually the Republican as the Democrat is usually more inward looking and protective of American industries.


  8. Initially I thought MM Lee’s concern about Obama was that he seems more protectionist. He has said that he will stop giving tax breaks to companies that ship American jobs overseas.

    But after reading MM Lee’s interview with UPI, I now understand that his main concern with Obama is that he is pledging to pull out of Iraq. newcastle, you’re right.

    I think his concerns are misplaced. First, Obama said he’ll only pull out combat troops, not ALL troops.

    Second, many Iraqi govt leaders believe that US troops are contributing to the insurgency by giving the insurgents a rallying point. For e.g, when the British troops pulled out of Basra, the insurgents agreed to a ceasefire, stopped their attacks and agreed to talks. So it may be entirely possible that a troop pullout will give the Iraqi govt more legitimacy and calm the insurgency.

  9. I think it is bad form for MM Lee to support one candidate over another. His speaking up in favor of McCain will not help Singapore’s relationship with the US if McCain wins, but may hurt it if McCain loses. Actually, MM Lee is behaving as if Americans actually care what he has to say. I am American, and I feel rather irritated that he mouths off his comments about US politics when he and his rubber-stamp government routinely say that foreigners should not comment about Singapore politics (that being “reserved for Singaporeans”). What a hypocrite. I’ll be voting for Obama.

  10. The first thing peeps really like to see is the cancellation of the bullets for war.Then follow by thorough investigation into sfs that bought a lot shares in lenders who need funds to bail themselves out of the fiscal crap they are in.
    Yeah War is good(for business) but not at our doorstep.
    Well no speedboats this time round.

  11. Hi Gerald,

    10-0 for Obama!

    He won WI and HI… 10 staight victories on the trot! He won the Aloha state by 76-24… and it was 58-41 in Wisconsin.

    Pundits say he just needs to come close in TX, OH and PA to secure the nomination.

    An Old Friend

  12. Hi Gerald,

    Ben and Jerry (of Ben & Jerry’s Homemade Ice Cream fame) endorses Barack Obama!

    In fact, they sent out Obamamobiles to give out free “Cherries for Change”-flavored ice-cream.

    Note: it is the founders Ben and Jerry who are endorsing; not the ice cream company.

    Obama now leads by 100 pledged delegates.

    An Old Friend

  13. If I remember a documentary I saw some years back, Grampa Lee was in tears when Malaysia unceremoniously dumped us. It was through a lucky break that he got the opportunity to achieve all that he did. I’m not, for a moment, saying that all that he’s done for the country is nothing to crow about. I am a Singaporean living in UK and I never fail to reminisce fondly of the first class health care system and the efficiency I enjoyed in Singapore. Back to the point, Gramps obviously values experience above many things else and I agree with newcastle in saying that US and the world need someone refreshing like Obama. As much as I love my country, I have to confess that I left because I found my government stoically staid.

  14. Seriously though, U.S. Educational System is on the bottom of scales. So praising any other country’s (not necessarily Asian) is like shooting fish in the barrel. So perhaps it’s just another pitch, as mentioned. Less yapping, and give me a plan and I will be the judge if his vision for U.S. educational system is sound.

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