Whatever the 2012 Presidential election demonstrated, it’s that the USA is nowhere near United as its name suggests.
Not for the first time the country is pretty well split asunder, more precisely 50/48. The centre largely remains steadfastly Republican red, while the densely-populated fringes Democrat blue.
In terms of the popular national vote it was, as Wellington noted after Waterloo, ‘a damn, close-run thing’ – something tellingly not reflected by the arcane Electoral College (EC), which allocates ballots per state populations.
However, as the brouhaha boiled down to a cluster of predicted swing states, maybe the contenders could have saved $6-billion and America a bout of national nausea over tedious telly ads, each candidate hell bent on trashing the other, and simply fought the contest on the see-saw battlegrounds of Ohio, Virginia, Florida, Colorado and Nevada.
The chatterati are pretty well agreed rustbelt Ohio (18 EC votes) was the clincher and what copper-bottomed it for Obama was his bail-out of near-broke automobile industry, one of the state’s major employers. Oddly, businessman Romney’s idea of allowing car giants, like General Motors, to go into ‘Chapter 11′ administration would have had the same, net effect, but let’s not get into the dark arts of corporate crisis accountancy.
Omni-storm Sandy was also a contributory factor. It gave Obama the brief chance to appear presidentially above the fray and, crucially, he visited New Jersey, one of the worst hit regions, comforting the homeless and promising aid. Romney (big boo-boo, Mitt!) stayed away and Democrats milked every second of air-time apropos his absence.
To be fair to the Republican challenger, he did far better than most pundits originally imagined. His wealth, Mormon faith – a heretic cult in the eyes of many Bible Belt Christians – and propensity to occasionally put his foot where his mouth was were undoubted impediments.
But, in hindsight, he was the best of an ill-starred bunch from the Right – some almost certifiable (Google: Michele Bachmann for confirmation), which says little for a schism-ridden party more divided than the nation itself.
And the US is not simply split, but increasingly factionalised as the polling statistics icily demonstrate.Whites, predominantly males, voted 60/39 for Romney; African-Americans, Hispanics and Latinos balloted almost en block for Obama. Clearly Obama’s vow to legalise the status of 11 million ‘illegals’ – mainly Spanish speakers – resonated (and think of the tax revenue this will scoop, not to say the hole it will blow in the ‘black’ economy).
The key constituency that garnered most supported for the incumbent, however, was women. This will rattle the Christian fundamentalist Right – as exemplified by Sarah Palin’s head-banging Tea Partiers – who tried to ram their anti-abortion, anti-gay marriage social agenda down the nation’s gullet.
Mainstream women understandably demand freedom to control their own bodies and even though Romney distanced himself from the extremists, he was viewed by many female voters as a risk too far.
So where does this leave Obama? Last time out, in 2008 he caned John McCain, a nice man in need of a personality transplant, winning the national vote by a margin of nine-and-a-half million and the Electoral College by a cricket score of 365 to 173.
This time, though, there’s a bitter-sweet tinge to victory. Despite how my irate detractors will fulminate, Obama is tarnished goods, an ideologue, who’s patently failed to deliver on his war-cry of ‘Change’ for the better.
Admittedly, not everything was his fault. He inherited the greedy banks’ ‘sub-prime’ mortgage crisis, G-Dubya’s inept attempt to impose democracy on Iraq – now a vassal state of the Iranian maniacs – the stalemate war in Afghanistan and a stuttering economy.
But, the glaring question is where did he nearly screw up, having been swept to power on a tsunami of popularity four years ago?
Baldly, the facts are: free-spending, uber-liberal Obama failed to halt the rise in a US deficit that impacts on the world – not that the financial imbroglio in the Eurozone is any help – failed to lift the US out of recession and failed to recognise his worthy, but ambitiously expensive ‘Obamacare’ NHS-style initiative was the right policy for the wrong time.
Mostly, he’s failed as a political operator at mending fences with a Republican-dominated House of Representative, in contrast to Bill Clinton. And if Obama – by all accounts a stubborn, aloof and irascible figure, inclined to throw his toys out of the pram if he doesn’t get his own way – continues his battle of attrition with Congress, ‘Change’ will be a hollow slogan.
Because, as Clinton seminally reminded George H. Bush back in ’92, ‘It’s the economy, stupid’ and the squeezed middle classes of Blue Collar America want actions, not platitudes. To deliver, Obama needs friends in high places – Republicans at that – and learn the art of compromise with grace.
Though foreign policy was way down the election agenda, it’s clear the President must also radically revise his brief. He was blindsided by the Arab Spring-cum-Islamic Winter and the US can’t rely on the freemasonry of tyrants that once ruled the region, filling their personal coffers with American aid.
He’s been fortunate, though, to have had Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State, because she’s a far savvier oracle of the international horizon than her boss, whose only marquee achievement was hastening Osama bin Laden wish to enter Paradise, succoured by a harem of nubile virgins (and, by all accounts, cutting the snake’s head off Al Qaeda was Hill’s idea).
Mrs. Clinton, however, is reported to be quitting office – possibly for a stab at the White House herself in 2016 – so replacing so sage a voice on foreign affairs is going to be tough challenge for the President.
Meanwhile, China – as the BBC’s John Simpson pointed out on election night – thinks Obama’s a wimp (an opinion echoed by Vladimir Putin); the Muslim Brotherhood sees him as a push-over; and the Taliban are just waiting to give the corrupt, quasi-democratic Afghanistan government a murderous kick up their shalwar kameez’d backsides when US troops exit in 2014.
At least, so far, Obama’s demurred from getting his hands dirty in the Syria civil war, where what constitutes the ‘rebels’ are a total conundrum to Washington.
America – and the West’s – one ally in the Middle East, Israel, not unreasonably doesn’t trust Obama an inch, despite their congratulatory rhetoric. This is especially so since his insistence the Jewish state retreats to pre-1967 borders – the so-called ‘Auschwitz Lines’, as Benjamin Netanyahu reminded the President in one acerbic tete-a-tete.
While the Palestinians are locked in an internal squabble between Fatah on the West Bank and Hamas-ruled Gaza, Obama has breathing space on that front, although meddling by the ‘bearded ones’ in Egypt’s new, Islamic regime may cause irritation.
What the President must do, however – and not merely at Israel’s behest – is take a tougher stance against Iran, who have lied, obfuscated and patently run down the clock over their nuclear ambitions.
Hillary Clinton could read the runes. Taking tiny Israel out of the equation, she knew if the crazy ayatollahs had a finger on the nuclear button, it would trigger an arms race for weapons of mass destruction and Saudi Arabia will be first in line for US know-how in building its own bomb.
However, probably the biggest imponderable facing Obama is how to deal with the emergent super status of China, especially with a new leadership in Beijing ready to be rubber-stamped.
Tellingly, in his final debate with Romney, he referred to the inscrutable Chinese as ‘both adversary, but also a potential partner.’
Obama might like to chew on a phrase attributed to Winston Churchill (though, Napoleon said something similar): ‘Beware the sleeping dragon. For when she awakes the earth will shake.’
Well, Mr. President, you’ve been granted four more years to sort out that dilemma and stop China throttling world trade. If you don’t, indeed the world will quake.