Voices from Russia

Saturday, 14 January 2012

America Enters Referendum Year on Obama

US President Barack Obama (1961- )

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America has finally set out on the long journey that will culminate with the presidential election on 6 November of this year. Everything that has come before… the registration of candidates, television debates… have all been preludes, a warm-up for the main event. Things began in earnest in Iowa, where, on 3 January 2012, Mitt Romney managed to eke out a win in the Republican primary. He appears to be the candidate Republican voters consider most capable of defeating Barack Obama. However, really, could any of the current crop of Republican candidates displace Obama from the White House? Who’ll win? That’s the big question.

If you were to delve into the Quatrains of Nostradamus, you’d no doubt find some prophecy related to this topic. Nevertheless, you’d still need a very active imagination. For now, no one’s capable of accurately predicting the results of the election. Everything will depend on the state of the economy, on whether it recovers or falls into a recession, on the unemployment level, and on which one of the Republican candidates opposes Obama. Some give Obama a 50-50 chance of re-election. Another says the odds are 55-45, and the fact that the Republicans don’t have a strong candidate or clear course of action on the economy works in his favour. Therefore, Obama presents a less risky alternative than any of the Republican hopefuls. A third group predicts a Republican victory with a small majority. In short, sceptics and optimists are roughly equal in number.

The Democrats aren’t holding primary elections this year. They’ve decided that Obama will run for a second term, and this gives them an undeniable advantage… they don’t have to waste energy on clashes among members of their own party in a struggle to endorse a candidate at the Democratic National Convention in North Carolina in September. Obama can focus on his administration’s achievements, rather than squandering resources fighting a war on two fronts. In 2008, the stand-off between Obama and Hillary Clinton (the current Secretary of State) in the struggle for the Democratic Party nomination lasted right up until the party convention and nearly led to disaster. If Americans hadn’t been so fed up with George W Bush, and had the Republican candidate not been the aging John McCain, there’s no telling where this might have led.

Elections as a Referendum

The president returned from the holiday break on 2 January, and will now begin making active use of what we in Russia would call his “administrative resources”. As in every election year, the number of trips around the country for an acting president gearing up for re-election will rise sharply. These are special elections for Obama. Strictly speaking, they aren’t even elections; rather, they’re more of a referendum on the four years in office of the 44th, and the first black, president of the United States. Moreover, the timing for such a referendum is very unfortunate. Frankly, it’s a bad time. If only Americans were a little more patient, a little more accommodating, a little more appreciative, then, in all likelihood, Obama would already have a second term in the White House in the bag. If they understood his troubles… that would’ve been perfect.

Things have really “worked out” for Obama. In 2008, from Bush, he inherited a war in Afghanistan and another one in Iraq, a financial and economic crisis the likes of which Americans hadn’t seen since the 1920s, a huge public debt, a budget deficit for which there aren’t any quick or painless solutions, and Guantánamo Bay. On top of this were the flare-ups in the Arab world and the hawkish administration of its chief Middle Eastern ally, Israel. It’s fortunate that foreign policy isn’t going to have much effect on the outcome of the election, if, of course, you don’t count the situation in Afghanistan and Iraq, which are practically an internal affairs for Americans. Obama promised to bring peace to the Middle East and he failed to do so; he promised a “reset” of US-Russian relations, but that famous button became stuck long ago. He also failed to follow up on the Nobel Peace Prize, which he won in 2009. Europe, mainly represented by Germany, is ignoring his repeated appeals to solve the Euro problem by repaying in full the debts of the troubled southern countries of the EU. How unfortunate.

Even with this kind of legacy, one must recognise that Obama’s first presidential term was enormously successful. According to all the indicators, the 2008 crisis that befell the country (and which he inherited) didn’t end up leading to an economic and banking collapse… thanks to Barack Obama. He introduced a package of measures to stimulate the economy, worth almost 800 billion USD (25.5 trillion Roubles. 630 billion Euros. 520 billion UK Pounds). It rescued leading US car manufacturers and banks from total collapse. At long last, he also put in place reforms of the crippled healthcare system, of a type never seen before, and he brought in strict regulatory mechanisms of the financial market to prevent a recurrence of the banking crisis. He also took out Osama bin Laden. Admittedly, the electorate is not so concerned about what has happened in the past… all the trials of the president and his presidency, the enormity of the financial recovery, are problems that he addressed and overcame. Voters’ hearts become hardened with the knowledge that times are bad now, and they could be even worse tomorrow. When American voters’ pockets grow increasingly slimmer, they become more and more insensitive to the problems of other people… especially US Presidents.

Will America Re-Elect Obama?

It’s entirely possible. Personally, I even think that it’s is likely that he’ll win re-election. Americans are a notoriously impatient people. However, that aspect of their character will come into play equally for Obama and for the Republican candidates. The Republicans are currently playing the same game that Barack and Hillary did in 2008, and it looks like their infighting will keep them busy right up to the national convention in Florida at the end of August. For now, they’re busy cursing the president, whilst, at the same time, beating the stuffing out of one another. Six main candidates remain in the race for the Republican presidential nomination. They are former Speaker of the US House of Representatives Newt Gingrich, former US Ambassador to Singapore and China (and former Governor of Utah) Jon Huntsman, Texas Governor Rick Perry, former Governor of Massachusetts Mitt Romney, former US Senator from Pennsylvania Rick Santorum, and US Congressman Ron Paul. It’s very difficult to predict which one of them will win. It’s impossible to say. Romney’s currently in the lead, with Gingrich, Paul, and Santorum close on his tail. As late as last summer, the pundits almost wrote off Gingrich for a series of reckless remarks… as one Republican political consultant put it, Gingrich’s mouth is the equivalent of constantly carrying around a self-destruct button in his pocket, and that he acts like a “Tasmanian Devil in a sandstorm”. They say the Republican ticket would be stronger with Romney, and he could even choose Gingrich as his running mate. Most consider the former a moderate, the latter a conservative. Together, they’d balance one another out.

Romney may have taken Iowa, but it’s not a foregone conclusion that he’ll be the nominee. More likely than not, we’ll have to wait for “Super Tuesday”, a day when 10 US states hold primaries at the beginning of March. Meanwhile, Obama will slowly, but surely, be keeping an eye on his ratings. These ratings reflect the public mood in America, its attitude to the present, the past, and the future, and its expectations and hopes. If one believes the latest Gallup Poll, the approval ratings for Obama, which dropped to 40 percent in the summer, and were at 41 percent at the beginning of December, rose to 46 percent by the end of the year; according to other opinion polls they were as high as 49 perent. That, of course, doesn’t guarantee him a second term in the White House, but, for now, the trend’s distinctly positive.

5 January 2012

Andrei Fedyashin

RIA-Novosti

http://en.rian.ru/analysis/20120105/170632406.html

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