YP Obama Wins (The defenders of Middle Earth beat back the orcs): What will not happen now
published in the Yorkshire Post 8 November 2012
In Democratic party committee rooms in Manhattan, I watch a television flash that Barack Obama has taken Ohio and secured re-election. Wild cheers ring out, as four years ago, but this time overlain with relief: the exhausted defenders of Middle Earth have beaten back the orcs.
The prime significance of last night’s result is the government which America avoided. It will not be ruled by a weak President in thrall to cranks and moneyed interests seeking to re-run the follies of the Bush junior administration. It will not be bounced into a premature and awful war against Iran. It will not have to face the Republican fantasy budget with more tax cuts for the rich and welfare payments to defence contractors. The financial sector will not be rederegulated (this depressing verb has entered the American lexicon). Protection for workers, consumers and the environment will not be slashed to please corporations, and the rights of women and gay people will not be slashed to please bigots. America’s poor, America’s ethnic minorities, America’s immigrants will not be victimized. America will not see a Romney Supreme Court stacked with a reactionary and pro-corporate majority. These things will now not happen. What now will happen is much less certain.
For Britain, the result also brings some negative relief. Obama is largely indifferent to us: Romney and his party actually despised us. To them, we have become another part of “Europe”, an alien world whose peoples have been fatally softened by years of free health care and high public spending. Romney smarted at his reception here during the Olympic Games and Britain has been spared any personal retribution from him as President. We and our European partners should be comfortable with Obama’s likely replacement for Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State. Senator John Kerry, the defeated Presidential candidate of 2004, has no further personal ambitions and will no longer need to hide his ability to speak French. He will continue Obama’s pragmatic and undemonstrative foreign policy, including the present timetable for withdrawal from Afghanistan.
However, Britain’s main worry is not Obama’s foreign policy but the immediate prospects for the American economy.
Obama has inherited a modestly expanding economy from himself, but this could be sharply reversed within weeks if the United States is driven into the so-called “fiscal cliff”. Following intricate partisan political manoeuvres last year, Democrats and Republicans agreed a budget package of tax increases and spending cuts which they both detest. For lack of any agreed alternative, this will take effect automatically on 31 December. If it does, America could well tip into recession, but if it is abandoned America spirals further into debt and may spook its already nervous creditors. If Obama and Congress agree a stop-gap plan, America’s businesses and consumers could sit on their hands until he and the new Congress reach final agreement. None of these scenarios spells any good for our economy, and each gives full opportunity for political showmanship and market uncertainty.
In his first term, Obama seemed determined to reach consensus with his Republican opponents, often disappointing his supporters with apparently pre-emptive and unnecessary concessions. The liberal Democrats in the committee room are more optimistic about the second term. They point to Democrat gains in both Houses, with the ousting of some notable reactionaries. The Republicans are already manoeuvring against each other for the mid-term elections in 2014 and the now- vacant Presidental nomination in 2016: they should be a less determined and coherent opposition than in Obama’s first term. The committee room optimists also cite the demographics behind Obama’s victory, which point to a Republican party in long-term decline. They believe that Obama has learnt that Congressional Republicans either hate him or are too terrified of their local activists to co-operate with him, and that he will now find it more profitable to keep faith with the groups which kept faith with him. In particular, he will need to pay back Latino voters, a rising population where he won a massive majority over Romney, and show his thanks to women voters.
That analysis does not resolve Obama’s dilemma over the “fiscal cliff” but suggests a more assertive negotiation with the Congressional Republicans, whether in the outgoing House or the new one, with a final settlement more tilted towards Democratic voters. It also suggests that Obama will seek to reform immigration law and build on his landmark healthcare law. If he is allowed to, Obama will be even more determined (on this analysis) to avoid crisis overseas.
The conventional wisdom is that a second-term American President becomes an instant lame duck. I believe that Obama will overturn this, and for a simple reason which I discussed in this newspaper a few days ago. As a second-term President, he will no longer have to raise the eye-watering sums necessary for re-election and he will not be beholden to super-rich donors and special interests.
One final thought on that issue… The candidates in the American election spent over $6 billion on their campaigns. But in many states in the world’s richest country voters had to queue for hours because local officials had not spent enough on voting facilities. This is what can happen when public spending is cut and the private sector is allowed to let rip.