As Both Sides Take Stock After President Obama's Election victory, What Price Change?
By Graeme Mackay | November 19, 2012 11:07 PM EST
On 06 November 2012, after electoral campaigns costing some $5.8 billion (and feeling like they had continued from the 2010 Midterms) President Obama convinced enough voters to give him "the benefit of the doubt" and re-elect him for a second term in the White House. On 09 November in his first address after securing victory, the President threw down a gauntlet to his Republican opponents in Congress over his proposal to increase taxes on the rich in order to avert the dire consequences of the "fiscal cliff" and reduce America's $1.2 trillion budget deficit.
Claiming that his plan had won a mandate: "On Tuesday night we found out that a majority of Americans agree with my approach..." was ignoring the fact of the closeness of the popular vote and, of course, that politicians are but very rarely elected on single issues. Did the President really think that he had won the economic debate and that this was what propelled him back in office?
True, the votes of the Electoral College gave him a resounding victory with 332 Electoral votes to Governor Romney's 206 but that is because such votes are calculated on the winner of any State, except Maine and Nebraska, "takes all" that State's College votes. The popular vote was a majority overall, but one much less flattering. President Obama gained 62.61 million votes (50.6 per cent) to Mitt Romney's 59.14 million votes (47.8 per cent).
Doesn't add up to 100 per cent?! Well there were several other Presidential candidates and to be fair, a couple of them deserve a mention. Third place went to Gary Johnson, a former Governor of New Mexico representing the Libertarian Party - no doubt you will all remember its convention in early May this year in Las Vegas? Or maybe not.
Yet Mr Johnson is an example of the American dream. Not born to wealth, he succeeded in growing his one-man business into a multi-million dollar, thousand-man business, before embarking on a political career and becoming New Mexico's Republican Governor. He won on 06 November, a very creditable 1.21 million votes, just under one per cent of the national vote count.
Wasted votes that should have gone to the main Republican candidate? Definitely an argument can be made for that stance but I am reminded of a couple of questions in the old (prior to October 2008) US Citizenship Test as set by the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
Name the right guaranteed by the First Amendment:
Freedom of speech, press, religion, peaceable assembly, and requesting change of the government.
What is the most important right granted to US Citizens?
The right to vote.
Nobody I asked in the UK got that last one but it highlights just how special democracy is held in the United States and in a democracy individuals do not need to account for their views to or fall into line with only the major political party players, no matter how inconvenient.
Mr Johnson's votes made no difference to any Electoral College outcome, not even New Mexico's, which should let him back into the main Republican fold in future if he so wishes. It was to President Obama's advantage that he did not face any opposition for the Democratic nomination which gave him a clear run for his second term. Mitt Romney his challenger on the other hand, was one of 12 seeking the Republican nomination, had no such luck and had to juggle his way through a rather tangled web from the moderate Right, his own comfort zone, to the nationally unelectable-even-in-America, Right
To many outside the United States, the great electoral battle played out between Democrats and Republicans appears to be just a piece of theatre between one party of the Right and another party, a bit more to the Right. The lady who came fourth in the Presidential race is more interesting in not fitting that mould and could probably sit comfortably in the ranks of Labour or the Lib Dems in the British Parliament.
Jill Stein of the Green Party and a resident of Lexington, Massachusetts, crossed swords with Mr Romney for that State's Governorship back in 2002. A doctor by profession, the issues she stands on concern health and the environment and women's and children's issues in particular. One of her Presidential nomination sponsors was the philosopher, Noam Chomsky. She told Matt Viser of the Boston Globe in June 2012:
"Voters will not be forced to choose between two servants of Wall Street in the upcoming election. Now we know there will be a third candidate on the ballot who is a genuine champion of working people."
Probably Ms Stein was a little disappointed by attracting only 435,000 votes (0.35 per cent) nationwide, not helped by how the two majors express so much real concern for green issues - or at least until the day after the Election. Lacking the high profile of Ralph Nader the 2000 Green Presidential candidate who won 2.74 per cent of the popular vote, Ms Stein is no doubt still a tad too much to the Left to be a force in American politics though that could change if President Obama's plans for the "wealthy" and his "Obamacare" projects succeed.
A night of euphoria for the Democratic faithful and fingers crossed for the "benefit of the doubters" was matched by the gloom felt by the other half of the country as they quickly got down to the question of: "What went wrong?" For much of the Campaign season between nominating their man and the Election, the 2012 Presidential was theirs to lose - and they did!
John Santucci of ABC News on 15 November, covering the Republicans' week of defeat analysis, reported a phone call on 12 November made by former President Bill Clinton to Mitt Romney, saying that a week before the Election he thought that Governor Romney would win: "...but the hurricane happened (Hurricane Sandy) and it gave the President a chance to be presidential, and to look bipartisan, and you know, he got a little more momentum..."
President Obama's handling of Hurricane Sandy and its aftermath certainly helped his bid and may well have clinched it with undecided voters, especially in those marginal and vital swing States, though in New York - City and State - and New Jersey, the worst affected areas, it would simply have enhanced his vote. A highly polished and very eloquent speaker, it allowed him time and again to avoid the hard political and economic issues and show a human side which would be too familiar for a European or Asian. Completely sidelined, Governor Romney could only look on.
When Mr Romney became Governor of Massachusetts in 2003, he could not have done so, careful and clever campaigning aside, in the Kennedy's backyard if he had not been a moderate. During his tenure he declined the Governor's salary and significantly improved the State's finances through tax and fee increases and spending cuts, ignoring criticism from many conservatives and corporations. His jewel in the crown must be the passing of the Massachusetts Health Reform Law in 2006 with the help of his friend, the late Ted Kennedy, the first Bill in the USA to establish near-universal health insurance cover.
Yet little of this came out during the campaign. Why not?
With the Republicans winning the White vote by a landslide - especially White males - the Party admits to being awestruck by the way that the Democrats got their big Minority group voters to the polls, especially Blacks and Latinos and it was that minority mobilisation that secured President Obama's victory. There is no move at the moment for the Republican Party to shift its opposition to relaxing immigration controls or granting group amnesties (DREAM or otherwise) - individual, case-by-case amnesties are commonly granted. That is right, at least in the near to medium future as anything other would be politically laughable.
The Republicans should ask themselves though, why did they lose the votes of the large Cuban minority in Florida whose vote was theirs for the past 50 years? Nor should the Democrats take the Latino vote for granted because many are small businessmen who value family and religion - just like Mr Romney - and are not the natural bedfellows of the Liberals of New York and the West Coast Relations between Black and Latino communities, I am informed by a pal of mine from LA, are as wide as ever - he didn't put it quite in such a polite form - so might it just have been a coincidence that sufficient minorities combined to vote for the Democrats in this particular election?
One aspect of the 2012 Presidential Election that stood out for me was the President's constant attack and critical emphasis on Governor Romney's wealth and success. Such would be no surprise in the welfare states of the UK or Europe but America, where for generations it has been seen as the land of opportunity, where by stint of hard work one can be successful and keep the wealth of one's labours without the state grabbing an unjustifiable share? Where wealth and success have been less envied but aspired to?
If the likes of Mr Johnson, former Governor of New Mexico is to be castigated for wealth and success and this to become a norm, the changes in the United States within a relatively short time will be profound. Look no further than Europe!
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