America enters referendum year on Obama

January 7, 2012 1:32 pm 

By Andrei Fedyashin

MOSCOW, Jan. 6 — America has finally set out on the long journey that will culminate with the presidential election on November 6 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 the state of Iowa, where on January 3, 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. But really, could any of the current crop of Republican candidates displace Obama from the White House?

Who will win? That is the big question.

If you were to delve into the Quatrains of Nostradamus, you would no doubt find some prophecy related to this topic. But you would still need a very active imagination. For now, no one is 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 of the Republican candidates will oppose Obama.

Some give Obama a 50-50 chance of re-election. Another says the odds are 55-45, and that working in his favor is the fact that the Republicans do not have a strong candidate or clear course of action on the economy. Obama therefore 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 are not holding primary elections this year. They have Obama running for a second term, and this gives them an undeniable advantage: they do not have to waste energy on clashes among members of their own party in a struggle to endorse a candidate at the Democratic National Convention that will be held 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 America had not been so fed up with George W. Bush and the Republican candidate had not been the aging John McCain, there is no telling where this might have led.

Elections as a referendum

The president returned from the holiday break on January 2, 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 are not even elections; rather, they are more of a referendum on the four years in office of the 44th, and the first black, president of the United States. And 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 Obama would in all likelihood already have a second term in the White House in the bag. If they understood his troubles… They would have been perfect.

Things have really "worked out" for Obama. In 2008 he inherited from Bush two wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, a financial and economic crisis the likes of which have not been seen since the 1920s, a huge public debt and a budget deficit for which there are no quick or painless solutions, and Guantanamo 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 is fortunate that international policy has no influence on the outcome of the election, if of course you do not count the situation in Afghanistan and Iraq, which is practically an internal affair for Americans.

Obama promised to bring peace to the Middle East and has failed to do so; he promised a "reset" of U.S.-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.

With this kind of legacy, it must be recognized that Obama's first presidential term has been enormously successful. According to all the indicators, the 2008 crisis that befell the country (and which he inherited) did not end up leading to an economic and banking collapse. Thanks to Obama.

A package of measures to stimulate the economy, worth almost US$ 800 billion, was introduced. Leading U.S. car manufacturers and banks were rescued from total collapse. At long last, reforms of the crippled healthcare service, of a type never seen before, were introduced, and strict regulatory mechanisms of the financial market were brought in to prevent a recurrence of the banking crisis. Osama bin Laden was also taken out.

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 have been addressed and overcome. Voters' hearts become hardened with the knowledge that times are bad now, and they could be even worse tomorrow. When American voters' pockets are increasingly lighter, they become more and more insensitive to the problems of other people. Especially presidential ones.

Will America re-elect Obama?

It is entirely possible. Personally, I even think that it is likely he will be re-elected.

Americans are a notoriously impatient people. But 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 they will be kept busy with their infighting until right up to the national convention in Florida at the end of August. For now, they are busy cursing the president while 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 U.S. House of Representatives Newt Gingrich, former U.S. Ambassador to Singapore and China and former Governor of Utah Jon Huntsman, Texas Governor Rick Perry, former Governor of Massachusetts Mitt Romney, former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, and Congressman Ron Paul.

It is very difficult to predict which one of them will win. It is impossible to say. Romney is currently in the lead, with Gingrich, Paul and Santorum close on his tail. As late as last summer, Gingrich was almost written off for a series of reckless remarks: as one Republican political consultant put it, Gingrich's mouth is like he's constantly carrying around a self-destruct button in his pocket, or is acting like a "Tasmanian devil in a sandstorm."

They say the Republican ticket will be stronger with Romney. And he could even choose Gingrich as his running mate. The former is considered a moderate, the latter a conservative. Together they would balance one another out.

Romney may have taken Iowa, but it’s not a foregone conclusion that he will be the nominee. More likely than not we will have to wait for "Super Tuesday," the day of the primaries for 10 U.S. states 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, its expectations and its hopes.

If the latest surveys from Gallup are to be believed, 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 percent. That of course does not guarantee him a second term in the White House, but for now, the trend is distinctly positive. (PNA/RIA Novosti) DCT/rsm

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