It was not bad at all for the first non-white president to do it not once but twice. Barack Obama inherited three wars, the worst economy since the great Depression, a divided country and gridlocked politics.
As Americans of all stripes and backgrounds, as leaders and people around the world followed the unfolding of the long US presidential campaign that seemed to go on forever, everything finally came to an end. I am writing this column from Washington, after covering the last ten days of the presidential campaign and having anchored my daily TV show for Kuwait TV.
I found myself in the midst of relentless barrages of paid TV commercials by both President Obama and his Republican contender Mitt Romney, attacking, blasting, differing and providing two different opposing views and paths for the future of the US.
Obama put it best by arguing that the election is “not just a choice between two parties or candidates; it’s a choice between two different visions of America.”
So, against all odds, Obama prevailed one more and final time and made history as he had done four years earlier — to be re-elected against insurmountable and daunting challenges during one of the worst economic slumps with the unemployment rate hovering around 8 per cent. By all accounts, Obama’s win over his Republican challenger, Romney, in both the Electoral College and popular vote, is the crowning achievement of a gruelling and bitter fight that stretched for more than 17 months of endless campaigning. It resulted in the most bitter, close, highly competitive and costly US Presidential election on record. The American voters or at least close to 60 per cent of them had the final say and elected to keep Obama as President for a second term.
However, the day after the election, very little changed in Washington. Obama is back in the White House, the Republicans, although diminished in numbers in the House of Representatives, continue to hold majority, which could prove without compromise a major hurdle for cooperation between the two branches of the political system which has had more than its fair share of paralysis and bickering. The Democrats increased their numbers in the Senate with more members and more women at the expense of the Republicans.
Yet, it seems that the divisive politics, the polarisation, name-calling and the gridlock politics will continue with the new US administration and Congress returning to Washington next January. US pundits, analysts and journals splashed out headlines such as: ‘Obama triumphs ... but political divide remains’ and ‘Post-election divide surfaces ... and Partisan pledges sour conciliatory remarks...’
It does not seem the new composition of the political scene in Washington will end the gridlock politics. A front-page coverage of election results said: ‘The Democrats and Republicans moved from a cliff hanger election to fiscal cliff’. The stock market reacted negatively to the results and the Down Jones industrial average plunged by more than 300 points — its biggest loss in a single day this year. The US, from what I see and read here in Washington, continues to be a divided nation and the scars left by the highly contested and bitter campaign will not fade away soon.
America, regardless of what Obama has said, is still divided between Democrats and Republicans, Blue and Red states, liberal and mostly democrat suburbs and a mostly conservative Republican countryside.
The US is undergoing a major shift in population composition. The demographics are rapidly shifting. Women, Latinos and other minorities steered the election clearly in favour of Obama and the Democrats and not the liberal media and superstorm Sandy as some conservative pundits and Republican leaders argued. The demographic shift and lack of inclusiveness in the Republican Party and the shifting positions of Romney collaborated to undo Romney and pushed Obama and his Democratic party to the top.
Minorities and women play a major role in US politics today and their concerns and issues are front and centre, as was seen in the election. Women form 53 per cent of voters and the Republican party alienated them with their congressmen and senators and candidates interfering in their way of life.
Latinos now make up more than 13 per cent of the population and 10 per cent of the electorate. Other minorities are impacting the election results along with the Latinos as well — 90 per cent of blacks, 71 per cent of Latinos and 53 per cent of women voted for Obama and shunned Romney. Only 27 per cent of Latinos voted for Romney. Those minorities are finding solace and inclusiveness in the Democratic Party’s agenda which addresses their issues, especially regarding immigration. Now a real and vibrant debate is raging within the political party as to where the party has to go from here? How to address these issues? How to accommodate women and minorities’ demands and alley their fears?
The real challenge today for the Republican Party is how to transform into a party with a larger tent!
Obama made a great point in a rally in Iowa a day before the election, summarising his achievements over the last four years since taking office. He said: “In 2008, we were in the middle of two wars and the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression ...
Today, our businesses have created nearly 5.5 million new jobs. The American auto industry is back on top. Home values are on the rise. We’re less dependent on foreign oil than at any time in 20 years. Because of the service and sacrifice of our brave men and women in uniform, the war in Iraq is over.
The war in Afghanistan is coming to a close. Al Qaida has been decimated. Osama Bin Laden is dead. We’ve made progress.” Was he lobbying the American voters to keep him in office, because the job has not been finished yet?
This election was a testimony to the rising power of the new forces in America — women and minorities, led by Hispanics who are changing not only the face of America, but its politics as well.
The challenge facing Obama is two-fold: How to deal with and make a compromise with the Republican leadership? And is the Republican leadership willing and ready to reach across the aisle and compromise? Secondly, how will the new Obama administration deal with the host of foreign and security challenges on the world stage and secure its legacy?
Professor Abdullah Al Shayji is the Chairman of the Political Science Department, Kuwait University. You can follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/docshayji