As you read this column, President Barack Hussain Obama will take the oath of office again in front of the Capitol Building to be in the company of the elite 16 presidents who preceded him since George Washington back in 1793. They were inaugurated twice after winning second terms. Washington had an inaugural speech of a mere 135 words to mark the shortest inaugural speech for any US president in history. Obama for sure will not match that short speech. Some US historians say second inaugural speeches are more like a second marriage, where the thrill has gone. However, how about a second term?
Obama has made history twice. The first was in 2008 when he became the first non-white president to win a historic and unprecedented election against all odds. That victory and his swearing-in ceremony on January 20, 2009, represented the triumph of hope and change over politics and ushered in a new political and social era.
Obama put it best at his first inaugural speech when he addressed a jubilant 1.8 million people covering the National Mall: “On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord.” However, the wide-eyed hopes and dreams, uniting a fractured and divided nation have not been realised. The US today is as much divided and fractured, if not more, as it was four years ago.
Obama’s second historical feat, was winning again on November 6, 2012, in a more convincing fashion — especially with the all-important Electoral College votes, by bagging 332 votes compared to 206 by his Republican opponent Mitt Romney. Or 61.7 per cent of the Electoral College voted for Obama, compared to 38.2 per cent for Romney. However, when we look at the popular vote, we notice that Obama has barely passed the 51.3 per cent mark of public votes, amassing about 66 million voters. While his Republican opponent Romney ironically won 47.1 per cent of public votes, the same percentage he mocked in a leaked speech, during the last few weeks of the campaign that validated in the minds of millions of Americans, especially among minorities, that Romney is a White elitist multimillionaire who does not care about their sufferings and dreams. So, it was not surprising to find out from the polls that a mere 2 per cent of polled voters believed that Obama cared for the poor.
By looking at the vote’s distribution, we can see how a rainbow of varied minorities’ votes delivered the presidency to Obama again. Ninety three per cent of Blacks, 85 per cent of Arab-Americans, 74 per cent of Asian-Americans, 70 per cent of Jews, 69 per cent of Hispanics and 54 per cent of women voted for Obama, while White Anglo-Saxon Protestants voted in huge percentages for Romney. Clearly, minority votes nowadays are what make or break a president in the US. Gone are the days when Whites or WASPS determined who the next US president would be. It is a sign of times, wherein the next couple of decades, whites will not be, for the first time, the majority in the US. The demographic shift in the US is here to stay. Any party, especially the Republican, if it fails to be inclusive and encompassing, will not connect with the new changing demographic landscape of the US.
A coalition of minorities made Obama president for the second time. It was ironic how Romney shot himself in the foot with his gaffe in the leaked video, where he described 47 per cent of Americans (mostly minorities) as being dependent on the federal Government and paying no taxes, but living as leeches. It was the final nail in his coffin and what did him in.
The amount of money that was raised and spent in the US presidential election was mind boggling. It shattered all previous records, particularly after the Supreme Court ruled allowing Super Packs to contribute to the candidates along with the Democratic and Republican committees. Just looking at the numbers makes you go numb. Obama’s total spending was $1.1 billion (Dh4.04 billion), a record for an incumbent, that works out to $16.73 per voter for the 66 million voters who voted for Obama. Romney’s total spending was $1.2 billion, or about $20 per voter for the 61 million voters who voted for him. Clearly, Obama once again failed to curb big spending, reign-in Super Packs and enact campaign reforms like his predecessors.
However, taking stock of the last four years, marking Obama’s first term, reveals a mixed record. Obama’s party lost more seats in the Congress in the off-year election in 2010. He failed to deliver on many of the promises he made in his first term. The economy is still struggling — although it is recovering at a slow pace. Obama has failed to shut down, as he promised, what has been described as a stain on the face of the US, the Guantanamo Bay detention camp in Cuba. His foreign policy has a checkered record at best.
Clearly, Obama’s first term was fraught with much challenges, drama, some achievements and unfulfilled dreams and hopes. Tom Cohen of CNN summarises Obama’s first term when he put it in a recent column: “Now, Obama is a weathered incumbent. His hair is greying at age 51 from a first term of tribulations, including an inherited recession, the end of one war and the winding down of another and constant political brinkmanship with Congress over budgets and spending. President Obama’s declaration at his first inauguration of an end to ‘the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn-out dogmas that for far too long have strangled our politics’ proved unfounded.”
US presidents in their second terms are free of the constraints of re-election and look forward to big initiatives and achievements to secure their place in history among the great and strong presidents, thus leaving a lasting legacy. Presidents like Washington, Lincoln, Roosevelt, Kennedy, Nixon, Reagan and Clinton are cherished and admired by Americans. Obama will make sure in the next four years to strive with his initiatives and policies to join that lofty and elitist club of great US presidents. After all, he was given two chances to achieve it; he better not squander them.
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