Obama's Second Term Challenges:
Implications for Politics on Taiwan
United Daily News editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
November 8, 2012
Summary: Four years ago Obama swept the nation on a wave of popularity. This time
however, Obama's election victory was hard won. This shows that under
democracy it does not matter how high one is riding today. The public is
fickle, and one may still face challenges. As a world leader, Obama's
performance has been satisfactory. But as the U.S. head of state, his
policies have met with considerable dissatisfaction. During the four
years of his second term, he must make progress on the economic front.
Only then can he fulfill his promise to defend the "American Dream."
Full Text below:
Four years ago Obama swept the nation on a wave of popularity. This time however, Obama's election victory was hard won. This shows that under democracy it does not matter how high one is riding today. The public is fickle, and one may still face challenges. As a world leader, Obama's performance has been satisfactory. But as the U.S. head of state, his policies have met with considerable dissatisfaction. During the four years of his second term, he must make progress on the economic front. Only then can he fulfill his promise to defend the "American Dream."
The number of incumbent US presidents who have lost their bid for re-election can be counted on the fingers of one hand. Obama waged a hard fought campaign, not because his opponent Romney was too strong, but because he was too cavalier. The Republicans successfully incited discontent with the status quo. During the first TV debate in particular, Obama seemed as if he wasn't even there. He could not clearly outline his economic recovery plan. Many Americans saw his sloppy side. Many woke up and realized little would change over the next four years. Many entrepreneurs began looking to Romney.
High unemployment, low economic growth, and capital outflows, are Obama's worst sore points. The global economy has been a drag on the US economy. But in this respect the US is just like Taiwan. People whose standard of living is declining are not about to swallow "international factors" as an excuse. Romney was all set to issue a concession speech. But when someone intoned "economic downturn," Romney suddenly became more attractive. He suddenly posed a serious threat to Obama. Fortunately Hurricane Sandy disaster relief gave Obama the opportunity to display non-partisanship and to act presidential. This turned the American people's focus away from the economy for several days, and toward Obama's ability to lead the country. Romney meanwhile, who threatened to cut disaster relief funds from the federal budget, lost points.
This U.S. presidential election was a nail-biter. First, the campaign focused almost entirely on fewer than ten "swing states." Both parties deployed massive resources attacking each other and getting out the vote. They threw money at the problem. They fought for every vote. Secondly, people were concerned that a too close race would make it impossible to be sure who won. They feared a repeat of 2000, when Bush's narrow margin over Gore incited a major controversy. The result was a "minority president" who received fewer popular votes, who won only because he received more Electoral College votes.
These two phenomena are the result of the Electoral College's "winner-take-all" arrangement. During the last election, Obama won 53% of the vote. This time he won 68%. Three hundred sixty-five electors voted. This time he and Romney won about the same number of popular votes. But Obama won by over one hundred Electoral College votes. U.S. elections appear to be direct elections, but are in fact indirect elections. This was intended to ensure political stability. But it also reduced the size of the battlefield. During the last few days Obama concentrated his campaign efforts in the largest swing states of Ohio and Wisconsin. Sure enough, he won those states.
The composition of the House and Senate have remained the same. But the situation Obama faces today is very different from the one he faced four years ago. Four years ago, George W. Bush was rude, vulgar, and arrogant. He dispatched troops everywhere. He destroyed the image and ideals of the United States. These urgently need repair. Obama offered a fresh image and a multi-ethnic background. He had eloquence. He offered people healing and comfort. After four years in office, the international community considered Obama's foreign policy friendly and balanced. But at home, he encountered powerful Republican obstructionism. All he could do in terms of policy was to apply patches. It was hard to get anything done. Worse still, he found himself caught between the European debt crisis and the global recession. The United States resorted to quantitative easing, three times, but still could not stop the continued economic decline. In the eyes of the voters, his eloquence was now mere flash. His overseas troop withdrawal and medical reform was merely sacrificing today for the sake of tomorrow. Public attention shifted from abstract notions of national pride to concrete issues of economic livelihood.
Obama operates in an orderly manner. He seldom misspeaks. On issues of ethics and values, he has been consistent. He has not changed with the winds. But in the eyes of the electorate this was not enough. Obama was the first black president. He took an historic step for American democracy. During his second term he must revitalize the U.S. economy. He must help America become an egalitarian utopia. To achieve this, he must challenge himself.
Look at the U.S. presidential election from Taiwan. The public must have a feeling of deja vu. In January of this year, Ma Ying-jeou ran as an incumbent against Tsai Ing-wen. He too was attacked for his political record. The pre-election polls were also evenly matched. But in the end he won by six percentage points. On Taiwan and in the United States, pre-election polls are often misleading. People vote with greater deliberation than they answer telephone polls. Obama and Ma Ying-jeou's re-election reflect this phenomenon.
Leave aside personal factors. A political party's quality and style are also important considerations. During the U.S. presidential election, Romney received high marks as a presidential candidate. Voters appreciated his understanding of the economy. The media praised his non-partisanship during his term as governor. But in recent years the Republican Party has become increasingly conservative. It has become more like the Tea Party. It lacks tolerance for abortion, gays, and immigrants. It resorts to obstructionism in Congress at the drop of a hat, Voters fear that if the Republican Party take over the executive branch, it will lead to extremism. This is very similar to Taiwan. People worry that the DPP's hatred for Mainland China will cause lead to political instability.
After such a fierce battle, many fear that the United States will become even more divided, politically, economically, and socially. They hope Obama will address this problem. His re-election means greater responsibility and greater commitment. Only if one understands this point, will his victory make sense. When Ma Ying-jeou was re-elected earlier this year, he said, "One day of celebration is enough." A mere 10 months later, he was a lame duck. The economy did him in. On this point, Ma Ying-jeou surely knows how Obama feels.
2012.11.08 01:49 am