about us
  areas of expertise
  our projects
  ideas & resources


  Index of Articles          Index of Perspectives            Next Article


   The Need to Reach Out   

Omkar Goswami


Almost every pollster in the US predicted a very tight, almost ‘too-close-to-call’ presidential race. Barring Nate Silver who ran a blog called fivethirtyeight in the New York Times. Silver claimed that President Barack Obama will be re-elected by a wide margin, and forecast 313 electoral college (EC) votes, which was well ahead of the 270 that defines a winner. Obama did better by getting 332 EC votes versus 206 for Mitt Romney.

However, Obama did worse in the EC in 2012 than earlier. He lost 33 EC votes versus 2008, or 6 per cent of the college. The popular vote was tighter still. In 2008, Obama secured 52.9 per cent of the votes. Four years later, it was down to 50.7 per cent — a substantial fall with Obama in 2012 losing as many as 6 million popular votes that he had won in 2008. So, Obama has secured his second term in a USA that is more divisive than before.

It is not only the US populace that has become divisive. So, too, has the Congress. The Republicans control the House of Representatives, and account for 234 of the 435 seats. This is more or less the same as before. To their credit, the Democrats staved off a Republican attempt to control the Senate as well; thus the upper house still maintains a slim Democrat majority of 54 out of 100.

Sharply split popular votes. Republican controlled House. Democrat controlled Senate. What does this mean for Obama II? A lot of heartache, especially if Obama and the House of Representatives were to have the same body language as shown during the second half of Obama I.

Let me say this upfront. If I were a US citizen, I would have voted for Obama; even so, he has a ‘towering, know-it-all’ style which, while making for spellbinding speeches, does just the opposite in disarming his detractors. There is an intellectual arrogance about Obama; the smile doesn’t quite seem true, except to Michelle and the daughters; and he gives a sense that he dislikes breaking bread with those who are far removed from his intellectual and political comfort zone.

To be fair to Obama, many of the Republicans in the House are quite impossible to talk to, especially the 70-to-80-odd who claim allegiance to the Tea Party Movement. Their views are simultaneously bizarre and contradictory. For instance, all true Tea Party-wallahs demand a balanced federal budget, while also wanting reduction in taxes and a permanent extension of all the George W. Bush reductions in income tax, capital gains tax, and estate taxes. To them, it is a given truth that everything can be achieved with low taxes and lower federal government spending. It just doesn’t matter what the real arithmetic says.

Impossible fellows! Yet, Obama has to deal with them. For which he has no better tutor than another two-term Democrat, William Jefferson Clinton. Clinton entered the White House in January 1993 with the Democrats controlling the House and the Senate. In two years, that feelings of “We are all Democrats now” disappeared. From 1995 to 1997 (the 104th Congress), the Republicans were in the majority in both the House and the Senate. That was continue over four more years under Clinton — with the 105th and 106th Congress also being under a solid Republican majority. With a legendary, non-compromising tough nut like Strom Thurmond leading the Senate, and Newt Gingrich the House. Both hated everything that Clinton stood for. Most of all Monica Lewinsky.

Yet, Clinton charmed them. And despite a federal government shutdown in November 1995, Clinton finessed Gingrich, Thurmond and the other Republicans; knew how to hold elbows and crack jokes; looked very human; and cut deals. As must any astute Chief Executive in a milieu where the legislators are not forthcoming. Although shackled by the Tea Party, John Boehner, the Republican Speaker of the House, is nowhere as combative as Gingrich. Obama has to talk to him; and to saner Republican voices. Now. Because the fiscal cliff amounting to $670 billion of tax increases and spending cuts comes into play from early 2013. The Republicans want no hikes in taxes. Obama wants no cuts in essential social expenditure. There must be a middle path that doesn’t harm US recovery.

Such a path requires constructive dialogue and give and take. Obama must appreciate this, and realise that divisive democratic nations do not run only on the conviction and unalloyed vision of the Chief Executive. Bill Clinton would tell him with a crooked grin, “Sometimes the smile, the joke and the elbow hold helps you win wars. Sometimes they don’t. But arrogance never works.” Will Obama take tuitions from Bill before starting his second term? Or is he still so sure of his manifest destiny?
Published: Business World, November 2012


                 Index of Articles          Index of Perspectives            Next Article