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