Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Four more years but the shine has come off

So there it is. The people have spoken and they have handed another victory to Barack Obama. Whilst there was less enthusiasm for his re-election amongst many Americans, he eventually mustered enough energy to mobilise many of his original supporters to give him a second chance. And a second chance it is since neither has he achieved much of that which he spoke so eloquently of in 2008, nor has he fulfilled the hopes of so many of his countrymen.

The main narrative of this campaign was that it was a choice between two widely different visions of America. I beg to differ. Whilst the Obama campaign ran a vicious personal campaign against Romney, the Romney camp was careful to avoid shrill sounds and personal attacks. In fact, observers on the left of the political spectrum corroborated that when they spoke of a 'Chicago' campaign run by the Obama camp (Chicago politics is famous for the nasty vilification of your opponent and the spreading of 'halftruths' or outright lies).

So as the shine has come off the Obama campaign, the Romney camp seems to have mainly articulated a moderate vision of America that widely commanded respect amongst independents. Romney's address to his supporters reflected this gracious and fair attitude in the political struggle, while Obama's speech to his supporters seems to have been mainly a repeat of the hollow phrases and high flying rhetoric from 2008.

Yet the media distortion about Romney and his supporters goes even further than that. The media suggested repeatedly that there were major differences between the opponents. This is largely wishful thinking. Take the reform of the banking sector and the effect of Wall Street on the US economy. Obama had strong words of criticism for Wall Street and the investment banks in 2008 yet failed to deliver a single effective reform package that would prevent a similar breakdown of the banking system.

Or look at the bailout of the car industry. Whilst this clearly won Obama plaudits from the car makers and their unions, the money mostly went to pay enormous pension liabilities that had built up over decades. This only achieved one thing: the American car industry is back to square one. It remains largely uncompetitive vis-a-vis foreign car makers and technological innovation is low. Obama may have saved it temporarily from going to the wall, but it is still heading for a crash, bailout or no bailout.

The most important weakness of all may however be Obama's personality. In an insightful documentary Andrew Marr spoke to close advisors of the President and they indicated that, despite the rhetoric about collaboration, Obama is not somebody who knows how to work together with others. He (perhaps too much) relies on his intellectual strength and believes that by simply thinking hard about a problem, he will come up with the right answer. This showed throughout his presidency. As some of his supporters argued, Obama may be the most lonely president ever, unable to reach out to colleagues and work with them to achieve robust solutions to difficult problems. This contrasts markedly with Romney who as governor favoured a managerial style, often delegating problems to capable staff and colleagues.

And so, I suspect, we will see more of the same. A president increasingly frustrated by an allegedly intransigent 'Washington' political system and hemmed in by an inability to reach out to others. What Obama does not seem to understand is that rational thought may sometimes be a poor guide for political decision making. Politics is about people, not abstract ideas.

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