Some thoughts on the US Presidential Election -November 15, 2012

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The two-year presidential extravaganza finally ended on November 6 with the resounding victory of the incumbent, who thus staved the ignominy of being a one term President. Though both Obama and Romney had a high academic pedigree-Harvard- Obama, barring a lackluster performance in the first debate, outshone his opponent in the remaining two through a superior presentation of domestic and foreign policy issues. Romney’s deficits in the foreign affairs field were quite apparent to discernible observers. The challenger kept hammering away at the pallid economic record of the Obama administration with unemployment at around 8% and growth prospects uncertain. Romney also touted his record as a successful businessman who knew, he claimed, what was required to right the economic ship of state. The voting clearly showed that the American electorate did not agree with his positions. As the proverb informs us: vox populi vox Dei (the voice of the people is the voice of God).

Romney was backed by a slew of enormously wealthy supporters who donated hundreds of millions of dollars to his campaign and that of Republican candidates to the Senate and House. Interestingly, nearly all the candidates these persons were backing were defeated in the election. An important point was thus registered, namely that money, while important to sustain campaigns for high office in the American context, is not the deciding factor. For example, according to media reports Linda McMahon, a candidate for Senator from Connecticut has spent $100 million of her own money but failed in two bids to win the seat. It appears that neither the debates nor the plethora of TV advertisements resorted to by both candidates, did not work in favor of the Republicans. It seems that Obama was able largely to keep his vote bank, accumulated in 2008, intact. This feature allowed Obama to win in almost all the so-called swing states, an outcome which his crestfallen opponent had not anticipated.

 

Perhaps in a show of bravado, Romney had informed the media that he had only written a victory speech as he expected to win. But by 11:30 pm on Tuesday the mainstream TV stations were already calling the election for Obama. Shortly thereafter, Romney came down from his hotel room and made a gracious concession speech.

 

Much has been written about what went wrong with the Republican effort to unseat Obama and thereby to wrest the biggest prize in American politics – the Presidency – away from him. First, the demographics have changed. Adult or elderly white Americans, who constituted the largest block of Romney supporters in this election, now constitute a decreasing percentage of the voting population. It is similar to the adage a few decades back that aspirants to the American Foreign Service had to be “male, pale, and Yale”. This is no longer true as successful applicants to the Foreign Service these days embrace all ethnicities in the US. The Hispanic vote now counts increasingly decisively (according to some projections, the Hispanics will constitute the majority ethnicity in the United States by 2050). Romney had needlessly antagonized the Hispanics by talking tough on immigration. Also his transparent blandishments to Benjamin Netanyahu, whom he visited last summer, and where he clumsily disparaged the occupied Palestinians, did not pay off for him with the American Jewish voters and on the contrary, cost him considerable support among Arab and non-Arab Muslim voters. The statistics show that a large majority of American Jews continued to prefer Obama to Romney, just as they had done in the Obama-McCain contest in 2008. Another major constituency, women voters, was alienated by what they considered Republican positions on abortion and allied issues.

The real Romney is most probably a centrist but in order to win the Republican nomination, he was compelled in the primaries, to adhere to conservative positions on immigration, women and a muscular foreign policy taking aim, inter alia, at America’s main creditor, China as a “currency manipulator”, followed by unvarnished support for Israel. These domestic and foreign policy positions did not have much resonance with the majority of the electorate and in my view contributed significantly to his defeat.

The Republican Party thus has a major task of introspection ahead, if it is to remain a credible alternative to the Democrats. They will have to modify their positions taking account of the present demographic, political and social realities that define current America, as otherwise there is a serious risk that they could be consigned to political oblivion.

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