Lessons to be learnt from the mid-term us elections
There are many lessons to be learnt from last week’s mid-term US elections, but perhaps the overriding one is that overblown ex-pectations can easily lead to frustration and disillusion. Especially when people feel irked at the slow pace of economic recovery.
On the other hand, communication skills shown throughout an election campaign tend to lose some of their shine if they are not cascaded down the line to the ordinary man in the street during an administration’s term of office. Even more so when the primary focus happens to be on the economic state of affairs of the country.
I say so out of deep respect for a US President who managed to capture the international mood when he offered common hopes and common dreams but who seemed to have failed where Bill Clinton had succeeded so brilliantly, in connecting with the non-affiliated independents who rooted for him two years ago.
While this ‘defeat’ could prove to be a blessing in disguise for the US President, as it might give him a sterling opportunity to consolidate his policies and stick to deliverables rather than widening the big picture further, he now stands a better chance of coming to accept the reality of US politics.
With a bunch of loonies making up the so-called Tea Party grouping – a movement without a leader, programme, or headquarters, or even a foreign policy, but with more than an axe to grind, the stronger their hold on the Republican Party becomes the more they could indirectly enhance Obama’s chances of getting re-elected come 2012.
Through their actions they could expose themselves as dangerous extremists, capable of doing enough damage to themselves without the need for the Democrats to rubbish them in the process.
I am confident that Barack Obama will now be prepared to adopt feasible items from the Republican manifesto to make the overall situation more tenable and hone to perfection the art of compromise, but it also depends whether the Republicans will play ball or not. Initial reactions suggest they will not – particularly since the prospect of guerrilla political tactics already looms on the horizon.
His air of invincibility might have been dented in the process but that could prove to be a positive in the long run. A rightwing grass roots movement born two years ahead of the Presidential elections proper runs the risk of petering out no matter how conservative the political mood might have swung in the US itself.
It might be of little consolation, but far more people felt hurt by the President’s policies while far fewer blamed him personally for the state of the economy.
It was a referendum about America’s economic and financial bill of health rather than about the President himself.
Particularly since the health care reform and the financial stimulus packages were easily dismissed as ‘socialist’ measures in a country where most people find the mere notion of socialism – even social democracy lite – anathema to their own psyche and frame of mind.
Presidents like George W. Bush were not exactly men of the centre, but on the other hand, parties that lay claim to the White House stand more chance of making it successfully if they shift to the centre rather than shifting further to the right. As seems to have been the case with the Republicans under pressure from the Tea Party movement.
Ignoring the seismic shift would be as fallacious as it would be for politicians in Malta to do when they realise they are out of sync and that they have fallen out of favour with the national mood.
This is not a question of resorting to populism. On the contrary, it shows a desire for change from ‘politics as usual’. Only the next two years will tell whether an outburst of rightwing anger and angst will have managed to translate itself into a real political force.
Clinton might have remarked that “it’s the economy stupid”, but at the time the US economy was far more resilient than it is today. For inherited reasons far beyond Obama’s control.
The volatility that exists, on the other hand, is political rather than economic, born out of the anxiety of a nation that wants answers now, and as highly visible and as fast as possible.
Frustration or the containment of it will be the litmus test in the years to come, as well as the exercise of true leadership in a manner that will impact directly on civil society itself.
It has happened at least three times in recent years that people swung behind the other party in the mid-terms to achieve a traditional semblance of balance of power.
The recovery process from the recession will be a pivotal issue in the months ahead. Bearing in mind that Americans were virtually immune to the economic woes that continents like Europe experienced in the past, one can easily understand and even empathise with their concern about the shape of the economy and a high unemployment rate and deficit that have simply not gone down in the past year.
If the Republicans’ dilemma will be how to distinguish between their traditional and radical right wing, the Democrats will also have to pitch for both their centrists and the liberal wings too, while papering over any existing splits.
With things being what they are neither Obama nor the Republicans have any reason to feel over the moon no matter how heavy the Democratic losses might have been.
At the end, realpolitik will prevail. And my gut instinct is that common sense will, in the long run, favour Obama. But they might still be early days for one to commit himself categorically.
Nevertheless I wish the American President all the luck he needs and can muster in his uphill struggle and endeavours.