Four more challenging years for Barack Obama

published as opinion in The Jakarta Post, 8 November 2012

http://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2012/11/08/four-more-challenging-years-barack-obama.html

Besides the undisputed media projection that Barack Obama will be reelected as President of the United States for four more years, the US has been showing a constant division in its political map since the 2000 Presidential Election between George W. Bush and Al Gore, and one of the debated proposals is whether to reconsider the current electoral college system.

Different from other democratic countries, the US has this curtain that separates direct presidential election as a national event and the decision of who wins the election. This system delegates the election results in the US’s 50 states into a number of electors called the electoral college that represents the states proportionate to their respective population. Whether a candidate wins 50+1 percent of the popular vote or 99 percent, he or she will acquire the electoral colleges of the states.

Based on this electoral rule, the majority of media platforms in the US, even the most questionable in terms of objectivity among them, have predicted that Obama could have secured more than 270 electoral colleges out of 538 in total.

Predictions from CNN and the Huffington Post dictated that Obama garnered more than 300 electoral colleges; far different from the predictions made earlier based on the campaign trail and the debates.

With this big gap in Electoral College votes, however, the race between Mitt Romney, presidential candidate from the Republican Party, and President Obama from Democratic Party, showed close competition in the popular votes with only around 0.1 percent difference in favor of the President. (As of Wednesday afternoon Jakarta time, Obama has secured 303 electoral votes and Romney 206 electoral votes).

With media attention occupied by the Presidential race, this year’s election also strengthened the position of the Republican Party in the House of Representatives, with them winning four of every seven seats contested. The configuration of the Senate, however, remains unchanged with Democrats having a slight majority of the 100 seats.

In the last four years of his presidency, the changes Obama promised in the 2008 presidential race have not all been realized and have failed to bring real impact in Washington due to the polarization of the country that can be seen in the political map of the elections in the past 10 years or so.

The Southern and Midwest states have been the stronghold for the Republican Party, while the Democrats are prominent in the states like California, New York, Massachusetts, majority states on West coast and Northeast coast, and several states in the Midwest.

With this division, the race has been so much focused on the so-called “swing states” — states with undecided constituents like Florida, Virginia, and especially Ohio (the must-win-state for Republican candidate in securing the path to the Oval Office). The myth that since Ronald Reagan, every Republican president always wins Ohio is thus reaffirmed by 2012 election that favors Obama.

The high unemployment rate of 7.8 percent (according to a report by Bureau of Labor Statistics in the beginning of October), income tax level, federal budget, educational policy, as well as foreign policy, have been the red line that divided both parties and the country itself.

Ever since Obama was sworn into the White House in 2009 during a time when Democrats also dominated the Senate and the House, the Republican side of the political system has been intransigent in almost every policy carried out by Obama. The division grew even wider when Republicans became the majority in the House. Following the continuous recession, in 2009, the division of classes reached farther parameters when the Occupy Movement spread across the country with great emphasis on Wall Street.

This division aided Romney in his campaign despite the fact that he weakly represents the Republican Party as a whole with his unclear political stance. In addition to that, Romney’s team was unable to use Obama’s economic record in the past four years as their political momentum during the campaign.

The results of the election denies the assumption that the American people want to give Obama four more years to clean up the mess he inherited from his predecessor, George W. Bush. America has decided to move forward.

But, this is not a downhill trajectory for Obama. He has yet to prove the main message in his book The Audacity of Hope, to end the political cleavage and unreasonably high level of bipartisanship in Washington. Different from the voice of the people, politicians in Washington may not agree to move forward.

This is one challenge Obama has to face in his second term as noted by Romney during the campaign and his unanticipated gracious concession speech that is to bring both Republicans and Democrats to the common aisle.

Obama acknowledged this challenge, as he did in 2008, in his victory speech, just within three hours after the polls closed in the western region of the country.

Akin to the previous election in 2008, the people that shared the euphoria of election today are expecting Obama to bring faster growth to the economy and to lower the high unemployment levels that Romney highlighted as a bad record.

Failure to respond to this expectation will only exacerbate the cleavage, thus strengthen the conservatism of the Republican Party that will likely garner bigger support if the recession continues in the American economy.

In addition, to the extent that it will affect partner and adverse countries, the foreign and defense policy will continue to become the battlefield for dovish and hawkish of American politicians.

There are pressing issues such as nuclear technology development in Iran, China’s monetary policy, year-long civil war in Syria, and continuous unrest in countries in the Middle East, military budget and energy policies enveloped in a comprehensive foreign policy projected toward other countries.

The good news in Obama’s reelection is that diplomacy will continue to play the role in resolving potential conflicts. Whether or not the US military will be involved in the heightened conflict in the South China Sea between China and the claimant countries of Southeast Asia (Vietnam, Philippines, Malaysia especially), with Obama in the White House and the US rebalance (some call pivot) to Asia, there is a higher tendency that the approach will mean less containment in China’s interpretation.

Above all, the unavoidable issue of budget deficit, and the fiscal and monetary policy to reduce the nations more than US$16 trillion debt and deficit budget, will be among the biggest challenges for Obama in bringing the Republicans to the negotiation table to formulate the nation’s upcoming federal budget.

To the larger extent, people of Southeast Asia who favor Obama over Romney (according to several surveys) will gladly welcome the decision of the American people in giving Obama another chance. Finally, the world will watch whether or not Obama’s second term will bring harmony to Washington’s political bickering.

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