November 07, 2012

Obama: New twist to the ‘melting pot’




Sandhya Jain
8 November 2012
 
At the end of America's costliest and nastiest electoral battles, widely predicted by analysts to be 'hung' like the George Bush – Al Gore encounter in 2000, President Barack Obama made history as the second Democrat president to win a second term in office since the Second World War. By the time his Republican rival Mitt Romney conceded defeat, Barack Obama had beaten a vicious negative campaign funded by the super rich One Percent, who possibly turned the tide in his favour with their corrosive racism.
 
The huge presence of coloured and mixed races in the electorate gave an unexpected twist to America's proud self-definition as a 'melting pot' of different nationalities, races, and religions, because hitherto it has been a White-dominated and defined 'melting pot'. Now, with non-Whites making their aspirations and their voices count in the domestic arena, consequences in the international arena are inevitable. A war-prone trigger-happy America, run by the military-industrial complex, may undergo metamorphosis.
 
Another theme that may undergo change is that capitalism and democracy are identical. The world is about to change for American corporates that have hitherto functioned as a law unto themselves.
 
President Obama sealed an early victory in Ohio, Iowa, New Hampshire and Colorado, four of nine 'battleground States' where both sides spent almost a $1 billion on rabid television commercials. Acknowledging the role of social media in his victory, Obama tweeted "This happened because of you. Thank you," even before he took the stage to make his victory speech. Ironically, Obama admitted preparing a victory speech as well as a concession speech in case of that eventually, but Romney had prepared only a victory speech. Apparently his spin doctors had not even theoretically factored in a defeat!
 
The election was widely seen as a cliffhanger because of deep voter pessimism with the economy, the perceived determination of corporates to have their man in the White House (to launch wars corporate America was itching to fight in Syria, Iran and god knows where next), and the fact that the President is not directly elected but chosen by an Electoral College that is a compromise between the popular vote and the Congress.
 
The Electoral College comprises 538 electors (a complex division of Representative and Senate seats between the States) and the winning candidate needs at least 270 electors/votes. Most states assign all electors/votes to the candidate who leads in that state, but some follow the system of proportional representation and split the votes between the candidates.
 
Over the years, this system has roused grave misgivings as a candidate who has lost the popular vote could still win the election by capturing states with greater weightage in the Electoral College (California, Texas, New York and Florida), as happened in 2000 when Al Gore won more votes nationwide, but George Bush took the presidency. This time too, both Romney and Obama got 49% of the popular vote, but Obama early on managed 284 votes in the Electoral College as against 200 for his rival, who conceded (Final tally at the time of writing: Obama 303, Romney 203).
 
The economy is now the top concern of the electorate, the large majority of which told exit polls that they felt that former President George Bush was more responsible for the economic mess the country was in than Obama. America is currently facing its worst economic crisis since the Depression of the 1930s and high unemployment.
 
With hindsight, it is clear that the negative campaigning by the Romney campaign fuelled the Obama surge as hordes of African American, Latinos and youth voted the country's first Black president to a historic second term. It helped the Obama campaign that the President could claim credit for ending the war in Iraq, bringing troops back from Afghanistan (soon), saving the US auto industry, killing Osama bin Laden, offering almost every American health insurance, and passing some Wall Street reform. Above all, Obama avoided getting embroiled in a fresh war in Syria (to be followed by Iran), as desperately desired by the military-industrial complex.
 
Now comes the tough part. After neck-and-neck popular vote, will Obama satisfy Main Street by imposing higher taxes on the rich? He will also be expected to improve Social Security and Medicare. US debt currently stands at $16 trillion, and while Obama has done little to contribute to this debt, he has equally done little to reduce it.
 
Moreover, some of the old divides persist, which means some of the old stalemates could continue. As before, the Democrats have retained their narrow majority in the Senate, taking Republican seats in Massachusetts and Indiana and rebuffing challenges in Missouri, Virginia, Pennsylvania and Ohio. On their part, the Republicans retained control of the House of Representatives.
 
America, thus, remains deeply divided as President Barack Obama begins his second term in office. Perhaps this will make the world safer for the rest of us, less violent, less tumultuous.
 
The author is Editor, www.vijayvaani.com

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