Tuesday, May 21, 2013
Last Updated: 21 May 15:41 PM IST
7 November 2012
It is astonishing that Mitt Romney managed to lose to Barack Obama despite a billion-dollar campaign. And, he put to rest pre-election fears of bitterness by conceding gracefully. The USA seems to have maintained its tradition of democratic, peaceful transitions of power, which Americans take for granted, but should not, writes sam tranum
President Barack Hussein Obama won a second four-year term in the USA’s 6 November, 2012 election by a wider-than-expected margin, in a victory for the “99 per cent” of America over the “1 per cent” of bankers and billionaires represented by Republican challenger Mr Mitt Romney’s Republican Party.
In America, this is likely to mean an attempt to balance the national budget at least in part by increasing taxes on the wealthy, rather than by following Mr Romney’s plan ~ based on so-called “trickle-down economics” ~ to balance it and stimulate the economy with tax breaks for the wealthy. Abroad, Mr Obama’s win likely diminishes the chances that America will go to war with Iran in the next four years.
Mr Obama didn’t just squeak by. He smacked down Mr Romney, the Republican Party’s policy proposals, and the fearmongering, duplicitous approach the man and his party took to the campaign, which was more shameful than the usual levels of hypocrisy and deceit indulged in by politicians everywhere ~ including Mr Obama.
The ballots haven’t all been counted yet, but it looks like Mr Obama won the electoral college vote by quite a wide margin. The candidate who wins the most votes in a state gets all of its electoral college votes, the number of which is determined largely based on population. So far, it looks like Mr Obama won at least 303 of these votes to Mr Romney’s 206 (with 29 outstanding in Florida, which is too close to call).
The popular vote was much closer, but it looks like Mr Obama will win that, too ~ perhaps by as much as 2-3 per cent, which is a fairly wide margin in this era of closely contested American elections. This is a good thing, because it reinforces the legitimacy of his win, but it’s not necessary. An electoral college victory is enough to make Mr Obama President again and Mr Romney has already conceded the contest quite gracefully.
Mr Obama’s win is particularly noteworthy because he managed it even though Mr Romney spent more money during their seemingly endless campaign. Mr Obama and his allies have so far reported spending a combined total of about US$923 million, according to the non-partisan website OpenSecrets.org, which tracks money in politics. Mr Romney and company topped him by spending more than US$1 billion.
It’s astonishing that Mr Romney managed to lose this election. Mr Obama was at a financial disadvantage, hurt by four years of a foundering economy and high unemployment, slowed by a drop in enthusiasm among his supporters as he switched from campaigning in poetry to governing in prose (to paraphrase former New York Governor Mario Cuomo), and wounded by years of incessant attacks by Republicans in Congress who were willing to do anything to undermine the President, no matter the cost to the nation.
Despite all this, Mr Romney still managed to lose, but to his credit, he was gracious about it. “I have just called President Obama to congratulate him on his victory,” he told the nation. “This is a time of great challenges for America, and I pray that the president will be successful in guiding our nation.” Mr Obama, in turn, congratulated him on a “hard-fought campaign,” and on his family’s tradition of public service, which “is the legacy that we honour and applaud tonight.”
Overshadowed by the high-profile duel between Mr Obama and Mr Romney were efforts by less-well-known candidates to break into the spotlight. During an election-watching event at the American Center in Kolkata on 6 November, 2012, as Consul-General Dean Thompson announced the results of an informal poll held at the center, he admitted to being baffled by two ballots cast for Dr Jill Stein. “I have to admit,” he told the dozens of people gathered to watch election coverage on CNN, “I had to look up her name. I didn’t even know who she was.” No wonder, the CNN coverage didn’t even mention her during the several hours that I watched it.
Dr Stein is the Green Party candidate for president and she has who has been campaigning just as hard as Mr Obama and Mr Romney, though with a fraction of the funding, and without the exposure she would have received had she been admitted to the high-profile debates between the two major candidates. So far, she has won only about 368,000 votes according to Google’s Politics & Elections site, compared to Libertarian Party candidate Mr Gary Johnson’s 1 million or so, Mr Romney’s 56.5 million, and Mr Obama’s nearly 59 million. (These numbers will change as more votes are tallied).
Pre-election fears that bitter partisanship in American politics would translate into an unwillingness by the losing side ~ whether Democratic or Republican ~ to acknowledge the legitimacy of the winner’s victory appear to have been unfounded. The USA, thankfully, seems to have maintained its tradition of democratic, peaceful transitions of power, which Americans take for granted, but should not. We may have electoral lawsuits, but we haven’t had coups or revolutions (since the first one) or major election-related violence for a while.
American politics has not always been so refined and peaceful. It used to be a rough and tumble game rife with voter fraud, bribery, patronage, and nepotism, in which voters sometimes had to physically fight their way to the polls, and winning politicians quickly set to work milking the public coffers for money to distribute to their supporters.
“In effect, an organised system of corruption was the foundation for democratic political organisation and participation in the United States ... between the 1820s and 1900, these American patronage parties would do battle as if they were great armies,” University of Notre Dame political science professor Peri E Arnold has written. Decades of battling by civil society groups managed to reduce political malfeasance to a level with which Americans are now more or less comfortable. As a result, though, political participation has plummeted, according to Prof. Arnold. Without bribery and corruption and the ability to pass out jobs, parties don’t have as much to offer their supporters.
In the mid 1800s, turnout was about 80 per cent. By 1996, it had fallen below 50 per cent, though it has recovered a bit since then. It’s not clear yet what the turnout for this year’s election was, since the votes have not all been counted yet, but it is likely to be less than in 2008 when hordes of people turned out, thrilled at the opportunity to vote George W Bush out of office, pushing turnout up to 58 per cent.
As expected, Mr Obama won by garnering more support than Mr Romney among women, African Americans, Hispan-ics, gays, and other minorities. He also took most of the votes from younger citizens: 60 per cent of 18 to 29-year-olds voted for Mr Obama, according to a New York Times analysis, as well as 52 per cent of 30 to 44-year-olds; Mr Romney won the majorities in older age groups. Another key to Mr Obama’s victory was winning more votes from low- and middle-income Ameri-cans: 63 per cent of votes from people earning under US$30,000 a year, and 57 per cent from those earning US$30,000 to US$49,000 per year; Mr Romney won more votes from those in the upper-income brackets.
In his victory speech, Mr Obama signalled what some of his priorities will be in his second and final term as President (legal term limits will prevent him from running again). “In the coming weeks and months, I am looking forward to reaching out and working with leaders of both parties to meet the challenges we can only solve together,” he said. “Reducing our deficit. Reforming our tax code. Fixing our immigration system. Freeing ourselves from foreign oil.”
As for India’s favourite topic, outsourcing, Mr Obama’s campaign website says part of his programme is, “Ending tax deductions for companies shipping jobs overseas, and using the savings to create a new tax credit for companies that bring jobs home.” In essence, he’s against outsourcing and plans to do what little the US government can to restrain it. There’s no way, though, that he can ban outsourcing.
In addition to the presidential election, there were also Congressional elections for one-third (33) of the seats in the Senate and all (435) of the seats in the House. The balance of power remains the same, with the Republican Party controlling the majority in the lower chamber and Mr Obama’s Democrats controlling the majority in the upper chamber. (Incidentally, Democrat Tammy Baldwin won a seat from Wisconsin, making her the first openly gay or lesbian person ever to be elected to the US Senate).
Along with the presidential and Congre-ssional elections, there were also a slew of referendums put on ballots in specific states by voters in those states who had organised and gathered petitions to show they had enough support. These referendums covered issues ranging from taxes to doctor-assisted suicide, from drug policy to capital punishment, from marriage equality to segregation.
Ironically, as Mr Obama in his victory speech was thanking his daughters Sasha (11) and Malia (14) and praising them as “two strong, smart beautiful young women just like your mom,” the state of Alabama was voting to retain a clause in its constitution that says “separate schools shall be provided for white and coloured children”. If it were enforced ~ which it is not ~ this would relegate the Obama girls to a probably-inferior school only for “coloured” children. Luckily, they go to a posh (racially-integrated) private school in Washington DC.
On a happier note, voters in Maine and Maryland approved measures legalising same-sex marriage. A similar referendum in Washington may pass, too; counting is still going on. Actions by lawmakers and courts in six other states and the District of Columbia had already legalised marriage equality, but these two or three referendum wins would represent the first instances in which it has been backed by a popular vote.
Meanwhile, Colorado and Washington became the first states to make it legal for people to smoke marijuana for fun (others allow doctors to prescribe it as medicine). If this policy proves successful in these states, it may lead the way for others to follow suit in taxing and regulating the drug ~ as they do alcohol ~ and perhaps reducing the criminally high number of young Americans stuck needlessly wasting their lives in prison for minor non-violent drug offences.
Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper, a Democrat who opposed the referendum to legalise marijuana in his state, said he’d respect the wishes of the voters and implement it. He also noted, however, that marijuana continues to be illegal under federal law, setting up a legal conflict. Given this situation, he cautioned would-be marijuana smokers, “don’t break out the Cheetos or Goldfish too quickly.”
The writer is Editorial Consultant, The Statesman