Obama wins but Washington unchanged

2012-11-07 08:14

Washington — President Barack Obama's victory means his economic vision is still alive and about to drive the political conversation with his adversaries. The legacy of Obama's first term is safe and enshrined to history.

Obama will push for higher taxes on the wealthy as a way to shrink a choking debt and to steer money toward the programmes he wants. He will try to land a massive financial deficit-cutting deal with Congress in the coming months and then move on to an immigration overhaul, tax reform and other bipartisan dreams.

He will not have to worry that his healthcare law will be repealed, or that his Wall Street reforms will be gutted, or that his name will be consigned to the list of one-term presidents who got fired before they could finish.

Yet big honeymoons don't come twice and Republicans won't swoon.

And if Obama cannot end gridlock in Washington, his second term will be reduced to veto threats, empty promises, end runs around Congress and legacy-sealing forays into foreign lands.

Voters decided to put back in place all the political players who have made Washington dysfunctional to the point of nearly sending the United States of America into default for the first time ever.


The president likely will be dealing again with a Republican-run House of Representatives, whose leader, Speaker John Boehner, declared on election night that his party is the one with the mandate: No higher taxes.

Obama will still have his firewall in the Senate, with Democrats likely to hang onto their narrow majority. But they don't have enough seats to keep Republicans from bottling up any major legislation with delaying tactics.

So the burden falls on the president to find compromise, not just demand it from the other side.

For now, he can revel in knowing what he pulled off.

Obama won despite an economy that sucked away much of the nation's spirit. He won with the highest unemployment rate — at 7.9% — for any incumbent since the Great Depression of the 1930s. He won even though voters said they thought Romney would be the better choice to end stalemate in Washington.

He won even though a huge majority of voters said they were not better off than they were four years ago — a huge test of survival for a president.

Voice of the voter

The suspense was over early because Obama won all over the map of battleground states, and most crucially in Ohio. That's where he rode his bailout support for the auto industry to a victory that crushed Romney's chances.

The reason is that voters wanted the president they knew. They believed convincingly that Obama, not Romney, understood their woes of college costs and insurance bills and sleepless nights. Exit polls showed that voters viewed Obama as the voice of the poor and the middle class, and Romney as tilting toward the rich.

The voice of the voter came through from 42-year-old Bernadette Hatcher in Indianapolis, who voted after finishing an overnight shift at a warehouse.

"It's all about what he's doing," she said. "No one can correct everything in four years. Especially the economy."

Formidable and seasoned by life, Romney had in his pocket corporate success and a Massachusetts governor's term and the lessons of a first failed presidential bid.

But he never broke through as the man who would secure people's security and their dreams. He was close the whole time.

Shallow moments

"I mean, I looked," said Tamara Johnson of Apex, North Carolina, a 35-year-old mother of two young children. "I didn't feel I got the answers I wanted or needed to hear. And that's why I didn't sway that way."

The election was never enthralling, and it was fought for far too long in the shallow moments of negative ads and silly comments.

It seemed like the whole country endured it until the end, when the crowds grew and the candidates reached for their most inspiring words.

"Americans don't settle. We build, we aspire, we listen to that voice inside that says 'We can do better'," Romney pleaded toward that end.

Americans agreed. They just wanted Obama to take them there.

Incumbents get no transition, so Obama will be tested immediately.

Republican warning

A "fiscal cliff" of expiring tax cuts and automatic budget cuts looms on 1 January.

If they kick in, economists warn the economy will tank, again. Obama, at least, won the right to fight the fight on his terms.

"If I've won, then I believe that's a mandate for doing it in a balanced way," he said before the election — that is, fixing the budget problem by raising taxes on people instead of just cutting spending. Obama is adamant that he will not agree to extend the Bush-era tax cuts for people making above $200 000 or couples with incomes above $250 000.

He had not even been declared the winner before Boehner offered a warning that the House was still in Republican hands.

"With this vote," Boehner said, "the American people have also made clear that there is no mandate for raising tax rates."

Obama, never one to lack from confidence, is ready to take that fight to Congress.

In his eyes, he just won it, thanks to the voters.

  • mashavha - 2012-11-07 08:45

    It is time for South Africans to learn from American Voters that being a liberation movement does not automatically gurantee an organisation to rule forever,The Republicans were so powerful in the past just like ANC in South Africa,I hope this is a wake up call for the ANC,DA is knocking and very hard,I wish one day we will vote with our minds just like the Americans not with emotions,morning friends

      koko.sandy.75 - 2012-11-07 10:00

      It seems u dont get the picture here,ur DA will be like Romney dear will never as much as it tries harder like what Republicans deed, the democrats ( Obama) proves that people will hold on to the changes as much as hiccups to cross we will overcome the obstacles that ANC faces boet. Have perseverence dear. It doesnt start today it comes wayback B.C take the israelites when they were release from the egyptians they mourn all the way. Thats people like u do remember the half( better) of that life u had i.e knowing these technology u posting ur brainwashed concern without looking at realities u wont have it by now.try to be inspired not doomed by hipocrats DA. every storm do passaway tsunami, sandy u name them, the selfishness of other members of ANC will also pass. HOLD ON BABA.

  • kenny.kwenamore - 2012-11-07 09:24

    I have drawn huge inspiration from the American voter, I have learned invaluable lesson now it's up to the people of South Africa to rise from deep sleep and overthrow mediocrity as represented by the ANC government. Now is the time WAKE UP SOUTH AFRICA

  • robbie.crouch - 2012-11-07 09:26

    Glad they have balance between the President and Congress. They will have to do a lot more convincing to pass legislation that way.

  • pages:
  • 1