You know conventional wisdom dictates that sequels are rarely as good as the original, conventional wisdom also dictates that second term presidents always have one eye on the history books. The re-elected Barak Obama will have his work cut out if he is to be remembered for his achievements rather than his promise.
Yet for all of the relief and pleasure at the Obama victory (or is that the Romney defeat) in this country, the thought that Obama really should have won this by a larger margin remains. The very reason that this election campaign came down to a dog-fight could be summed up in four words. The first Presidential debate.
I had long thought that Obama should have been heading for a comfortable victory. Obama’s opponents from the other side of the pond look more than divided – with the advent of the Tea Party wing they look more and more like an American version of the Labour Party from circa 1981. As a result, the list of candidates for the primaries looked rather like a group of zealots and religious fundamentalists exposing 19th century views. Even with the election of the most sensible candidate, Romney, Obama really should have won much more comfortably.
Yet, Romney had chipped away at Obama’s achilles heel – the economic performance of the USA in the past four years. What made this election tighter than it should have been was undoubtedly Obama’s poor performance in the first Presidential debate – in the aftermath Romney’s polling experienced what could be called a “Clegg Bounce”. It is arguable that Obama’s reaction to Storm Sandy certainly helped Obama recover enough of the ground lost in that debate to see him over the finish line in the same way that Brown’s visit to Rochdale (and all that…) saw the momentum steadily swing towards Cameron in the last General Election.
Obama’s victory already guarantees that certain things will not happen. The USA will not provoke a trade or economic war with China, or worse. There will also be no disproportionate response to the antics of Israel or Iran. However Obama’s legacy really depends on how he deals with the supposed “Fiscal Cliff”. There are though people looking at the lessons that can be learned & transplanted here.
Nick Robinson lists five lessons in his post yesterday. His first, “Incumbents Can Still Win” obviously resonates with our own government – though there should be caveats attached. Since the Second World War, only Ford, Carter and George Bush (senior) have lost as sitting presidents – two terms are the norm. The much bigger lesson, which is one that has been the case in British politics since Thatcher and was clearly on show here, is that opposition parties need to fashion themselves into a credible alternative government in waiting. Blair did that, Cameron fell just short of that while Kinnock, Hague & Howard all failed to do this.
The other lesson that resonates in British politics is that negative campaigning works. “Labour Isn’t Working”, “Labour’s Tax Bombshell” & “You Can’t Trust The Tories on The NHS” are all slogans that spearheaded negative aspects of election winning campaigning. Sure the negative aspects were always a part of the main campaigns, but in the United States the negative campaign was the main spearhead. Anyone who doubts that such negative campaigning won’t work here needs to look at the current Scottish Referendum campaign, where the SNP’s pro Independence message has become undermined by opposition attacks not on the main issues but on what are really fringe and just off core issues.
When Obama entered the White House in 2009, the USA was at its most precarious economic position since the 1930’s. He hasn’t quite turned things around, partially down to the various “Checks and balances” inherent in the USA government machine. Four more years gives the US time to cement “Obama-care” into the government and should (mid term elections providing) give Obama the chance to become the reforming president he wants to be. Unfortunately we have 2 years of Obama the Tory to get out of the way first.