MUNICH - Obama’s victory is not a shining victory. The president stays president. But Americans did not re-elect Barack Obama because they thought his first four years were so grand and convincing. America’s voters were perfectly prepared to fire him – they just weren’t ready to vote Mitt Romney in to replace him. The Republicans' image was just too poor for that.
Obama’s campaign team portrayed Romney as a cold, profit-hungry, elitist manager and that apparently did the trick for voters. Romney would have liked to turn the election into a referendum on Obama’s performance over the past four years. Instead, Obama turned the election into a referendum on the character of his rival. And he won.
Obama let on very little during his campaign about what he intends to do in his second term. But what he has to do is crystal clear: America’s public infrastructure – from roads, bridges and power lines to health, education and taxation – is in a desolate state. And that has consequences for the whole of society.
Those who have no choice but to send their kids to public schools are facing a gloomy future; those who cannot afford first-rate (read expensive) health insurance; those with no secure private investments; those who live in decaying industrial areas instead of economic boom regions. If the government doesn’t help those people, nobody will.
The danger is that the divide – already immense – between the happy few and the many have-nots grows yet bigger. And the longer nothing is done about it, the bigger it’s going to continue to grow.
Obama can’t be elected to a third term, so he doesn’t have to worry about making himself unpopular when he tells Americans the truth about the condition their country is in; and presents them with a reconstruction program that at least begins to tackle the biggest issues.
Republicans may yell “Socialism!” but Obama’s first building block – winning the battle for health care reform – is an indication that this will be accepted.
The chances of Obama getting a lot done in his second term are not great. The U.S. political system gives Republicans many opportunities to block the president, and the toxic climate in Washington points to every single one of these options being put into play.
The political paralysis will not be fixed with fine words, much less by Democrats adopting a triumphant stance. What could help: a relentless search for compromise, fighting for every Republican vote, less professorial arrogance, a bit of humility towards political opponents. Obama faces huge hurdles. He has four years to overcome them.