Rear View Mirror

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    2012-08-12 03:40:06
Book Name: "Singing in the Rain": The US Presidential election of 2012

There are less than 100 days left until 6 November 2012 when Americans will vote for their next president. Yet it seemed only yesterday that the mid-term elections swept the Republicans into the majority in the House of Representatives.  In reality, the mid-term elections occurred only two years ago, in November 2010, to be exact. In the euphoria at that time, it seemed probable that the incumbent president might not win a second term, assuming that he were to contest.

But a great deal of water has flowed under the proverbial bridge in the past two years.  On 1 May 2011, President Obama authorised the successful assassination of Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, Pakistan, thereby improving his popularity ratings.  He passed legislation to permit gays and lesbians to serve in the military. Then he reversed his immigration policy by not deporting illegal immigrants. Instead, they were allowed to apply for work permits.  These measures might broaden his appeal to some segments of the electorate but it could also just as easily antagonise other voters. The unemployment figures have dropped from a peak of 10.1 % to the current rate of 8.1 %.

 

Will President Obama get another four years to fix the economy? Or will there be a Republican in the White House next January?

 

 

PART I: THE CANDIDATES

In the 6 November 2010 issue of “The Economist”, the cover showed a posse of seven Republicans mounted on horses ready to charge with the White House shown in the background. It was meant as a parody of the 1960 western movie, “The Magnificent Seven”, starring Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen and Eli Wallach in the lead roles. Fans of Western movies might observe that the clothes worn by some of the Seven Republicans were similar in design to the ones worn by Robert Vaughan, Horst Bucholz and Brad Dexter in the movie. That was not all. Some of the horses were drawn with white patches on their foreheads similar to the horses that were shared among Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson and James Coburn. The attention paid to detail by the artist was remarkable.

In the centre of the posse was Sarah Palin. The implication was that the Republican Seven, led by Sarah Palin, were ready to charge onto the White House and take over the presidency. And what was there to stop them? The Republicans had won 55 % of the seats in the House of Representatives, giving them control of Congress.   The US economy had stalled with little immediate hope of recovery. The sub-prime housing mortgage was stalemated.  The prevailing public mood  was one of default and despair.

In April 2011, President Obama announced that he will seek re-election as president.  The race was on to deny him a possible second term.  The Republican contenders began announcing their challenge to the White House.  The rooster of presidential hopefuls included Michelle Bachmann, Tim Pawlenty, Ron Paul, Rick Perry, Herman Cain, Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney.

Michelle Bachman had an early lead when she won at the Ames Straw Poll in August 2011. Tim Pawlenty was the trailing candidate in this Poll so he withdrew his candidacy. But when the actual Poll was held in January 2012, Bachman won only 5 % of the votes in the Iowa caucus. She was disappointed and withdrew her candidacy.

Ron Paul announced his candidacy in January 2011. His campaign suffered from poor media coverage and insufficient funding. He trailed Rick Santorum in the Iowa caucus and withdrew by July 2012.

Rick Perry’s campaign lost steam by October 2011. By January 2012, he announced his withdrawal and pledged his support for Newt Gingrich.

Rick Santorum joined the presidential race in April 2011. He beat Mitt Romney in the Iowa caucus in January 2012.  By April 2012, his campaign lost momentum due to lack of funds and he withdrew.

Newt Gingrich announced his candidacy in May 2011. By the following month, his campaign faced financial problems. In May 2012, he announced his withdrawal and endorsed Mitt Romney as the Republican candidate.

Jon Huntsman joined the race in May 2011. After finishing third in the New Hampshire primaries, he withdrew in January 2012 and threw his support behind Mitt Romney.

Then there were the minor contenders who barely got started in a crowded race.  Buddy Roemer announced his candidacy in June 2011 and withdrew by May 2012.

Herman Cain joined the race in May 2011. He was a staunch Tea Party supporter and the only black candidate. By November 2011, his campaign was derailed amid allegations of sexual misconduct from former female employees. Critics pointed out his inexperience in foreign affairs.  He decided to withdraw in December 2011.

There was also the favourite Tea Party favourite that never ran for President. In March 2011, Sarah Palin hinted that she might run for the presidency. During a visit to India, she said that “it is time for a woman to president of America.” But in October 2011, she disappointed her fans by announcing that she would not run for the presidency.  By late 2010 the Tea Party was no longer in the media spotlight.

PART II: THE ISSUES

President Obama will be facing a far more formidable opponent in Mitt Romney in November 2012 than John McCain in 2008. Mitt Romney has more wealth and therefore more clout than John McCain.

The central issue of the campaign will be the anaemic US economy. Mitt Romney was a major shareholder of Bain Capital who acquired ailing firms, turned them around and sold them at a profit. In the process, they charged the firms high consultancy fees and lay off thousands of workers. However, Romney left Bain Capital in February 1999 to manage the Salt Lake City Olympics in 2002. To be fair, it should be borne in mind that the main purpose of any takeover exercise was to maximise returns for the shareholders rather than to create jobs.

The Obama campaign has tried very hard to show that Romney is a wealthy ex-businessman who made his fortune as a takeover consultant and is out of touch with the common man in the street – let alone the jobless man off the street.

They also pointed out that Romney has an unenviable track record of policy flip-flops. For instance, Romney favoured abortion when he was Governor of Massachusetts from January 2003. But he changed his mind and became anti-abortionist some time in 2005.

Romney had been a long-time supporter of the Bush tax cuts. Yet when President Obama and the largely Republican Congress passed legislation in December 2010 to extend the Bush tax cuts by two years, Romney opposed the move.

Mitt Romney has vowed to get tough with China if he becomes president. But it was only in 2011 that he opposed imposing trade sanctions against China for trade abuses.

Then there were the political gaffes. In March 2011, Romney criticised President Obama for not intervening in Libya earlier. Later, he said that the US should not support the rebels to overthrow Gaddafi. After Gaddafi was killed in October 2011, he said that “the world was a better place without Gaddafi.”

In late 2007, the then presidential candidate Barrack Obama said that if he became president, he would launch military strikes in Pakistan whether or not the Pakistani government approved of such strikes. Romney pounced and criticised Obama for taking such a stance. After the May 2011 SEAL Team assassination of Osama bin Laden, Romney said that he “would have done the same thing.”