When chips are down, the positive and vibrant America sparkles upfront. Just think of the profound change in the US political landscape demonstrated the second time round as a firmed up head-turner trend. One may argue that US has kept to its tradition of not denying second term to an incumbent President except in rare cases. Even so, Obama as a non-white President has scored two firsts: One, coming victorious in 2008 presidential race and then redoing it, this time against insuperable odds.
How America is deriving political dividends from its demographic composition stands out. Even though whites are a majority, a sizeable percentage of them voted for Obama, including women, Obama being gender savvy as he lightheartedly pointed to Mitt Romney at one stage of the campaign. Altogether, this critical element by itself made a difference, let alone "coloured" minorities becoming "electoral majority" sealing a convincing Obama victory.
To say that "purple" (Republican) is turning "blue" (Democrat) maybe a skin-deep observation when you think of the narrow margin of electoral votes tallied between the two parties. Note, however, the increasingly colour-blind voting pattern reflected through the "new edges on the old South" in terms of bagging the swing state votes that made the day for Obama.
Americans know how to humour themselves. Will Rogers, an early 20th century American social commentator, simply wondered: "Congress is so strange. A man gets up to speak and says something. Nobody listens. Then everybody disagrees with him."
A still more devastating comment came from 26th Republican President of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt (1901-1909). This is what he said: "When they call the roll in the Senate, the Senators don't know whether to answer 'present' or 'not guilty'."
Balance these out with English humorist-novelist A. P. Herbert's mock-serious comment: "People must not do things for fun. We are not here for fun. There is no reference to fun in any act of parliament."
Neither where the Congress during Obama's outgoing term left matters is any fun, nor what the reincarnated Republican dominated Congress poses to Obama administration offers any savoury prospect for the President to get his legislative agenda through. The only difference is that the circumstances are clearly more compelling now than ever before for bipartisanship to hold and work to pull the economy from the brink of a much-vaunted "fiscal cliff." This is obviously no laughing matter.
Simply put, a "fiscal cliff" is approaching as tax cuts are due to expire after December31 and so are spending cuts. The withdrawal of caps on both means new tax regime in the offing since January as well as increasing government spending. The Republicans and Democrats widely differ on both issues not only in fundamentals but also in details. The twin-devil at work, so to speak.
They have only a few weeks before Christmas to craft a new deal ideally striking a balance between Obama's forward-looking plan and the Republican's known resistance on raising taxes in areas Democrats do not want and increasing expenditure where Obama thinks should be directed. If a deal is not done by December 31 the pre-existing one could reduce up to 4 percent of US Gross Domestic Product (GDP), pushing the economy back into recession. The businesses will be hard hit and US unemployment figures showing signs of recovery would receive a setback. The whole of America, be it "purple" or "blue" will be the loser.
This would have a worldwide impact including that on EU through China to countries like Bangladesh for which the US is the number one garments export market.
Thus the stakes are high on all sides. Republican Speaker of the House of Representatives John Boehner said in so many words: "We have to respond to electoral verdict," and expressed his desire to "work across the aisle without compromising on principles." Mitt Romney spoke along similar lines in his concession speech but with a passion to come out on the other side working together since the country's economy is at a critical tipping point. It will be hard bargain but in the end a healthy compromise should be possible.
President Obama, though emboldened with a mandate and a new moral authority, would need to be effectively more engaging to strike a deal with Republican-dominated Congress replacing his earlier rather resigned attitude to Republican obstructionism. He needs to try and mellow them as did Bill Clinton in his time.
One interesting sidelight to this expectation comes from a detractor who informed lately that out of nearly 150 golf appearances he made during the last four years he played golf only with one GOP personality. This is hardly throwing cold water on Obama's finest day but just to call his attention to a need perhaps for a tweak here and there to his work style as far as Congress goes.
The writer is Associate Editor, The Daily Star.
E-mail: [email protected]