There is one big difference between the 2008 and 2012 US Election; we know Obama is not the Messiah. While the promise of 2008, the masterful rhetoric, the clarion call of ‘change’ and the wide-eyed hope of Progressives everywhere seems from a distant age, Barack Hussein Obama is well placed for re-election. The doubt of much of the last three years has been replaced by a quiet optimism;the incumbent is already pulling ahead in the polls against potential opponents. From the wreckage of the balanced budget war, the healthcare battle, and the culture skirmishes, it looks like the man from Hawaii could well be back in the White House next year.
The US economy is showing signs of turning round. Not just ‘green shoots’ but the actual economy y’know, with real folks n’ all. Inheriting the biggest economic crisis since the 1930s, Obama has taken risks. He has almost uniquely, in global terms, applied stimulus to the declining economic patient; the complaints from the Left and Keynesian economists are that the spending hasn’t been enough. But, as the man says, after a Billion here and a Billion there, it all begins to add up. The car industry, virtually dead in the water, is now resurgent. The job figures are getting better. There’s still a huge amount to do but the Dems will breathe a sigh of relief that the numbers seem to be appearing to be on their side.While the administration needs to shore up their Left on key issues such as financial regulation, until the Republicans offer to exceed the Democrats’ legislation and proposals, progressives will plump for the candidates in blue.
The GOP is really struggling to nominate an electable candidate. Democrats will be happy facing either Romney or Santorum (they’ll be over the moon with the latter). The mood-music for the Right is not good; President Obama feels comfortable tilting, if obliquely, towards ‘Occupy’ while the leading Republican candidates sound either out of touch with ordinary voters (10,000 dollar bets anyone?) or so extreme on social issues that the political Centre will be scared off. The possibility of a brokered convention emphasises just how far removed the GOP candidates are from most of middle and working class America. The Democrats will stress that Obama represents the mainstream.
Obama’s campaign team will be on the attack when it comes to foreign policy. They’ll be asking if the American people feel more or less secure than they did four years ago. The most notable success, and game changer for Team Obama, is the killing of Osama Bin Laden. While the GOP will desperately try to gloss over or minimise this, but there’s no downplaying it. The man who evaded George W Bush for most of his two terms was tracked down by a Nobel Peace Prize-winning professorial policy wonk. While the Democrats will be loathe to be seen politicising the issue, it is an act with plenty of potential political capital. Libya, whatever the chaotic aftermath, will be highlighted as another foreign policy success; a narrative of Reagan’s nemesis deposed and Arab democracy encouraged. The US Military commitment in the World, relations with China and American political leadership will all be issues, if not central ones in the election. In purely political fall-out terms, no-one can accurately ‘game’ the impact of an Israeli strike or sustained campaign on Iran; this is a great unknown.
Barack Obama’s other great strength is himself. The poker player has played the long game and shown that he’s a brilliantly shrewd reader of the political landscape. The mauling over healthcare may well be the making of the 44th President. Ted Kennedy looks to have been right when he advised Obama to push for this in the first term; the solution, while not ideal, conforms with the President’s maxim to never let the good defeat the perfect. A progressive pragmatist, Obama knows the difference between what he wants to achieve and what he can achieve. His personality could prove to be his biggest asset in 2012.
There’ll be dozens of twists and turns before the General Election. Who knows what we’ll see but voters can expect some debate zingers, a grand battle of ideas and/or the dirtiest mud-wrestle ever. But for the first time since 2008, most Democrats are beginning to say ‘Yes We Can!’; be prepared for four more years of President Obama. Politics can be about strategy just as much as tactics and the Democrats appear to have the upperhand; it will be one hell of a contest.