The elections have come and gone once again, and America has spoken twice – in the popular vote and the Electoral College – for President Obama. That, however, does not mean things are politically well in America.
There are several issues to consider: first, the popular vote was very close, with a margin of around 2.5 million. Second, a voter turnout of approximately 60% might be within tradition, but it also means that tens of millions of people are either unaware, disillusioned, or don’t care about their country’s political future. Third, the Republican Party is at the precipice of facing its own identity crisis, despite winning the majority in Congress. The same would be eventually valid for the Democratic Party post-Obama, since so much of the party’s relevance is built around his personality.
First, the stats: in the popular vote, Barack Obama won 59,621,436 votes to Romney’s 56,989,709. That’s a difference of 2,631,727 votes. The president took 303 Electoral College votes against Romney’s 206 and this was enough to win him the election. In the House, the Republicans now lead 232-191 seats, and in the Senate, the Democrats have a slight majority of 51-45, subtracting the Independent elects. Overall, 116,611,145 eligible voters came out, which means that over 100 million more who could have voted, did not. This means that the voter activity rate will be between 50% and 60%.
The vote for Romney can be interpreted as a protest vote against Obama, and it reveals a clear national divide. This is a reality the president cannot ignore. While Jill Stein and Gary Johnson staged themselves as alternative candidates, their overall impact on the outcome of the election is negligible, but it is a precedent that offers to intensify, if third party candidates become more high-profile in subsequent elections. Nation-building, as it were, does need to be done in America, because the political polarization in Washington is finding its way in a society that is already struggling and disillusioned.
Mitt Romney’s defeat means that this might be the last we see of him in the political mainstream. This election was a resounding reminder to the Republicans that they need to change, if they don’t want to risk political and social irrelevance. The problem also arises in a crisis of human capital – Mitt Romney is not Ronald Reagan, and that seems to be the best the GOP could produce. As a transitional figure, Romney has to pave the way for a group of leaders who are modern and relevant, able to communicate to a wide range of people and not have to resort to social conservatism to be able to do so.
This problem is not going to escape the Democrats either. In this election, we saw that Bill Clinton set the bar very high in his presidency and still casts a very long shadow. The prominence of Hilary Clinton as secretary of State also shows that the Democrats are basking in past glory, off of which Obama is also benefiting, but after the president steps down, we will need to see the same group of promising leaders demanded of the Republicans. For starters, Joe Biden and Harry Reid will not do, as powerful as they are right now.
In his second term, Obama can afford to focus more on systemic reforms without facing the pressure of election. A fiscal cliff, climbing public debt, an underperforming economy and chronic unemployment continue to define the domestic reality. Some positive steps in regulatory oversight and health care were taken in the first term, but much, much more needs to be done until 2016. I cannot emphasize this enough, however – America is divided. Obama must make this his foremost priority.
On the foreign policy front, the Middle East continues to dominate the airwaves, but China and the euro zone crisis will eventually demand their fair share of America’s attention. Having been dealt a blow, the Republicans will perhaps re-calibrate away from their extremism, the Tea Party will hopefully disappear from within and some real bilateralism can happen in Washington for the good of everybody. It is a chance for the GOP to redeem itself and find a new raison d’être for itself, not defined by being the anti-thesis to Obama.
The time is high to really move forward.