Editorial: Obama faces a huge challenge

Last updated 05:00 09/11/2012

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OPINION: Barack Obama had Bruce Springsteen, Scarlett Johansson and Chris Rock. Mitt Romney had Clint Eastwood haranguing an empty chair, Meatloaf caterwauling the national anthem and somebody called Kid Rock.

On one level, the surprising thing about the United States election is not that Mr Obama won, but that he did not win by a bigger margin.

On another level, it is that Mr Obama won at all. Unemployment is high, debt is mounting and Congress is gridlocked. Having raised expectations to unattainable levels in his first presidential campaign, Mr Obama was vulnerable in his second. That he triumphed is tribute to the Democrats' on-the-ground organisation and the lunacy of the Republican Right which forced Mr Romney to adopt such extreme positions to win his party's nomination that he became all but unelectable.

Mr Obama did not win because he had the better plan for the economy, but because he was the more credible candidate. Congenitally, he is ill-suited to the horse-trading and arm-twisting that will be necessary to prevent the US toppling off a fiscal cliff on January 1 when an illogical package of spending cuts and tax increases is legislated to take effect. However, US voters believe he means what he says. Neither the Right nor the Left can say the same of Mr Romney. Is he pro-choice or anti-abortion? Is he for gun control or against? Does he support health insurance reforms or is he opposed? No-one other than Mr Romney knows for sure. In each case he did one thing as governor of Massachusetts and advocated another on the campaign trail.

Ironically, his finest hour came when he delivered his concession speech. He was all the things he was not during the campaign – gracious, conciliatory and inclusive.

Mr Obama was equally gracious in his victory speech, noting that Mr Romney's service to his country continued a proud Romney family tradition and, like his defeated rival, the president spoke of the need to reach across the aisle separating Democrats and Republicans to focus on the things that matter to Americans.

As an orator, he has few, if any contemporary peers, but the reality that confronts him today is the same as the reality that confronted him the day before the election.

The US primary system forces candidates to contest two elections, one to win their party's nomination, and the other to win the popular vote.

Much though representatives in the Republican-controlled House and senators in the Democrat-controlled Senate may wish to "reach across the aisle", they know that in a short time they will again have to contest primaries in which challengers will be salivating at the prospect of being able to accuse them of colluding with the enemy.

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That is the challenge Mr Obama must overcome if he is to prevent the US and world economies plunging into a fresh downward spiral after January 1.

The world, as well as the US, needs the president to break the impasse.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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