Saturday, October 13, 2012

The Next President of the United States

Twenty four days from now a select group of Americans will go to the polls to elect a Government, a President and a Vice President. It is a close race with Mitt Romney - the man who ponders why airplane windows do not open and has dismissed 47% of Americans as tax avoiders - looking stronger all the time and President Obama struggling to engage his own democratic power base.

Much depends on emotion. Which of the candidates will evoke an emotional response from a voter - enough to trigger them to vote at all and to vote for a specific candidate. Most thinking Americans appear to suggest that, while they recognize the need for real focused and courageous leadership, "none of the above" is their real choice. Turn out is typically low and many are not able to vote due to the complex voter registration processes at play in some US states.

The Romney-Ryan ticket talks a story, but that is just what it is: fiction. The so-called Ryan plan is focused on rhetoric and the return of the confidence fairy. The real issue in the US is the lack of demand, but Romney-Ryan are likely to pursue austerity coupled with deals for the very rich. There is no compelling, focused economic plan from the Republicans and no one is really sure which of the various versions of Mitt Romney evident since he became a Governor will show up at the White House if he is elected.

It is not as if the Obama team have a plan either. More of the same is not what the US needs right now - its a rethink of government, a refocused growth strategy and a rethink of social responsibility, social supports (including Medicare) and public spending that is needed. But there are few specifics coming from the Obama team, with the exception of the plans for medicare.

The catalogue of challenges facing the next President of the United States and congress is formidable:

  • a broken system of government and dysfunctional political system
  • a decline in the economic and political power of the US
  • a fiscal cliff caused by past decisions which will begin on January 1st as the Bush tax cuts expire and automatic cuts in public spending kick in
  • lack of a clear, focused strategy for growth and economic recovery - currently characterized by the fact that the Obama administration has not been able to get a budget passed for sometime
  • challenges to the sustainability of social programs, especially social services and health care
  • a raft of energy and sustainability challenges which have been postponed pending the election - the Keystone pipeline being just one
  • ongoing issues of the corruption of politics by lobbyists and access to power, information and influence

When I was a teacher, one of my special needs students told me that "it doesn't matter who you vote for, the government always gets in". This may well be the story of this election. Rome (or Washington) isn't burning (just smouldering), so "more of the same" is likely whoever wins, though the "spin" will be very different.

But this election will also reshape politics in the US. If Romney-Ryan find themselves in power but the Senate is (by a slim margin) democrat, the real issue will be about the nature of government and the dysfunction of the current US constitution. A related issue will be the very nature of the Republican Party - more specifically, the blend of tea found in the White House Tea Party. There will be also a rethink within the Democratic Party about how it can reconnect with its roots and reinvent politics - look to Hilary to engage in this conversation.

If Obama-Biden win, which looks possible, then the key will be the extent to which Obama stops being a community organizer and ideas man and becomes a President. He has done some things, make no mistake about it, but not enough. He must focus on economic responsibility and pursue strategies which enable growth of demand for goods and services. This requires courage - not a key characteristic of his first term.

Some suggest that the US is "too far gone" to be saved. They are wrong. The US remains hugely important to us all - it remains a key economic power, a key influencer globally and militarily key to the stability of the world. But a new, focused, courageous leadership is needed if we are to see a renaissance in the US.

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