Without advancing the crucifixion theory, US President Barack Obama should have known that in politics the journey between Palm Sunday and Good Friday can be as triumphant as it can be absolutely hellish. Consequently, he should have anticipated the terrible results from last Tuesday's mid-term elections, because as he now concedes, "Ultimate power resides with the people"; however irrational the exercise of that power may appear. For, whether by fair means or foul, the Republicans, aided and abetted by an insurgent group of angry, impatient, ultra-conservative (and more often than not unreasonably myopic) Tea-Partiers, stuck to their message of demanding a smaller government and lower taxes and were handsomely rewarded by American voters.
Defeats are always hard to accept, even in circumstances where it was obvious from the start that the quality and quantity of inputs would not have produced good outcomes, but we have to move on. So like many other presidents, prime ministers and premiers, Mr Obama may have come to the realisation that leadership is not easy and that political leadership, in particular, is one of the most thankless jobs anyone could aspire to, because no leader, however well-intentioned, can ever meet everybody's expectations. Nonetheless, last Tuesday's election results were not about a pack of ingrates. People were "mad as hell" about everything and they forgot about what Obama inherited - since as president he owns all the issues.
Remarkably, Obama's admission that he has not been as passionate in leadership as he was as candidate - though visibly obvious - conveys a tiny part of a bigger problem. You see, Democrats foolishly underestimated the strength and reach of the Tea Party; herein lies the real problem. As I see it, Obama continues to err by stubbornly pursuing his brand of clumsy intellectualism over practical intelligence and empathy, especially in moments when the country wants compassionate leadership. Sometimes, he appears so academically bionic and unexcitingly robotic that he seems unable to read the mood of the people, much less understand the political zeitgeist, however threatening. I have never been able to fathom why he chooses to use feather pillows to fight the massive artillery power of his political opponents, knowing full well that American politics is a high contact sport.
None of this is to suggest violent confrontation or political incivility, but my gosh, stand up and fight like a man, if you truly believe in something, as I think Obama does in his policies. Say what you may about the Republicans and their coterie of Tea-Party supporters, they are never short on enthusiasm and stick-to-itiveness. This makes me worry about Obama's Pollyannaish expectations for bipartisanship and compromise. This approach may seal the deal for his ouster in 2012, as the Republicans are not in the mood for consensus and with Congress now at extremes, right wing-conservatives versus liberal democrats; "Blue Dog" democrats and moderate-conservatives were booted out, cooperation looks unlikely.
The Democrats lost big and the scale of the electoral trouncing will have far-reaching implications, not only on the Democratic Party or Obama's presidency, but also on policy issues affecting immigration, education, climate-change, trade, health care, social and welfare spending, among other things. Politically, the size of the Republican win will give it the ability to carry out major redistricting - a practice that could almost guarantee a Republican majority in both Houses of Congress for a long time to come. Nationally, there were about 680 seat changes (including governorships and state races) to Republican control. This is above the 412 or so seats that changed hands when Democrats lost in 1994 under Bill Clinton.
In fact, historians have now declared the 60-seat gain by Republicans in the House of Representatives as the biggest since 1948. Already, predictions are being made as to whether or not Obama can survive this massive political tremor as he heads into the lame-duck session of his presidency and then on to the 2012 presidential and mid-term general elections. Shortly after Obama won the 2008 presidential elections, I remarked privately to a friend that his victory and success, though absolutely thrilling, historic and substantially important, may have been a strategy to place an important, but necessary, pause - like a comma - in America's history to showcase America as the land of possibilities; however temporary. As I said then, I say now: unfortunately I do not envision Mr Obama serving as president for more than one term and it would have nothing to do with underachievement.
Undoubtedly, Mr Obama's accomplishments far outweigh those of his predecessor, George Bush. He has brought a refreshing pedigree and purpose to the White House and to American leadership around the world. He has achieved in that health care reform law what many presidents before him did not achieve. Yet, Obama has been subjected to more attacks on his legitimacy to be president, his religion and love of country than any other president. Without citing race as the underlying factor for the hostility and indifference directed towards him, Obama's success does not mean America is post-racial - just listen to some Tea Partiers talk about "putting real Americans back in the White House".
Now that the Republicans have some power, let us see what they are going to do with it because America's problems are bigger than tax breaks, debt and deficits. America has been lagging behind some other industrialised countries in areas such as education, innovation, research and science. If they think stepping back into becoming an isolationist state is good for America they'd better think twice. If they think locking out immigrants and restoring the Bush tax cut will lead to an automatic spiralling in job growth or robust investments and economic activities they'd better prepare for a major disappointment. Certainly, it will not be an easy road.
November 08, 2010