There is an old saying, “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas”. Unfortunately, the same is not true for the United States of America. In the globalized world we live in today, what happens in the U.S. affects the entire world at large. This is truer for the forthcoming U.S. Presidential election, scheduled for 6 November 2012, than is generally acknowledged. The undeniable fact is that what happens in the ensuing U.S. election will have global consequences, both economically and politically.
Economically, we only need to look back four years ago to 2008 when the burst of the U.S. property bubble and the related collapse of the U.S. banking and financial sectors led to the global recession that continues to wreak havoc in the rest of the world today. The failure of the U.S. to rein in the excesses of Wall Street in New York directly resulted in numerous global banks collapsing, millions losing their jobs around the world, and economies in far flung places such as Europe tethering on the brink of collapse. These global issues also impact individual national economies of smaller developing countries such as Bangladesh. It has been argued that the rise in the international commodity prices in 2008 was one of the key factors that led to the plummeting support and eventual collapse of the military backed government and the revival of democracy in Bangladesh.
Politically, the U.S. electorate is given a stark choice between two candidates with very different political ideologies. Since coming into office President Barack Obama has tried to shy away from the unilateralism of his predecessor, President George W. Bush. He has tried to work in a more inclusive manner by building alliances at home and abroad. In the realm of foreign policy, he has ended the war in Iraq and has announced a deadline for the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan. His crowning achievement has been the elimination of the al-Qaeda chief Osama Bin Laden and the decapitation of the al-Qaeda network through the drone attacks on terrorist bases in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Governor Mitt Romney, on the other hand, thinks that President Obama has been too soft and not adequately used America’s “big stick”, presumably referring to the use of military force. The alarming news for developing nations is that Governor Romney, if elected President, would attach conditions to foreign aid provided by the U.S. and link it to U.S. interests such as business development and trade policies. He has said he would support Israel more strongly and oppose Iran more forcefully. As revealed from a recent hidden video recording of his private comments in a fundraising event Governor Romney is not very sympathetic to the plight of the Palestinian people and would probably not seriously pursue peace in the Middle East.
Despite the far-reaching impact the U.S. has on the rest of the world, the focus of the American electorate is not on these important global issues. Only 4 percent of Americans polled believe that “foreign affairs,” which includes wars, terrorism, immigration, and other subjects, is the most important issue facing the U.S. The primary issue that will shape the election is the U.S. economy – concerns about jobs, taxation, and health insurance payment obligations.
The 2012 election is in essence a clash of beliefs. The Republicans believe that the root of all problems is big government. They want individuals and businesses to be left alone instead of being taxed. Governor Romney has been caught, in the now famous video footage from the fundraising event, describing 47 per cent of the U.S. citizens as “dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing” as an entitlement. Governor Romney has revealed himself as not being a great supporter of redistribution of wealth from the rich to the poor. The Democrats, in contrast, believe that the government can be a force for good which protects the people in need and helps them to get on their feet. The Democrats want to raise taxes for America’s richest so that they pay a fairer share of the tax burden.
The election is also about the different personalities, backgrounds, and worldviews of the two contenders. Governor Romney is a former CEO of a highly profitable company, Bain Capital, and has led a life of relative privilege and ease. His father, George Romney, was a rich and successful CEO of another huge company, American Motors. President Obama, on the other hand, comes from a more modest background. After graduating from Columbia University in New York, Obama worked for three years as a community organizer in poor neighborhoods in Chicago. He then attended Harvard Law School, becoming the first African-American president of the Harvard Law Review. He subsequently worked as a civil rights attorney in Chicago and taught constitutional law before becoming a Senator in 2004 and running for the office of the President in 2008.
When President Obama took office he faced an economy is free fall. In a move which now viewed as politically naïve President Obama initially sought to work with the Republicans in the Capitol Hill in a bipartisan manner. However, despite the united opposition from the Republican Party President Obama managed to pass an economic stimulus package. He has overhauled the U.S. health care system and his health care reforms were recently upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court as being constitutional. He has rescued the U.S. auto industry from collapse and imposed greater regulations on the U.S. banking system to prevent recurrence of the events that led to the financial crisis of 2008.
President Obama has thus far run an effective campaign. While Governor Romney has relied primarily on billionaire donors and lobbyists, the Obama campaign has requested its individual supporters to donate small amounts, staring from $5 each. A story about a struggling mother of two who has decided to forego a $15 pizza dinner for her family to support President Obama has gone viral and is encouraging further support in the form of small donations for President Obama. The Obama campaign has in recent months, surprised many by managing to raise more funds than the Romney campaign, which was initially thought to have the financial advantage.
Despite the current poor state of the U.S. economy, slow growth, and high unemployment rates President Obama still continues to lead in the polls. If re-elected, President Obama would become the first president since President Franklin Delano Roosevelt to be elected with an unemployment rate above 8 percent. Obama is leading the race because people have not forgotten that it is the Republicans who got them in this mess in the first place. It was the Republican mantra of deregulation that encouraged the greed of Wall Street and eventually led to the collapse of the U.S. economy and the most severe economic downturn since the Great Depression of 1930s.
While many people are disheartened and not as enthusiastic about Obama as they were in 2008, in the end they may well decide to go and vote for him. Governor Romney is right in his assessment that the poor and unemployed people at the bottom of the ladder, i.e. the “47%”, are probably not going to be voting for him. The challenge for President Obama is to get all these people motivated enough to go to the polling stations on election date and cast their votes for Obama.
As the recently concluded first Presidential debate has shown there exists a deep ideological divide between the two candidates on issues such as taxation, healthcare, and the role of government. Governor Romney has tried to cash in on the poor state of the economy and the high unemployment rates and according to most pundits won the first round of the debates. Two more rounds to go. Having trailed in all the recent national, polls Romney needed the victory more to try and change the trajectory of the election.
However, unless some unexpected catastrophe occurs during the final stretch of the election, the American people still appear to be ready to give President Obama a second term in office, albeit by a narrow margin, to prove that the call “yes, we can” of 2008 was not just a hollow promise.
Moin Ghani, a lawyer from Bangladesh, is currently working as Foreign Counsel at Foley Hoag LLP, a law firm based in Washington D.C.