With his re-election, President Barack Obama becomes the third Democratic president to win a second term since the past 100 years. The other two are Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Bill Clinton. The triumph of President Obama shares similar historical significance with FDR in relation to being re-elected with high unemployment rate in the country. With the exception of Obama and FDR, no president won a second term with unemployment as high as 8%. His victory also guarantees the protection of yet another historic milestone – the universal health care law passed during the first term.
But the verdict of 2012 presidential election hardly changes anything. It is the return to the status quo: divided government that had proved ever to be dysfunctional for the past four years. The Senate remains in Democratic Party’s hands while the House of Representatives are under the control of the Republican Party.
If the relationship between Obama and Congress in the first term is any measure, the country will remain mired in stalemate. In October 2010, Senator Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader, famously told the world that “the single most important legislative priority was to deny President Obama a second term.” And Senator McConnell, his colleagues in Congress, and the Republican Party actively pursued an Obama-one term agenda until the Election Day. Any public policy with a potential to give Obama any political advantage was rejected by Congressional Republicans even if it was policy they favored in the past.
With a colossal failure to achieve their goal of ousting President Obama, what is the likelihood that this posture will change? In his victory speech, President Obama expressed his determination to cooperate with Republicans and Governor Romney’s concession speech also called on his party to work together with the president to solve the country’s problems. But Senator McConnell’s message to the president after the election suggested a renewed resolve to continue to challenge the president every step of the way. Hear him: “The voters have not endorsed the failures or excesses of the President’s first term, they have simply given him more time to finish the job they asked him to do together with a Congress that restored balance to Washington after two years of one-party control.” The Republican Senate leader made it clear that President Obama must only bring bills that have the chance of receiving the blessing of Congressional Republicans.
McConnell’s statement is similar to the definition of compromise offered by Richard Murdock the defeated Senate candidate in Indiana. Murdock had said that compromise meant Democrats accepting the views of Republicans.
Commentators of every stripe have interpreted the outcome of the 2012 election in different ways. While some have argued that voters repudiated gridlock in Washington by rewarding Obama who faced Republican bully tactics for too long; voters supported the tax increases on the top economic bracket; and others believe that voter’s embrace of divided government suggests that the country has a lot to benefit from spirited debates that occur between traditionally opposing parties.
Let’s take a step back to 2008 Obama victory. On his inauguration day, Rush Limbaugh the unofficial spokesman of the Republican Party wished that Obama’s presidency would be a failure. Other top party leaders were reported to have held series of meetings to obstruct Obama’s agenda. Consequently, a campaign to delegitimize the president begun culminating in the most disgraceful and humiliating incidents any sitting president ever suffered. Through sustained rumor, Obama was forced to publish his birth certificate to confirm he is a United States citizen. A Republican Congressman, Joe Wilson interrupted the president in the hallowed chamber of the House of Representatives during a State of the Union address and heckled “You lie!”
It was clear that some people did not accept Obama as a real president. He was ridiculed as naïve, inexperienced and inept community organizer who shot miraculously into the presidency from the streets of Chicago. Many conservatives underrated President Obama so much so that they were so convinced that Mitt Romney would take him down from office. But confronting reality, many conservatives still found it hard to believe Obama will be in the Oval Office in the next four years. Rush Limbaugh on the night of the election said: “I went to bed last night thinking we’d lost the country…” He said on Wednesday that one of the main reasons President Barack Obama won reelection was because voters viewed him as “Santa Claus.”
Such characterization is typical of the disdain with which Obama is viewed among some fringe elements of the right wing. Such mindset gives the impression that Obama did not win genuinely or that he is incapable to defeating a Republican. It reinforces the narrative among Obama’s detractors that the 2008 victory was not just a fluke but also the 2012 success in the polls.
This is the challenge of the moment. The purpose of election is to decide a path for the country but with comments coming from Congressional Republicans and allies, it seems that they are not prepared to respect Obama’s mandate to govern. If the obstruction continues, one is left to question the justification of spending over 2 billion dollars for an election that does not have consequences.
Everything considered, the intransigence that has come to define our politics in recent times should be rejected by reasonable citizens.
The test of the validity of the outcome of 2012 election is the resolution of the impending “fiscal cliff” otherwise referred to sequestration – automatic spending cuts and tax increases approved by Congress. The disagreement is over tax increases. Republicans refuse to accept any dime of tax increase on the top 2% of the population. How this matter is resolved will determine the acceptance or not of an Obama’s victory in the polls.
If the gridlock continues like the first term, the Obama’s decisive win in the polls is nothing but a pyrrhic victory.
Dr. Uchenna Ekwo is a public policy analyst