One of the riveting features of the US Presidential election just finished, is the billions of dollars spent in advertising on behalf of the contending parties. The little girl who was filmed in floods of tears, spoke for many in expressing the sentiment that it was all too much (though she might not have been thinking purely of the cost). On the other hand, it seems clear that it was effective, in the ‘swing states’ and particularly in the early stages, when attitudes were being formed. It looks as if this, together with superior long-term organisation, was key to the Democratic victory.
Of course, there is nothing wrong with planning ahead and deploying appropriate forces for the task in hand, and an incumbent president can do this in a way that a candidate who emerges from the protracted primary process, cannot. But there is something wrong with the vast amounts being spent on television material and the careless negativity of its content.
Governor Romney can hardly complain about this latter feature. This was how, starting in Iowa in the previous year, he got the nomination in the first place. But it might be that both parties have in interest in controlling the ‘super-pac’ problem, before it plumbs greater depths in future elections. The moral for New Zealand is to make sure that such a development does not take place here.
Another factor which seems to have been significant in the re-election of President Obama is the part that was played by the United States mainstream media, which went to extraordinary lengths to report matters that redounded to the President’s credit and to ignore those that did not. Most prominent in the latter category was the developing scandal of Benghazi, about which I wrote last time (Questions from Benghazi, 28 October). There is a limit to what can be done about this and still preserve the fundamental democratic requirement of freedom of speech. As I’ve noted before (most recently in July of this year), the problem of media bias applies here to New Zealand. On the other hand, right-of-centre parties do seem to get elected, despite the efforts of a predominantly left-leaning media.
The crucial problem for the United States now, is how they will deal with the so-called ‘fiscal cliff’ and associated problems of public debt. Leaders of both parties have spoken of cooperation and the American people clearly want this. President Obama will clearly feel vindicated by the election results. Will he feel so ‘vindicated’ that he attempts to force tax increases ‘for the rich’ down Republican throats, or will he genuinely accept compromise on this issue in order to seek agreement on a broader range of reforms of the tax code and ‘entitlements’, as well as avoiding the dreaded ‘cliff’.
The election results mean that the ‘lame-duck session’ is also the future. The political complexion of the White House and Congress are broadly the same going forward, as they were in the session just ended. There is thus no reason to delay the essential accommodations until sometime in the new year. Notwithstanding their convictions about the undesirability of tax increases in a time of depressed economic growth (which were shared by the President at an earlier time), they need to concede this point in return for genuine reform, both of the tax code and spending patterns, which are driving the burgeoning deficit. There are wider reasons for doing this that go beyond national economic performance. There are growing disparities of wealth around the world in both developed and less developed states and these raise questions about social justice and fairness. Again, it is a matter of compromise. There is an equally widespread problem of increasing dependence on the state in the developed world, which is driving deficits and political crisis.
What happens in America will affect us all. The US election result corresponded to bad news from Germany; the last economic domino to fall after the crises in Greece, Italy, Spain, Portugal, France …. Together, these produced the largest decline on the US market for more than a year. The only thing that could make the situation worse would be for the United States Government to continue in ‘gridlock’. The Europeans have enormous and entrenched political problems but a strengthening economy in the US would be a boon to them, as it would be to China, upon whose economy we are so dependent (directly, or indirectly).
As President Obama said in those unguarded words to (then) Russian President Medvedev, he is free now. He faces no further election. He ‘can be more flexible’. In this sense, it does not matter if he changes course, or even offends elements of his ‘base’. On the other hand, he can insist on everything and concede nothing and blame Congress. This has been politically quite successful in the past. In the medium term, it could be, again. As the cliché has it, the (basket) ball is in his court. It will be interesting to see what he does. No! It will be absolutely crucial for us all.