Four More Years for Barack Obama

So, the Obama wobble was just a ploy to raise interest in the US elections.

For a moment, during those early presidential debates, it looked as though he’d lost his mojo for power and decided law seminars at the University of Chicago were a more appealing way to spend his time. But then he went and won the election. Perhaps he knew his ground campaign, during which he targeted marginal voters in swing states, had already sewn up the electoral college, and that it didn’t really matter how much effort he put into debating Romney on TV.

But he won the election, and the 70 percent of Britons who wanted him to beat Romney, Chicago style, could go back to feeling just a little bit smug. It was almost as if their pleading for America to see sense and do the right thing had levitated across the ocean, saving those ever-so-slightly backward Yanks from themselves and the myriad sins of Republican extremism.  Vindication is sweet, and Twitter was awash with celebrities and non-celebrities declaring that the world could now heave a collective sigh of relief, as if a Romney victory would have been a victory for Sauron or Pol Pot or someone else as heinously conservative.

Not that I mind Barack Obama being elected for four more years. For now, I’m non-partisan. He, like Cameron, received a hospital pass from his presidential predecessor – debt, debt and more debt, and a broken monetary system throttling the economy after years of excess. They both deserve time, and anyone who argues that they’ve had time to turn things around is mistaken; it takes years to correct an error that was years in the making. And, more to the point for presidential elections, when looking presidential is the main thing, Obama looks the part, and nice; he has funny ears, too, like Will Smith, and when you add in the family it all seems like a pretty presidential kind of package, a bit West Wing.

It’s also worth remembering this side of the Atlantic that the Presidency is a lot different to the office of Prime Minister. One is the head of state and government, the other just the head of government. But the PM has greater power. Under normal non-coalition circumstances, the PM controls not only the executive but also the legislature, and can make laws a whole lot easier than the President. For example, he can sign staggeringly consequential treaties with organisations beyond the reach of the British electorate just because he feels like it. Can you imagine the fuss Congress, not to mention the States, would make if the President tried something like that? Quite.

If we want to know what’s going to happen next in America, we should probably ask someone who knows something about US politics, but in the meantime I have two thoughts:

First, Obama will come up against the fact that he does not control the House of Representatives. The Republicans won the House 233 to 193. That’s like Number 10 being in the hands of one party while Parliament is in the hands of the other. What gridlock; like Trafalgar Square in 2005 after the Ashes. And that’s what Obama faces in the coming weeks and months. He has a budget to get through, and if he wants to do things his way he needs the House to agree with him. How the Republicans react to not getting back into the White House will be critical. They played hardball with the 2011 federal budget, and could do so again.

Second, Obama is going to have to deal with the national debt, assuming he doesn’t find a way to keep America stumbling along until he leaves office and hands the problem to his successor. Apparently it’s now over $16,000,000,000,000. Like them zeroes? A lot, aren’t there. Per Capita that works out at about $51,000, which now I look at it doesn’t seem so bad. But I think it is bad, and that it matters, a lot. Sure, borrowing money enables investment, but keep borrowing and the markets begin to wonder if you’re good for it. It pushes up the price of that debt, which forces government to do things like suppress interest rates, which encourages malinvestment, or conjure new money from the magic money-box. And then the debt brings stagnation to the economy. Japan knows this well, and it is thought that unemployment will spike and that the stock market and asset prices will fall when the final correction takes place.

But we return to the point about the Presidency being different, and in a sense less powerful than Number 10, allowing for the relative power of the US verses little old UK. The President doesn’t say how much the Federal government spends, Congress decides that. His job is to be the Commander-in-Chief and go about looking presidential, making hopeful but ultimately empty speeches, and bringing dignity to his office and consequently to the United States. And for this, Barack Obama is admirably well suited.


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