Barack Obama’s election win was certain for the students of mathematics, but that clarity was muddied by the US media which promotes a horse race story partly because the voters are closely divided. The central issue of this election was the role of federal government. The question was whether the federal government is obliged to make the lives of its citizens better, or should it stay out of their way and leave it for individual states to decide. Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson first contested this debate via proxies in the 1792 vice- presidential election.
Even though Obama was demonized as “Islamist”, “Fascist”, “Communist”, “Un-American” and with other outrageous Orwellian names from right wing fringe of the Republican Party that were sadly silently accepted by the party’s mainstream, the President by and large governed as a centrist.
Here are six takeaways from Obama’s win Tuesday and what his another four years as US President might mean in conjunction with a subdued Republican House of Representatives and an invigorated Democratic Senate.
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Amongst the eligible voters who participated in the election, around 70 percent were whites, with Hispanics, Blacks, Asians, and others making up the rest. Nearly 56 percent of women voted for Obama. Significantly, the birth rate of the minority populations overtook the birth rate of white babies about a year ago. America will no longer be a majority white race country within a couple of decades. This poses problems for Republican Party unless it adapts to the changing times. Republicans can no longer win on identity politics.
Due to gerrymandering of congressional districts the House of Representatives will likely be in Republican control until the next once-in-a-decade redistricting in 2020 and the Senate, by virtue of having more red (than blue) states in the US, will be a close chamber with neither side with the 60-vote supermajority. Another problem for GOP is that generations X (born during post-World War II baby boom) and Y (the cohort following generation X) overwhelmingly identify with the Democrats.
MONEY IN POLITICS
The old debate of whether money should be allowed to influence politics has many sides. In 2010 the US Supreme Court ruled that political spending by corporations is covered by first amendment of the US constitution that protects free speech. The McCain-Feingold campaign finance law enacted in 2003 had reined in many campaign activities that strengthened electoral process and diluted influence of direct money in politics. The court ruling influenced 2012 election, as spending skyrocketed to about US $6 billion. The influence of few billionaires, personified by Sheldon Adelson, the casino magnate who had vowed to spend US $100 million against Obama, on electoral politics will be vigorously debated in the days ahead, with some constraints on easy money into polity likely.
Obama’s Healthcare law accommodated the Republican demand that the onus for insuring fall on individuals as opposed to the public or universal options as championed by progressives. His economic stimulus plan of US $750 billion included nearly half in tax cuts, again a key tenet of Republican policies, with the rest going on infrastructure rebuilding. His student loan program cut the middle-man banks, and used the savings to lend directly. His first law as president was to sign Lily Ledbetter act that ensured that women were paid same as men for the same job.
Before that, women roughly earned 70 cents to men’s 1 dollar for the same work in US. The fiscal cliff, that the US economy might go off if a deal is not reached on national debt ceiling, will be avoided with about US $2.5 of tax cuts for every US $1 of revenue increase. Comprehensive immigration policies similar to the one proposed by George W Bush that will clear the path of roughly 12 million undocumented immigrants to citizenship will likely become law of the land. Policies with progressive thoughts with ideas that were once embraced by earlier Republicans will continue. The US economy will enter a phase of renewed growth.
It is hard to account for all the money the US spends internationally. There are multiple facets, including visible military spending, dark hole spending by alphabet soup spy agencies, along with some laudable programs of State Department, and aids, bilaterally to countries and multilaterally through United Nations agencies. That will not change. The drawdown from Afghanistan and leaving Iraq will allow for the focusing of armed forces elsewhere, with a possible strike on Iran. Travel and investment restrictions on Cuba may finally be lifted. Militarily, focus from Middle East will turn to pacific region to countenance the growing influence of China, which holds over US $1 trillion worth US Treasury notes.
NEPALIS IN THE US
Judging from public interactions of Nepalis in the US, nearly 95 percent voted for Obama and the Democrats. The 2010 US Census identified nearly 60,000 as Nepalis, but the number is underreported. The people of Nepali origin who have become US citizens have multiplied dramatically from just an election ago. The sense of civic duty of voting is universally felt by Nepalis, many of whom have entered the US having won Diversity Visa lotteries. This election showed that in the five most populated Nepali regions in the US—New York, Washington D.C (battleground of Virginia suburb), San Francisco Bay Area, Dallas Forth Worth, and Boston (battleground of New Hampshire)—Nepalis were proud to have cast their ballot in favor of President Obama. That will go a long way towards deciding US positions on Nepal. Nepali Americans are now a political force.
With election comes political capital and Obama has just deposited enough to push through stalled initiatives from the first term. It also legitimizes all that have been questioned about his supposed lack of American-ness. Senators Elizabeth Warren and Sherrod Brown carrying the spirit of Ted Kennedy and Paul Wellstone will make the Senate stand fast on progressive values held dear by the liberal wing of Democratic Party. Some Republican members of the House of Representatives will cross the aisle in reaching bipartisan agreements on vital issues. The uncompromising positions of right wing Tea Party will lessen with the GOP having learnt lessons with the losses of Todd Akin and Richard Mourduch in senate races.
If Obama has to name one person who helped him get reelected the most, it would undoubtedly be Bill Clinton, who will now loom large in Democratic politics. With the electorate becoming more Democratic and with the economy set to take off starting 2013, the jostling for next president among politicos will start soon. The odd on favorite is Hillary Clinton, who could become the first female and 45th US president in 2016.
The author was president of Association of Nepalis in the Americas (ANA) and is chairman of American Federation of Nepali Organization (AFNO)