Jamal Mecklai: On to 2016!

Last Updated: Thu, Nov 15, 2012 19:40 hrs

Congratulations President Obama!

Even though it turned out to be a moderately close race, there was never really any doubt (certainly in my mind) that he would be re-elected. In essence, America is forward-looking — perhaps the most forward-looking country in the world. Mitt Romney, sound and sane as he is, represents the past — he even looks and dresses like a Mormon Dan Draper (that’s the star of Mad Men, a shockingly popular US TV series set in the 1950s).

While it was hardly a surprise that Mr Romney got votes from the majority of older, white Americans, Mr Obama won by defining the constituency of the future — young people (over 60 per cent of under-30s voted for him), African-Americans, Hispanics (the fastest growing minority in the US) and, importantly, women. The grotesquely backward and misogynistic comments from several Republican Senate contenders – all of whom, incidentally, lost their bids – clearly pushed any undecided women over to the Democratic side. “Sexy Bill” may have helped, too.

But as important as Mr Obama’s victory was, the election produced several other key results. First of all, of course, was the sound defeat of the crazies, as mentioned above. Two of them were well ahead in their Senate races but sank like they deserved to after their horrible comments on rape and abortion. And more important even than their defeats is the signal that extreme, backward social views will not spin any more in America — the Tea Party is over.

This bodes very well for policy making going forward. The fiscal conservatives in the Republican Party had been able to use the rabble-rousing impact of the Tea Party to create near policy paralysis – familiar term – during Mr Obama’s first term. The defeat of the extremists will be a loud signal to House Republicans, many of whom come up for re-election in two years, that the time for extremism is over.

In my view, Mr Obama, like any reasonable person, is also a fiscal conservative — everybody knows you’ve got to balance the books. Given the new dispensation generated by the election, I believe that compromise on the US budget deficit will be easier than it was, and certainly a lot easier than most people expect.

Another important signal from the election is that political America, reflecting the electorate, is becoming hipper and more modern. Two states endorsed gay marriage and two states approved recreational marijuana use — maybe I should move to Colorado. Such changes would be inconceivable in the vision that the current Republican Party has of America.

And finally, racism, while far from dead, is certainly marginalised in America today. It is obvious that a part – perhaps not a very large one – of Mr Romney’s vote was from “good ol’ boys” who, despite being part of the 47 per cent that he had derided, would never vote for a Black man. However, the uproar that was sparked by comments made by Mr Romney’s campaign chair, John Sununu, when Colin Powell endorsed Mr Obama makes it clear that overt racism remains unacceptable in contemporary American political life.

Well done, America! Give us more!

And not just four more years of Mr Obama, but a renewed American dream combining focused individualism with community sensitivity. The world is turning in that direction anyway – the financial sector blowout is but one of many loud pieces of evidence – and America has always taken the lead in new trends, whether they be technological, social or cultural.

To my mind, the most important contribution America has made to world culture is freedom of speech, which is but an exposed version of freedom of thought, which is the key ingredient of creativity. Without question, America has been the most creative country on earth, and Mr Obama’s second term – bringing with it investment in education, technology and climate change – will renew this gift.

But it’s a tricky one. The combination of freedom of thought and technology can be incendiary, as recent events have shown. Managing this mixture will remain a difficult challenge both for America and the world at large.

As important, the combination of freedom of thought and the right to bear arms is a peculiarly horrific American mixture that needs to be dealt with, sooner rather than later. Gun control is definitively the next major hurdle for the New American Politics to cross. But it is incomprehensively difficult, and certainly not one for an African-American president to address.

Rather President Obama should – and will – spend the bulk of his second term binding the country together and leave it to the next president, who will also be a Democrat, but a white woman, to address this critical challenge.



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