US election - Obama the statesman

Updated: 2012-11-08 06:10

By Richard Harris (HK Edition)

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No one will remember, but on global television just three days ago, I said that the election was so close that the few undecided would stand in the polling booth, take a deep breath, and vote for the guy that they know - not the guy they don't.

That is why the president always has an electoral advantage, and in this case it was more important than normal. That is the reason the final result went more heavily in favor of the incumbent than polls were predicting, rather than the fact that more young people voted.

For all of Obama's mediocrity, his politicking, his inability to get things done and his skill at fiddling while the deficit burns, he was able to win and win quite handsomely. Romney was a loser from the start.

After a damaging primary in which the right, religious and redneck held the party captive, the Republicans actually managed to select a pretty competent candidate - a Harvard MBA, and they are good. He had a crisis on his overseas trip, where he upset the Brits by Olympic scare-mongering and Israel (where he upset people too) - but that was unseen by the US electorate.

Yet he was doomed from the start, hamstrung by his own support. His campaign began slowly but improved, and looked impressive from the debates onwards. That he did not do better was because he had too big a mountain to climb from the primaries. The Republicans made the classic political mistake of pandering to their own support and not to the middle ground. Your people will always vote for you; it is the undecided that you have to win over.

It is not too late for a Romney 2016 bid. He will be younger than Winston Churchill was when he took high office - and he drinks less. Don't be fooled by his early statements - remember "Tricky Dicky" Nixon wasn't going to be kicked around any more.

So we now have four more years of much the same: breathless mediocrity, bloated spending, incompletion, politics - or do we? The start of a four-year, second-term presidency is the perfect time to be bold, to be statesmanlike. And the ingredients are all in place.

Let the fiscal cliff fall! Take the automatic $600 billion of tax raises and reduce spending and that will happen without any action. Blame the split Senate and the Bush administration who put the tax cuts in. Slow down the economy, get the budget right and look for 18 months of growth, before the next election. Romney, good as he is, will not succeed against a revitalized Hillary Clinton in 2016.

It will take a sea change for "Barack the Statesman" to arise, even though his biggest desire now will be to build his historical legacy. If that doesn't happen, for the world, an Obama victory was probably the right result - but for America it could be a debt disaster.

The author is chief executive of Port Shelter Investment Management.

(HK Edition 11/08/2012 page3)