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Behind the Obama victory

MARION O'CALLAGHAN Monday, November 12 2012

Well, well, well. That the Republicans with Mitt Romney were about to enter the Oval Office has turned out to be wishful nostalgia. It was not only Ohio that fell to Barack Obama. He managed to take seven of the nine “battleground” states and to win the popular vote. At nine o’clock last Tuesday evening, this Chief of the “Birthers” in the form of Donald Trump was at it again. He sent out a furious complaint to TV and radio stations. It was a stain against the US constitution, he declared, that Obama could become President on the Electoral College vote, while losing the American popular vote.

The “Birthers” are at the extreme Right wing of the Republican Party, but at nine o’clock that night? Didn’t someone guess that remarks like these would bring out the African-American vote? It illustrated the extent to which Republicans misjudged important segments of the American population. And often took the rest of us with them. It was not only the “Birthers” who were unable to accept that Barack Obama is an American. Mitt Romney’s promise not “to apologise to Arabs” if he were elected and to deal severely with Iran, seemed able to guarantee him the Jewish vote. It certainly gained him sympathy from Israel’s Prime Minister Mr Netanyahu. It was, after all, Mr Netanyahu’s position. But not all Jews agree with Mr Netanyahu, even in Israel. In the election 60 percent of American Jews gave Obama their vote.

Women

Republicans miscalculated with women. Whatever these thought of abortion, widening abortion to include contraception guaranteed that many women would be a bit wary of the Republican policy for women. That Republicans could not agree with Obama’s platform of equal pay for women and men added to the suspicion that what Republicans were really after was women back into the home with cradle and kitchen. But it was Senator Murdoch’s curious belief on rape which drove moderate, undecided women into the Obama camp. Latinos, supposedly Catholic and conservative, were largely ignored by the pro-Romney lobbies. Not a word on the few million undocumented mainly Latino immigrants. It was a mistake.

The demographics of the voting are now clear. White men with 20 points were the backbone of the Romney electorate, followed by White women with ten points. Hispanics, African-Americans, women and the under-thirty youth, gave their vote to Obama.

Republicans have consolidated their position in the South, ie in their traditional “White” states. The Democrat’s Blue Zone however, has not only kept their traditional States: thanks to Hispanics, they have moved the boundary westwards – hardly good news for Romney’s Mormons.

Under the prophet Brigham Young, Mormons had once claimed one-sixth of America’s frontier territory. A major issue in the background of this election was the final loss of automatic electoral White supremacy. There is another issue: the State.

That Economy

It was Romney who set the agenda in that first television debate. We still do not know what happened to Obama in that debate. We do know that the economy and unemployment emerged on Romney’s terms, and as the only issues of the election. Few noticed that, as the debate went on, the conservative Economist had declared for Obama.

So had Martin Wolf, the Times and the Le Monde economic commentator. The truth was that with all the seeming common sense of Mitt Romney, the debate was not new. It was the John Maynard Keynes economic theory and Franklyn D Roosevelt’s New Deal versus the Chicago Boys and Ronald Reagan’s no constraints, near liberal free enterprise, which were in conflict.

The first chink in the Reagan doctrine was not Obama’s. It was Bush’s. There was no way that George Bush could permit America’s major banks and financial institutions to go to the wall. Even with some bailing out by Bush first and Obama next, the property foreclosures wrecked the important housing market. The bankruptcy of small businesses could be traced to unemployment and a drop in purchasing power. Nor did the working class ignore the possible results of Mitt Romney’s remark that Ohio’s car manufacturers should have been allowed to go to the wall. It gave Obama that Ohio victory. Staving off a repeat of the 1929 Great Depression became President Obama’s second priority. His first was “reaching out” to Republicans and managing a consensus.

Yes Obama, to his credit and our luck, reversed the march towards the Great Depression. “Obamacare” has begun the process of reforming America’s health system – even Senator Edward Kennedy failed at that. Obama has not worked the miracles many hoped for. He has proved that an ordinary, decent chap with sensitivity for the underdogs in a society can still win an election in the world’s most powerful country. It gives this little country hope. And more to come.

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