Four years ago this week I was in Denver, Colorado. I shall never forget the elation at the party I was a guest at, as Barack Obama won the 2008 Presidential election.
I thought it was the wrong choice then and still do, for a variety of foreign policy and economic reasons; I also thought that Obama had all the potential to be another Tony Blair – introducing change that was appealing but ill-thought through at best and damaging at worst.
So I hit the bar and spectated, as my hosts partied the night through; I realised it was history in the making, but from my British experience felt the test was yet to come. He did not disappoint.
This time round I have quietly watched from afar, and like most of us am not surprised by the outcome.
What should never be underestimated, and is I believe worth mentioning, is how the rest of the world wanted Obama to win in 2008 and did so again. I was working in Nigeria and then Trinidad and now Botswana, and there were then and now posters that in those countries might ordinarily advertise beer that were advertising Obama – to people who did not even have a vote!
Obama at that time was seen, especially overseas, as some American version of Nelson Mandela, a hope that the USA was indeed a meritocracy, that the American Dream was real and that there were enough people in the States that had open minds and without prejudice would vote for a “black man”.
I put the phrase in parenthesis because by the same terms of having a white mother and a black father in a country dominated by whites (USA) or blacks (Botswana) one could argue that the President of Botswana is a white man – but no-one would think of defining His Excellency Sir Iain Seretse Khama by his skin colour.
But America is different and race or origin is of significance as it is a country built upon peoples moving from one old country to a new one and then needing to get along.
My point is simple: America had to get over this racial hurdle that had defined so much of its social division in the recent past so it might then at last move on to discuss the real issues that matter to people of all origins; work, health, education, housing, justice – and opportunity to change all of these things.
The way that America has addressed these issues in the past has been novel to European countries, in that instead of asking governments to plan work, health, education (and all the rest) it has instead, by its most marvelous constitution, sought to increase opportunity and allow the endeavour and creativity of individual people to maximise the choices in delivering successful outcomes.
That was until Obama came along and so, Like Franklin Delano Roosevelt before him, he has sought to bring the big federal government in as the solution to problems real or imagined. It is a seismic shift in the American approach to life – but not necessarily an unpopular one, as Republicans are at last beginning to realise.
Although I that thought Obama was wrong on the issues I could find some solace in his election that he might at least cleanse the nation of its demons and, if the Republicans had any sense, remove the unofficial obstacles to good Latinos, Asians and African Americans, such as their own Michael Steele, whom I have written about before in this column
Sadly, Obama has been as poor as I anticipated. He remains economically enumerate, with no real sense of the challenges that face him and his nation and how to deal with them. His answer to any question continues to use the limited palette of borrowing more, spending more and taxing more – in that order.
He is trying to spend his way out of recession by simply printing money, and when America does anything it does it big, and so at some point there will be a severe reckoning for this folly.
There will be a great inflation that must become the next big economic challenge. But, like Clinton before him and thanks to economic time lags he may just be fortunate enough to see the next President become the fall guy for his economic mistakes (it was Clinton that started the sub-prime mortgage boom, not Bush Jr).
Obama has sought to solve the problem of health for the middle classes – a problem that is much misunderstood in the UK – for in the US the poor are actually catered for. It’s the poorer middle class that have neither benefits nor the wherewithal to pay their health bills.
The problem for the Republicans – even the truly moderate but demonised Romney – is their failure to articulate an attractive alternative to so many of the challenges facing America. It is not enough to attack Obama.
How then do Republicans come back? Firstly, by solving their white male stereotype, and secondly by appealing to popular capitalism rather than popular socialism – but either, thus far has been beyond them. They have a long road ahead.