In early summer, I thought that if the Americans were afraid, they would choose Senator McCain, and if they were confident, they’d choose Obama. Now Obama has won the presidential elections, and the reasons for his victory are probably much more mixed – a combination of both fears and hopes.
We’ll never know how things might have been if the financial crisis had struck shortly after the presidential elections. But it’s probably fair to say that Senator McCain’s chances to win the presidency would have been much greater if it hadn’t happened in September.
President Ronald Reagan probably didn’t win two terms in office because most Americans (or even just a majority of those who casted their vote at all) were in love with America’s or the global financial system. But as long as it seemed to work, there weren’t too many people who’d fundamentally question Reaganomics either. Even in 2004, social injustices suffered by millions of Americans wouldn’t weigh as heavily as the fear of getting hit by a hijacked airplane. This time, the possibility of foreclosures, job loss (and loss of health insurance along with it), and probably the chance that America could lose its global standing looked far more real than four years ago.
So it looks to me like if most or many of the elders and middle-aged who have chosen Senator Obama last night did so out of fear, rather than out of hope.
But last night, when Obama got ahead in the first battleground states, dreams and realities started to merge for a while. It had been a long way coming, and the way a relative outsider had his way against the “Clinton machine” a few months ago had been spectacular already. And last night, many Obama’s supporters reaped their success, after many months of active support. Just as they had made his nomination possible, they went to the polls yesterday and put their final seal to an orderly and proud revolution. It’s hard to see any other president-elect in history who could tell his supporters with as much reason as Obama did that last night: I will never forget who this victory truly belongs to — it belongs to you.
Now begins the delicate phase where a revolution ends and where government gets started. Will Obama govern from the middle?
Maybe this depends on from the middle is now. It isn’t where it was before the financial crash. What would amount to a “radical approach”? If health insurance for every American is radical, it should be radical government. There is a Democratic majority that probably allows for that (if the Obama administration handles things right), and the least most of Obama’s active supporters – those who spent as citizens, not as corporations or lobbyists – will expect nothing less than health insurance for everyone who wants to have it.
Then there is the question if reforms in health care or education should be financed by re-shifting the budget, or by fiscal policies, or by more deficit spending.
In the short run, it may be a mixture of all these measures. And here, factors outside America come into play, too. Will countries like China or Japan back more American deficit spending if they consider it a good investment? *) Would quality education and a more competitive American economy be in the interests of investors from the Far East and elsewhere in the world? Would the right political projects make America increase America’s creditworthiness? That could be the case, if all that matters is a medium-term return on investment. In China’s case however, strategic considerations may still make China’s stakeholders say No, even if a Yes would make economic sense – because China’s political leadership will have the last say there, and a reinvigorated American society may not be in its interest. After all, in their books, this should become the Chinese Century.
Then there are the tools of reshifting the budget, and fiscal policies. Heated negotiations within NATO (and a quick end to exaggerated European expectations to America’s new leadership) will be inevitable, if the new administration wants to save on military spending, and its allies to do their part. Europe’s own military spending, absolutely and proportionally, is much smaller than America’s so far. And for obama’s fiscal policies, there are already gridlines of orientation for what to expect.
Governing from the middle may be a good roadmap for America. It will just depend on where the middle is. It isn’t where it was when Bill Clinton took office in 1993. That’s pretty sure.
*) I chose a definition of the term investment which is probably unscientifically broad (my apologies to Hermit). What I want to say when using it is that there are foreign stakes in the American choices, too, and that they are both about global business and global politics.