The Thrill is Gone: The 2012 U.S. Presidential Election


My friends in the financial sector keep reminding me that history is the last 15 seconds on the Reuters screen. And I am aware that we are living in accelerated time. However, a short reflection on the presidential campaign of 2008 compared to where we are today is not without interest.

On the Democratic Party side, the primaries between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama were riveting. A most qualified woman, former First Lady and New York Senator was battling a dynamic, articulate African-American. History was being challenged. If either got the nomination, if either won the presidency, history would be made and a new era would begin in the United States. A sense of excitement was palpable; a transformation was taking place; the young and many of the disenfranchised were energized.

On the Republican side, the Tea Party was emerging and with it the figure of Sarah Palin, the pitbull with lipstick. The evangelical right-wing, the heartland of America responded enthusiastically to her folksy, down home rhetoric and narrative about basic values. The Tea Party emerged as a real force in American politics. Against the perceived elitism of the Democratic candidates, the Republicans found resonance in a Middle America which felt abandoned by big business, Wall Street and the Eastern Establishment.

Where are we today? Barack Obama has been President for four years and will certainly be the Democratic Party's candidate. The unemployment rate continues to hover at 9%, battles with Congress are endless; many of the Bush policies on civil liberties have been continued. Yes, the troops have been withdrawn from Iraq and will be winding down in Afghanistan. A new defense strategy has been announced. There is both the negative and the positive, but the thrill is gone. The euphoria of Obama's rhetoric and promise of dramatic transformation has become mired in the realities of economic recession and Republican stubbornness. We are not sure what "Yes we can" means besides electing an African-American.

On the Republican side, the primaries in Iowa and New Hampshire seem to confirm that Mitt Romney will be the Republican candidate. While Gingrich, Santorum, Paul, Perry and Bachmann have all had their moments, the Grand Old Party will most likely turn to the former Governor of Massachusetts as their candidate. Maureen Dowd, the New York Times columnist, labeled Romney as the lead actor in a 1950's Grade B movie, and that perhaps best sums up his charisma and platform. There is little enthusiasm for him or his vision for the country.

In 2012, the United States and the world are facing new challenges. The World Economic Forum's Global Risks 2012 report points to several. The 2012 U.S. presidential campaign appears as an anachronism from another era, afraid to face the challenges of the present and future, stuck in rhetoric from the past, nostalgic for a unipower United States. The 2008 campaign was vibrant, promising. The 2012 campaign, for the moment, leaves much to be desired.

January 12, 2012


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