08/11/2012

The Transformation President or the Presidency Transformed?

“A Second Chance for Obama” screams the post-election headline of the The International Herald Tribune – the global edition of the New York Times. Peter Baker’s lead article describes how the “Costly fight may return gridlock to Washington” because of a divided Congress. A second chance for Obama to do what? Gridlock among whom?


During the election campaign of 2008, Barack Obama was touted as the future “Transformation President.”  Several promises were put forward as to what transformations would take place: 1) He would be the first African-American president; 2) He would be able to change the gridlock in Washington; 3) He would be able to include marginal groups in the political process such as gays; 4) He would move the United States into a post-industrial economy; 5) He would be in tune with the social media to change the way traditional politics was carried out; 6) He would be more sensitive to the important role women play beyond mere housewives; 7) He would stop the growing inequality in wealth distribution; 7) He would change certain traditional alliances such as the United States’ unwavering support for Israel; 8) He would stop the assault on civil liberties under the guise of the War on Terror.

While an accurate scorecard of promises made and promises kept has no useful function after the election, one obvious conclusion can be drawn from the election results: the presidency of the United States has been transformed.  A superficial analysis of the demographic voting shows an overwhelming support for Barack Obama among Hispanics and African-Americans. These groups were the solid base around which Obama was re-elected. Their lack of support for Mitt Romney and the Republican Party, catastrophically mired in a nostalgic vision of the United States post-1950, shows the profound shift in the U.S. population and the voting pattern consequences. The current President and all future candidates will have to take this in mind. (If and how the Republican Party will do this remains to be seen.)

What does this mean for the future? While most pundits are trying to analyze the implications of the election for Wall Street, the Congress and foreign affairs, they would do better to consider the implications of the election for the people who actually elected the president. The numbers are overwhelming. According to John Cassidy in the New Yorker, in the nineteen-to-twenty-nine age group, Obama won sixty per cent of the vote. He got ninety-three per cent of the black vote, seventy per cent of the Hispanic vote, and seventy-five per cent of the Asian vote. Fifty-six per cent of women voted for him, as did sixty-three per cent of unmarried people, two-thirds of secular voters, and about four-fifths of gays and lesbians.

If the president is representative of the American people, and especially those who elected him, then the future agenda of President Obama should reflect the situation and desires of those who put him in office. I am interested in how the fiscal cliff problem will be solved; I am interested in how the debt will be reduced; I am interested in how the troops will be withdrawn from Afghanistan; I am interested in how the United States will deal with the unfolding post-Arab Spring. All these are important issues. But, I am primarily interested in seeing how President Obama pays back those who got him into office. What about the unemployed? What about immigration? What about the growing inequality in income distribution?

The United States is being transformed. Hopefully, it is that transformation that will cause the presidency and the president to be transformed. We will then have a transformed president, with no need for a transformational one.

 

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