7 Nov 2012

Analysis: What lies in store for President Obama?

US political analyst Dr James D.Boys tells Channel 4 News how Obama won, why Superstorm Sandy helped him and what problems lie ahead at home and abroad, as he seeks to build a legacy.

Barack Obama (Reuters)

Channel 4 News spoke to Dr James D. Boys, an expert in US politics, to find out how Obama won and what challenges lie ahead.

Was it simple for Obama in the end?

Despite the result appearing sewn up in the early hours of this morning, Dr Boys says it has not been as simple for President Obama as it may have seemed.

“It’s quite interesting because actually it’s been quite complicated for him,” he said. “As things stand he’s been re-elected with the college vote but not with the popular vote. Florida is yet to be decided so there could be some change there – it’s been so close there that it is being recounted.

“If he doesn’t win the popular vote he will be the first ever to re re-elected with the college vote but not with the popular vote.

The last image in people’s minds as they approached the election was of a can-do president in stark contrast to Mitt Romney – Dr James D Boys

“What you have seen is that where he did win, he won big. The biggest surprise was Pennsylvania where he annihilated Romney – that certainly wasn’t expected. And in the swing states he dug in and when push came to shove they came out and voted for Obama.”

Was Superstorm Sandy a game-changer?

There were three reasons that Sandy benefited Mr Obama’s election campaign, Dr Boys says – which ultimately made the incumbent president appear presidential in contrast to his rival.

The first reason, Dr Boys said, was that it meant the president could spring into action: “The last image in people’s minds as they approached the election was of a can-do president in stark contrast to Mitt Romney.”

“Coming out of the debates Obama was on the back foot. He had lost in the first debates and had produced modest performances in the second two – he had certainly not delivered a knock out punch against Romney.

“That changed overnight and put all of the light on Barack Obama. For 24-to-36 hours he was the only show in town – he got to look presidential and act presidential.”

The second reason was the response to President Obama’s action from two main political figures in the crisis-hit areas, Chris Christie, the Republican governor of New Jersey, and Michael Bloomberg, Mayor of New York.

Mr Christie took a break from campaigning for Mitt Romney, and was seen as being “very warm in his praise” for Mr Obama. Mayor Bloomberg, the “quintessential voice of an independent” likewise had words of praise.

Thirdly, Dr Boys said, Superstorm Sandy put Mr Romney’s policies in a negative and contrasting light to Mr Obama’s.

“Mitt Romney had talked about scrap-balling FEMA (the Federal Emergency Management Agency) which was used by the president to sort out the problems on the East coast. Obama was taking action to clean up the mess with FEMA, something that Romney had said he would scrap.”

A great speaker and campaigner, but can he be a great president?

The problem when assessing what lies in store for President Obama’s second term, Dr Boys says, is that he has been very vague in what he plans to do.

Whilst he can point to successes of his first four years in office, such as the rescue of General Motors and the death of Osama Bin Laden, his policies for the next four years have not been voiced.

However, President Obama is likely to form himself as a statesman by focusing on global issues, Dr Boys said.

“There’s the problem of what to do over Iran, there’s issues with Russia and a resurgent Putin, there are elections in China and Israel – the world is in a state of flux at the moment.

“Most presidents act domestically in their first term and try to form a legacy on the global stage as a statesman in the second term.

“That’s very much where you will see him focusing in the second term and with the global issues at the moment the stage is set up for him to do this.”

How will he cope with a divided congress?

Mr Obama’s first term has been marred by an obstructive, Republican-dominated House of Representatives, and Dr Boys believes this is set to continue.

“I think there’s been flaws on both sides. The Obama congressional outreach has not been as sympathetic as it could have been, but the Republicans have not been willing to play ball with Obama,” he said.

Barack Obama is almost a lame duck as soon as he wakes up in the morning – Dr James D Boys

“The House of Representatives is where all financial bills originate, and so if Obama wants to spend a single cent he will have to go to them – and that’s going to be a problem as they are his enemies.

“The big problem is that the American system is geared up for campaigning but not for governing. House of Representatives members will already be thinking about getting re-elected in two years time in the mid-term elections, campaigning for funding will begin in the next couple of days.

“Barack Obama is almost a lame duck as soon as he wakes up in the morning. Democrats will be thinking about who will replace him and the Republicans will be conducting a post-mortem.”

Is the US in decline?

US decline has been a dominant theme of this campaign, with President Obama’s first term dominated by the financial crisis at home set against the growing economic of China abroad. But Dr Boys suggests that much of the talk of such decline is overstated.

“People have been talking about American decline for many years. It’’ still the world’s number one economy and it’s still the world’s number one nation people want to emigrate too. There’s still some magic that the states holds for many parts of the world.

“We said the same thing about Japan 20-25 years ago, but nobody is worrying about Japan overtaking the US now.”

Dr Boys is associate professor of international politics at Richmond University (London), and a visiting senior research fellow at King’s College in London.

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