In a Battle for America's Middle Class
Adelina Marini, September 11, 2012
Barack Obama and Mitt Romney will fight by November 6th, when the presidential election in the US will take place, for the support of the melting middle class of America. Both promise to focus their energy on the middle class. They differ, however, in approach and in the starting points. This is precisely why the American voters will find it extremely difficult to make their choice. On the one hand they are offered something familiar, used by previous Republican presidents, and another familiar thing - Obama's four years in the toughest geopolitical times in decades. Which of the two familiar things should they choose? In the end of August and the beginning of September, the Democrats and the Republicans held their conventions and officially nominated their candidates for the elections in November. Within a week they marked the beginning of their campaigns and conveyed their messages. As we wrote, the main message of the Republicans was belief in family and love.
You did that!
This was the message of President Barack Obama who can boast the solid support he received from the Democratic Party and with really strong speeches during the democratic convention in his support. Something that did not happen to Romney who looked really lonely in Tampa against the backdrop of the speeches of former presidents, secretaries of state, opponents of his at the primaries. If Romney had to indulge everyone in the split party of the Republicans, the Democrats seemed more consolidated than ever and the culmination of this support was President Bill Clinton who succeeded in winning two presidential mandates in a tough geopolitical context as well, although not as tough in economic terms.
Not only Clinton's successful presidency weighed in his almost 50-minutes long speech but also the fact that he remained politically active after establishing a foundation the main purpose of which is to tackle the challenges of globalisation. From that position of his, as he underlined himself, he had to work with representatives of the entire political spectrum in America and the world. His speech was impressive because it managed with simple words to explain the main challenges the US and the world are facing, which are the main differences with the Republicans and how they can be overcome. But his strongest trump card was overcoming the narrow political interests.
"When times are tough, constant conflict may be good politics but in the real world, cooperation works better. After all, nobody's right all the time, and a broken clock is right twice a day. All of us are destined to live our lives between those two extremes. Unfortunately, the faction that now dominates the Republican Party doesn't see it that way. They think government is the enemy, and compromise is weakness. One of the main reasons America should re-elect President Obama is that he is still committed to cooperation. He appointed Republican Secretaries of Defence, the Army and Transportation. He appointed a Vice President who ran against him in 2008, and trusted him to oversee the successful end of the war in Iraq and the implementation of the recovery act. And Joe Biden did a great job with both. He appointed Cabinet members who supported Hillary in the primaries. Heck, he even appointed Hillary!"
Later in his speech the former American president commented on all the trump cards of the Republicans against Obama - the problems with the gigantic public debt (one of the central issues in Romney's campaign); the decision for artificial suppression of interest rates on student loans; reform of healthcare. Bill Clinton mentioned his presidency but in the context of the tough economic situation he inherited after the Republicans. Clinton managed in two mandates to bring the American budget to a surplus. "Thankfully, by 1996, the economy was roaring, everybody felt it, and we were halfway through the longest peacetime expansion in the history of the United States. But ... the difference this time is purely in the circumstances. President Obama started with a much weaker economy than I did. Listen to me now. No president, no president -- not me, not any of my predecessors -- no one could have fully repaired all the damage that he found in just four years", Bill Clinton underlined.
He blamed the Republicans for the lack of progress because, in his words, they blocked the president's jobs plan. According to the Republicans, however, the lack of majority in Congress is not a reason for not achieving success, as the Republican nominee for vice president Paul Ryan said, emphasising that while Mitt Romney was a governor he had to work in an environment where 9 of almost 10 legislators were Democrats but nonetheless he managed to balance the budget without raising the taxes.
Barack Obama definitely has the talent to be different and to present his messages in a non-standard way. He did this in 2008, which was the main reason why he won the election. He did this in 2012 and it seems that the election team of the Democrats has taken the strategic decision to focus precisely on that talent of his. Obama used his speech to report on his work during the first term, focusing on jobs creation, reducing the dependence on import of energy resources. His speech was balanced in such a way to send messages as for voters but for US's foreign partners as well.
"We’re offering a better path, a future where we keep investing in wind and solar and clean coal; where farmers and scientists harness new bio fuels to power our cars and trucks; where construction workers build homes and factories that waste less energy; where - where we develop a hundred year supply of natural gas that’s right beneath our feet. If you choose this path, we can cut our oil imports in half by 2020 and support more than 600,000 new jobs in natural gas alone". It is more than certain that this message caused smiles of satisfaction in Brussels and the developing countries which are most threatened by climate change. This is also a message that will for sure be analysed carefully in Moscow, as well as in the other oil and gas exporters. A message which is in contrast to Mitt Romney's promise: "President Obama promised to begin to slow the rise of the oceans and heal the planet. My promise ... is to help you and your family".
President Obama hit back in terms of foreign policy too, for which he is blamed by the Republicans of being soft and incapable to protect the American interests around the globe. Romney promises the world and the Americans: "I will begin my presidency with a jobs tour. President Obama began with an apology tour. America, he said, had dictated to other nations. No Mr. President, America has freed other nations from dictators. In his first TV interview as president, he said we should talk to Iran. We’re still talking, and Iran’s centrifuges are still spinning. President Obama has thrown allies like Israel under the bus, even as he has relaxed sanctions on Castro’s Cuba. He abandoned our friends in Poland by walking away from our missile defence commitments, but is eager to give Russia’s President Putin the flexibility he desires, after the election. Under my administration, our friends will see more loyalty, and Mr. Putin will see a little less flexibility and more backbone".
According to Barack Obama, however, you cannot call Russia a number one enemy instead of Al Qaeda for instance, unless "you’re still stuck in a Cold War mind warp". The president explained in detail why he led foreign policy of dialogue, emphasising on the several gaffes Mitt Romney made during his European tour this summer. "You might not be ready for diplomacy with Beijing if you can’t visit the Olympics without insulting our closest ally", Obama said responding to Romney's remark during the Olympic games in London this summer that Britain was not doing well with ensuring the security of the games.
A central element in Obama's speech was the American citizen. Quite an interesting approach which definitely was welcomed by the thousands who gathered at the convention of the Democrats in Charlotte, North Carolina. "As citizens, we understand that America is not about what can be done for us. It’s about what can be done by us, together, through the hard and frustrating but necessary work of self-government. That’s what we believe", Obama said and underscored a number of times that all achievements were due to every citizen. "You did that!", he repeated many times. And in conclusion he promised:
"America, I never said this journey would be easy, and I won’t promise that now. Yes, our path is harder, but it leads to a better place. Yes our road is longer, but we travel it together. We don’t turn back. We leave no one behind. We pull each other up. We draw strength from our victories, and we learn from our mistakes, but we keep our eyes fixed on that distant horizon, knowing that Providence is with us, and that we are surely blessed to be citizens of the greatest nation on Earth".
The support of the first lady
First Lady Michelle Obama's speech was also organised in such a way to consolidate as much as possible the support for a second term of Barack Obama. In the spirit of soaped messages of the wifes in American politics who tell the world that being a "mom in chief" is not just a profession but a vocation, Michelle Obama did not miss to tell the convention what an incredible person her husband was and how the American citizens could rely on him. What made her look really different from Mitt Romney's wife, who underscored as her merit of raising their five sons, was the advantage that Mrs Obama already has an experience as a first lady. She used the personal tune to underscore the governing skills of Barack Obama:
"I've gotten to see up close in personal what being president really looks like and I've seen how the issues that come across the president's desk are always the hard ones. You know the problems were no amounts of data or numbers will get you to the right answer. The judgement calls or the stakes were so high and there is no margin for error and as president you're gonna get all kinds of advice from all kinds of people but at the end of the day when it comes time to make that decision as president all you have to guide you are your values and your vision and the life experiences that make you who you are. [...] In the end these issues aren't political. They're personal because Barack knows what it means when a family struggles. He's always ready to listen to a good idea. He doesn't care if you're a democrat or a republican. Doing the impossible is the history of this nation. It is who we are. It is how this country was built", Michelle Obama concluded.
It is quite obvious that the team of the Democrats worked hard to synchronise the messages in the speeches of all the leading speakers. With Bill Clinton and Michelle Obama, and Barack Obama himself, could be seen the key elements - "America that is us", "We need more time" and "Policy of cooperation beyond narrow political interests". Mitt Romney failed to receive such a consolidated support from his party. He does not have the advantage of the first term (or the shortcomings). He has to address the various layers and groups within the Republican party. Will this be the main reason for a possible defeat, we will find out on November 6. Some polls show a growing support for Barack Obama. According to FiveThirtyEight, 51.5% support the incumbent president against 47.4% for Mitt Romney as the support for him is dropping, while for Obama is growing. According to the same poll, Obama has almost 80 per cent chances to be re-elected while Romney's chances are estimated to be 20 per cent. Other polls show, however, declining support for Obama and slight advantage for Romney.