In the midst of a long period of economic gloom, it is easy to say, as Barack Obama did after winning the presidential election, that for the United States of America, “the best is yet to come’’. If the economic decline is not reversed, the best might indeed be a very long way off, like the receding horizon. For Mr Obama, this was a tough election to win, but he may find it tougher to govern with a House of Representatives dominated by Republicans and with nearly half the electorate having voted against him. His only apparent advantage is that, unlike at the beginning of his first term, this time around expectations will be very low. The rhetoric of hope that had inspired a nation when Mr Obama first took over the reins of office may not be enough to hold together a nation that, as the voting patterns reveal, is deeply fractured. The cracks are along the lines of race, class, critical issues pertaining to the economy, and social issues like abortion and same-sex marriage. It is ironic that unemployment, conventionally seen as Mr Obama’s Achilles heel, went against his rival, Mitt Romney, perceived as pro-rich.
In a very closely fought election, what may have tilted the balance against Mr Romney was his decision to take a very strong line on immigration. This meant that Latinos and Hispanics voted practically en bloc for Mr Obama. This served to swell the support that Mr Obama already enjoys among African-Americans. The polling patterns make it obvious that Americans are deeply unhappy with the economic situation and are pessimistic, but what is equally obvious is that many voters were not persuaded by the solutions that Mr Romney had to offer. As many as 60 per cent of the voters felt that taxes should be raised either on the rich or on all sections of the earning population. They thus endorsed Mr Obama’s policy of reducing the deficit through tax increases. Mr Romney’s campaign was lacking in subtlety and nuance since he tended to blame Mr Obama for all the ills facing the US and its people. He launched an unqualified attack on Mr Obama’s healthcare reform law but only 25 per cent of Americans believe that it should be entirely repealed. Mr Romney’s weaknesses rather than Mr Obama’s strengths were perhaps more critical in the latter’s victory. Mr Obama can go back to the White House smiling. But the smile, unlike that of the Cheshire Cat, may not be there for too long.