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Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Germany

Obama II


By Klaus-Dieter Frankenberger

American politics is characterized by polarization but despite that, the nation still has the energy to renew itself. More than just Americans are looking to their new-old president and asking themselves how he will use his second chance.

Translated By Ron Argentati

8 November 2012

Edited by Heather Martin


Germany - Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung - Original Article (German)

Barack Obama succeeded where election folklore said he must fail: He was re-elected during a time of high unemployment. However, this election victory surely wasn't as amazing as the first one four years ago when the winds of history blew and the circumstances surrounding the young, enthusiastic Democrat were especially auspicious. This time, his opponent was nipping at his heels in the popular vote. But his triumph was notable, thanks in no small part to an election machine that ran at full tilt. The question now is what does Obama, as 44th President of the United States, want to accomplish during his second term?

Or should the question rather be how will he capitalize on his victory? Conditions in Washington haven't noticeably improved for Obama: Democrats still only hold a slim lead in the Senate but the Republican majority in the House of Representatives will continue to call the shots. It's to them the president must go, offering deals and trying for compromises still compatible with his goals and priorities.

His first term taught an important lesson: Don't exclude anything but don't expect too much because there's a great deal of poison in the system, and there are powerful opposition forces who see their mission as obstruction and sabotage. Obama himself was seldom willing to go out of his way to open communication channels with his political opponents. The polarization of U.S. politics isn't an invention of his drama-prone contemporaries. It's entirely real.

That, along with other conditions, has to change. While it's not the only change necessary, first and foremost fiscal and taxation policies have to change. Then the political participants — and that goes for the “old” Congress as well — can agree on a formula before the expiring tax breaks and threatened budget cuts push the U.S. economy over the fiscal cliff, plunging the U.S. and probably the global economies into another recession.

In his victory speech Tuesday night, Obama expressed his desire for bipartisan cooperation, that is to say agreement with those who did not share his convictions and philosophies concerning government's pivotal role and with whom he had just ended a political struggle. He cannot govern otherwise. It's not enough just to ask for national unity; in the give and take of everyday politics with all its tribulations, conflicts of interest and tactical maneuvers, Obama still has to accomplish something. On the other hand, the opposition has to realize that their frontman Mitt Romney simply didn't win the election.

It's also incumbent on the opposition to realize that elections have consequences. To accept that would be the responsible thing to do. It would signal an end to social disunity and the divisiveness between the societal components. American disunity was the subject of more than one discussion on election night.

Obama is No Messiah

Beside the fact that there was only a handful of swing states and the rest could be safely characterized as endorsing one party or the other, another indication of the political division in the U.S. is the fact that the other states could be so comfortably compartmentalized as belonging either to the Democratic or Republican camps. Politics in Washington mirrors these conditions and even magnifies them. It's trite but true: The U.S. could benefit from movement toward the center on the part of both political camps in view of the domestic and foreign policy issues the president has to deal with in the near future. Besides the potentially explosive conflict over Iran's nuclear program, China's emergence and rise as a global power also presents significant strategic questions that will require the U.S. to come up with good answers. The world certainly won't give Obama any rest; on the contrary, it will depend on the Nobel prize laureate — something we've nearly forgotten — to meet these challenges with more than mere rhetoric.

The U.S. has endured a great deal in the first few years of this century. It became a target for terrorists and fought the longest wars in its history, the direct cause of its ensuing financial and economic crises. Now it's faced with an unparalleled government debt crisis. It's no wonder that many Americans are confused and angry about where they're headed and looking — uncharacteristically pessimistically — into the future.



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