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Volkskrant, The Netherlands

Obama’s Sweet Victory Cut Short

By Paul Brill

Translated By Nikki Rosenberg

17 November 2012

Edited by Natalie Clager

The Netherlands - Volkskrant - Original Article (Dutch)

Foreign commentator Paul Brill writes that while the Republicans’ disbelief over Obama’s victory is still ongoing, there is an enormous task waiting for both Democrats and Republicans.

The swirl of commentary concerning the outcome of the American presidential election is lasting, especially on the Republican side because Mitt Romney’s defeat is still a sore spot. Obama’s campaign started slowly, such as during the first disastrous televised debate; the hope of eventual victory for the Republicans grew. Obama’s polls in the contentious Midwest showed a small lead for the president, but were misunderstood or attributed to an error.

The disillusionment was great when it became clear on the November 6 that the Republicans had lost the battle for the White House (and the Senate). And it was a broad defeat. Obama conquered almost all the swing states, which resulted in an unexpected large majority in the Electoral College.

Some political spectators are inclined to attribute as much meaning to this election result as in Obama’s historical victory in 2008. In Time, Joe Klein even speaks of a turning point in American history. The result shows that “it is no longer possible for a rural, regional, racially monochromatic political party to win the presidency.”

There is much to say for this statement. Look at the electoral map of the United States and you see the structural weakness of the Republicans. Texas is the only meaningful bastion left. The states in the western inland always went red, but not many people live there. We know almost certainly that California, by far the largest state, chooses the Democratic presidential candidate, though not too long ago that used to be different: Republicans up to George Bush Sr. triumphed here. Even in the south the Republican prevalence is not what it used to be — Virginia, once the leading state of the Confederacy, chose for Obama on November 6.

Uncomfortable Truth

The big question is if the Republicans are finally ready to face this uncomfortable truth. This means: Are there enough pragmatic forces in the party who see that a few ideological beacons really need to be reconstructed to reconnect with the populations such as youth, women and Latinos, who clearly have little affinity with the conservative thoughts? Or will the tone once again be set by the conservative wing, which sees the cause of the defeat in Romney’s turn to the middle?

According to the media, the votes that plead for a less doctrinarian, more modern conservatism triumph. This ideology breaks with the virulent anti-immigration sentiment and no longer shows the government as an evil lump. But we cannot assume this sentiment reflects moods of the grassroots. There fundamentalism thrives luxuriously, complete with the conviction that Obama owes his victory to massive electoral fraud.

A first clue for the direction the Grand Old Party will follow will come soon: Before the end of the year the White House and Congress must agree on a set of measurements that will reduce the deficit without destroying the economy. At the moment the key Republican is Speaker of the House John Boehner. Last year he did not did not dare commit to the budget agreement with the White House, out of fear of splitting his own ranks. The election results have possibly decreased this fear. A compromise with the reelected president might seem better.

Test of Strength

However, such a compromise remains a test of strength, even for Obama, who already confirms the sweet taste of victory was of short duration. There already are two sordid files on his desk: the scandal concerning Petraeus, which can reflect negatively on the White House, and another conflict between Hamas and Israel.

Furthermore, this president is wise enough to realize that turning points are rarely definitive in the American politics. Even though the demography seems to be in the Democrats’ favor, they will definitely be punished if they are arrogant in their advantage — look at what happened in 2010 to Edward Kennedy’s Senate seat in Massachusetts. And the Republicans, who remain powerful at several fronts, have the necessary new political talent waiting, actually more than the Democrats.



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