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More of the same may not be enough

Publication Date : 10-09-2012


In a coming United States presidential election most likely to turn on the economy, President Barack Obama's re-election is by no means certain. And he has very little time and opportunity to try to prevail against Republican challenger Mitt Romney, whose campaign has left Asia with a nervous twitch. Obama has more than once described his handling of the economy as unfinished work and declined to grade himself. This is partly understandable as he "inherited the biggest set of challenges of any president since Franklin Delano Roosevelt", as he put it. Roosevelt took the helm at the depth of the Great Depression but he still managed to boost the national spirit, captured in his infectious campaign theme song, Happy Days Are Here Again.

In his speech at the Democratic party convention last week, Obama struck more of the same inspirational tone he offered four years ago. But where it matters, he offered less than expected in substantive strategy.

Americans still see no happy days in sight when it comes to jobs, the budget deficit, health care and social security - four concerns that worry nearly nine out of 10 in recent opinion polls. As the incumbent, Obama will face the question if he has done enough to bring real improvement to the lives of those who backed him. Has the most intellectual of recent presidents run out of ideas to bring the unemployment rate below the current politically unacceptable rate of more than 8 per cent? Can Obama figure out a way to break the deadlock in Washington and fashion a compromise with enough bipartisan congressional support to balance the budget?

While such domestic issues weigh heavily on Americans as they struggle to recover from the Great Recession, the rest of the world is also fretting. The consequences of decisions by the White House, whoever will be its occupant next year, can affect a globalised world.

It does not help that the US economy continues to be weak even as Europe remains vulnerable to further euro and sovereign debt shocks, and a question mark still hovers over the pace of China's economic performance.

If US growth does not pick up, international trade and export-led economies will suffer. Continuing high joblessness risks spurring demand for protectionism in the US. A free trade champion though he claims to be, Obama, like Romney, may not be able to resist such domestic pressure as jobs and investments go overseas.

Asians may prefer an Obama victory in November only because it means, reassuringly, stability and more of the same from a man they have come to know. But to Americans, this just might not cut it.


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