Victory without Triumph: Tough Road Ahead for Obama after Lackluster Win

A Commentary by

Barack Obama may have won the election, but it is a victory devoid of triumph. The tough win means that the president will have to take small steps to achieve his political goals during his second term in office. This could ultimately pay off for his party in the long run.

US President Barack Obama is showered with confetti after his victory speech on Tuesday night in Chicago. Zoom
AP

US President Barack Obama is showered with confetti after his victory speech on Tuesday night in Chicago.

Barack Obama made history in 2008. But only now has he completed his personal success story. If American voters had failed to re-elect their first African-American president, it would have tainted Obama permanently with the flaw of something left incomplete, leaving him a historically important president, yet ultimately not a significant one -- the latter distinction being one Americans generally reserve for presidents who make it to a second term.

Had he suffered electoral defeat, Obama might have remained forever the "Black Man Given Nation's Worst Job," as a headline in the satirical website The Onion joked after his election four years ago. He might well have ended up being the right man at the wrong time, having failed because of one of the worst economic crises in United States' history. His defeat could have meant a serious blow to the morale of America's newly self-confident black population.

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Obama didn't lose, though. But does this mean the Democratic candidate has achieved a historical triumph?

No, it does not. Obama ran a lackluster election campaign, one distinguished more by harsh attacks on his opponent Mitt Romney than by pride in his own accomplishments. Just how narrow the victory was can be seen in the popular vote count. While the incumbent easily defeated his challenger in the Electoral College, he only managed to eke out a razor thin majority of total votes cast.

"Go vote" ultimately became the mantra at Obama rallies as the campaign drew to a close, a more pragmatic appeal that replaced the earlier, visionary slogans "Hope" and "Change." It was essential to re-elect Obama, because he had not yet completed his difficult task -- this was the pared-down message of the president's campaign for a second term.

A Weak Opponent

Nor was this absurdly long and absurdly expensive electoral battle a historic duel, not at all comparable to Obama's epic struggle against Hillary Clinton in the 2008 Democratic primaries. Republican candidate Romney proved instead to be an opponent who will quickly be forgotten by history -- an inept, even awkward politician.

Far more historic in this election was the Republican Party's foolishness in failing to make a decisive effort to attract the minority groups that increasingly determine the outcome of American elections. African-American voters were expected to stand by Obama. But Hispanic voters could well have been drawn to the conservatives, given the difficult economic situation in which the US finds itself. But faced with the Republican Party's heavy-handed xenophobia, something Romney cultivated assiduously at least during the primaries, a vast majority of Hispanic Americans cast their votes for the incumbent.

American elections can no longer be won on the strength of white men's votes alone. The Republican Party must recognize that the increasing numbers of immigrants and Americans descended from immigrants not only plan to remain in the country, but they want to be involved in the decision-making process too. Even right-wing hardliner and Fox News television host Bill O'Reilly has acknowledged that "the white establishment is now the minority."

Economic Growth Takes Priority

But will Obama's second term begin as his first did -- with his policies being blockaded by Republican lawmakers? Republicans still have the majority in the House of Representatives. And it is in no way clear that the Grand Old Party will draw the same conclusion from its 2012 defeat as it did in 1964 when radical Republican candidate Barry Goldwater lost.

Back then, the party made a move to the political middle. But as early as Tuesday evening, some conservatives had already begun blaming their election defeat on Romney for being too moderate and suggesting that his far more radical running mate Paul Ryan might be the party's future hope.

With this in mind, Obama will have to be humble, which would be good for both the president and his party. In contrast to the election in 2008, the results of which the Democrats falsely interpreted as a broad mandate, Obama must for now tackle the issue that is most important to the American people -- jumpstarting the economy and creating more jobs. Around 60 percent of US voters told exit pollsters that this is their most important concern.

Obama, of course, also won't be able to give priority to controversial and divisive projects like his historic health reform. Still, this new modesty could be beneficial, because if Obama manages to preside over an American economy that begins growing once again as many economists predict, then the chances that another Democrat will succeed him in 2016 will increase significantly.

That person could be his former rival Hillary Clinton, who plans to step down from her position as secretary of state and get some rest, which insiders say could mean she is preparing a run for the White House. Perhaps her husband Bill played such an enthusiastic role in Obama's campaign as part of such a succession plan.

If this is the case, 2016 could be another historic election. The country's first black president could be followed by the first woman president, heralding a new progressive age for the United States of America.

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1.
retarded-freak 11/07/2012
Now we can see if he will really install Obamacare in 2014 and withdraw troops from Afghanistan. If he doesn't, then what is the point?
2.
retarded-freak 11/07/2012
In the Green Party we think it doesn't really matter who the president is. The important thing is local elections. I knew Obama would win anyway. It wasn't important. The important thing was getting Green Party Candidates into the state senate, school board, water district, or whatever. These local leaders are crucial. A conservative governor for instance can ruin a state more than a conservative president. LePage messed around with Maine enough, took down an important mural. For me the governor of my state is way more important than national elections: http://stateofenlightenment.com/2011/03/28/the-maine-mural-and-the-destruction-of-art-why-governor-lepage-must-be-stopped/
3. *
BTraven 11/08/2012
What had the author expected? A win is a win after all. The country has many problems. To make things worse there is no enemy to be defeated by a unified nation anymore.
4. Lackluster?
muley63 11/08/2012
Oh, dear Spiegel readers, pay no attention to the Spiegel reporters and columnists. This was a huge and historic win for the Democrats. Just think if the Republicans had won the Senate and Presidency, something everybody thought was possible, Obamacare would have been repealed and millions of Americans would have suffered. The author complains that nothing more will be done, but America still has to implement the major parts of the reform. Protecting this one achievement is no small matter. Moreover, this defeat has the Republicans staring into the demographic abyss. There is a good chance Obama's victory will forever change the Republican party's policy. This lackluster win will do something that no other Democratic victory has done since FDR, actually reform the Republicans party. This election was historic by any standard. Unfortunately, Spiegel's company policy of cynicism gets in the way of objectively seeing the impact of Obama's victory.
5. Will Obama ?
MyBlackHen 11/09/2012
Why do people talk about leaders as if there is an inevitable force behind them, is somebody going to ask if democracy is doing it's duty or merely following a course that people will never be able to outlive. My (opinion) is that democracy should have some rules but in the finest sense it should be a modest and gently drawn trajectory for tolerance.. the requirements can vary for goodness sake,face it ! It's great having Obama in not out.. gay people might not be fired.As recently as last year, a governor was forced to resign his post in one state for admitting he was gay but there is still the death penalty(should gay people have to put up with that?)..the 47% including people of color will probably love all Obama health care, abortion rights maintained (he'll sit through all the other important promises and abolish most other human rights .. let Home Security take care of human will power as they have started) but his awarded subjects of citizenship probably would sit with the death penalty if they have it until there is employment for all(wouldn't you?) The truth for the future if we are only about death and war here, where is religion and what will socialization do ? (actually, it's a more than tomorrow argument with religion in) Obama and Cameron want legal say over employment rights and gay rights to permeate, appoint and perforate boundaries that are in any domain no matter how high the cost for the archbishop should bless marriage,(Cameron's wish) the body of the church become elected as in turn as with the laws for labor forces(Obama's wish) should apply here there and with head and nail and in a seemingly non-engraved English language letter of law all in-turn and bouncing with all the leaders of our human age BUT this is modern natural history taking over holy ground and unfortunately ignoring the history of churches and their achievements,over-qualifying with the man made judgements of the time and is absolutely no exception to you wondErful E people,Pastor Merchilles at the heel. Germany was like other countries, a government who took holy things to belong to them, enshrined false adoptions in their constitution and tied the hands of holiness together in a useless knot,they became are too good at their jobs and their tendency is not to do anything but compete for the arena. Leaders are afraid of loosing their place and friends in a society that has reaped the benefits of Christianity quite far (only guessing their appreciation,even after waves of persecution)(far enough?) people like most who have become reluctant and unimaginative as to be almost willing to misunderstand the principle aspect of reasoning, the greatest problem of our time.. stepping on a solution,(like not needing oil for fuel any more) the prospects of results of achievement seeming too far away to see(well that will be a problem, no oil, no money for all the rich)The distance is for most too great,too vigilant an act(why take the transport)) the thought of church repulses those unwilling to be victims,so true...it's not everyone's choice of style. Europe ..three years messing up the Euro is no emphasis yet on anything you want to drive your markets yet.Is the punishment going to be the deserve of another rest and the folding of hands and a hungry lion at your restaurant ? Perhaps you will call your old union sovereign just for namesake in distant years to come, forgetting you are socialist and wondering why your understanding just flounders at that strangely beautiful occurring feature of the memory of your wondrous world existing only in your well lit eyes ? It will be like that for the AM people and the E people, it's not the constitution of governments that attempt to destroy people when the plates are broken. Please consider how one man Hitler fell(ill), then all fell.. if you corrupt gods business he can corrupt you, that is all that Europe , America and Britain can do to stop generalizing,become informed about the nicer things about religion in fact.Hitler was unjust deserve for everyone ..it happens. Leave the politics and political correctness out of the way of the churches and religions Anointing is powerful and not an unusual blessing bringing prophetic, healing and gifting, they can seem inappropriate causing tumultuous laughter or fainting and usually awesomely aromatic and they are considered to be given freely by god and better to receive amongst the support of brethren. Consider how they come to effect other than the way of life that can be punishment without them as with the disease that arose in Hitler's mind and others,an unpleasant knotting of undue authority bringing great pain to those who suffered as Buddhists do in Chinese jails today and teenagers in the USA, given life sentences for third pot convictions.. . not all the fault of religious irony and faulty medieval understanding.. Obama will do nothing .
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