US election: Down to the wire

Michael Alan Hamlin

Posted on November 9, 2012

After winning a historic landslide election four years ago, US President Barack Obama learned Wednesday morning in Manila that his tight race for reelection—which few imagined even 12 months back when his opponent was locked in an uninspiring battle for the Republican Party nomination—returned him to the White House for what Republican candidate Mitt Romney calls “a second chance” to fix America. Mr. Obama says failure to reelect him would have resulted in a return to the failed and largely unregulated free-market policies of former president George W. Bush.

The irony of that argument is that Mr. Obama’s policies haven’t worked too well, either.

With high unemployment and anemic economic growth persisting throughout his administration, the “hope” and “change” that Mr. Obama promised Americans in 2008 remains a dream. Although the US president saw his flagship program, The Affordable Care Act—less affectionately known as Obama Care—passed in 2010 when Democrats controlled both houses of Congress, controversy surrounding the program and other big-government initiatives helped return control of the House of Representatives to the Republican opposition in mid-term elections.

Because Mr. Obama wasn’t able to point to a record of economic recovery to justify his reelection, he instead sought to demonize Mr. Romney and position him as a threat to working-class Americans. Mr. Obama and his supporters pointed to Mr. Romney’s record at Bain Capital—which he founded—as evidence that Mr. Romney enriched himself and his partners at the expense of workers whose jobs were eliminated or sent overseas after their employers were acquired by the asset management firm.

The president’s advisers also point to “Romnesia” to suggest that the Republican candidate can’t be trusted to do what he says. According to Mr. Obama, Mr. Romney has misrepresented his conservative views on abortion, gay rights, and taxes to broaden his appeal. The president said Mr. Romney’s five-point plan for economic revival really has just one point, to make the rich richer.

Meanwhile, Mr. Romney said Mr. Obama’s priority is wealth redistribution, rather than wealth creation. In their first debate, Mr. Romney reminded Mr. Obama that he promised to cut a trillion dollar deficit in half in his first two years. Instead, it grew, and is continuing to grow. And Mr. Romney spoke of hope and change—Mr. Obama’s former mantra—if Americans elected a serially successful businessman president. In the closing days of the campaign, Mr. Obama talked of Americans doing their “fair share,” and Mr. Romney pointed to the “American Dream.”

The election was called surprisingly early by major networks. With national polls in a statistical dead heat on the eve of the election, the specter of at least a popular vote win by Mr. Romney had loomed large. Winning the Electoral College was a far different matter because states assumed to be safely in the Obama camp made it easier for the incumbent to reach the 270 electoral votes necessary to win election. The election was ultimately decided in battleground states–especially in their urbanized areas–where statewide polls show the race too close to call, most prominently Ohio.

The specter of a prolonged legal wrangle similar to the 2000 debacle—when former vice president Al Gore won the popular vote over Mr. Bush but lost the Electoral College vote—seemed real but now seems overblown. Although Mr. Obama won by a margin that was just 10% of his 2008 win over Senator John McCain, he captured almost 40% of the Hispanic vote, almost 50% of the Asian vote, and almost 80% of the African-American vote. White Americans under 30 voted overwhelmingly for the president.

What impact will the eventual outcome have on the Philippines?

Both the Philippine and US governments say ties will remain close, but there are policy implications for the Philippines. For one, Mr. Obama understands Southeast Asia, probably more than any other modern-day American president. But he has also come down hard and repeatedly on outsourcing, which not only built the Philippines’ most important domestic generator of well-paying jobs, but brought prosperity to the region.

Mr. Romney may not understand Southeast Asia very well—or foreign policy in general—but he knows business, and what it takes to create business success. For the Philippines and the rest of Southeast Asia, an economically robust America means more opportunity. More exports, more outsourcing opportunities, and more investment and tourism here. An America that muddles through the next four years economically is not just bad for Americans.

It’s bad for everyone.

(Michael Alan Hamlin is the managing director of TeamAsia and a Manila-based author and commentator. His latest book is High Visibility: Transforming Your Personal and Professional Brand. Write him at mahamlin@teamasia.com and follow him on TwitterFacebook and LinkedIn. Copyright © 2012 Michael Alan Hamlin. All Rights Reserved.)

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