US Mid-term Election & Obama’s Legacy
How could this happen in just six brief years? As remembered by many around the world, the aftermath of the 2008 presidential election was that America had finally buried its racial repulsions. The election of Barack Hussein Obama was a victory both for renewed hope and long-awaited global values that were missing since 911. The young Barack Obama was indeed big, talented, a voice to be reckoned with and a perspective that was taken seriously.
By 2014, Obama’s image — globally — became narrower, a political punching bag, easily and more frequently attacked, the one whose ideas were brushed off, the one whom his fellow Democrats would come to avoid at all cost. And now, in a gloomy night for the Democrats, the Republicans have swept the Senate elections to take control of the upper chamber.
In fact, it didn’t take long for Republicans to take control of the Senate, expanding their hold on the House and defending some of the most contested governors’ races, in a rejection of Barack Obama and his policies that have certainly reordered the political map of the United States in his last two years. For Republicans, this became their first Senate majority since 2006, after grabbing Senate seats in North Carolina, Colorado, Iowa, West Virginia, Arkansas, South Dakota and Montana.
Last night, Senator McConnell as the new Senate majority leader — a goal he has pursued for years — said in his victory speech, “Just because we have a two-party system doesn’t mean we have to be in perpetual conflict.” So what will this Republican Party do with the Congress — the House and the Senate — that it will control for the first time in a decade? And could Senator McConnell’s pledge to avoid perpetual conflict outline the new roadmap for Washington’s dysfunction politics? — Knowing well that some of his Republican colleagues have this exact perpetual conflict in mind.
It could be argued that Senator McConnell is now America’s second most powerful politician and in some respect could act even more effective than President Obama, given his influence and tenure in Washington but he will certainly be contained. The fact is that Republicans will most likely end up with 53 or 54 seats, short of the supermajority needed to override a filibuster from the Democrats — now sitting in the minority, perhaps allowing Democrats to use procedural tactics to frustrate him and his Republican colleagues.
But he knows well that the first test of how the new Senate will operate will come before his Republican colleagues take their seats in January. These lawmakers know that most of the federal government is operating under a continuing resolution that expires on December 11th, 2014. Senator McConnell will certainly like to make sure there is no repeat of last year’s budget chaos in Washington. But if anyone, including Senator McConnell, expects America’s greater challenges to be solved — now that the Senate has flipped — has not been paying any attention to how divided Washington has become in recent years.
On the global stage, the Obama presidency might be viewed as nearly over; and the world might have started planning for the next American President. The premise in geopolitics is that Barack Obama has formally entered his lame duck period. After losing the Senate, therefore the entire legislative arm of the US Government, Obama’s ability to get things done has fallen from limited to essentially nonexistent. It’s not that foreign policy actively demands legislations and bills to pass in the Senate. Rather, it is the sense that Obama is becoming a defeated and ineffective leader, his hands tied by newly elected hostile majorities in both chambers of the Congress.
Some would argue just because Obama is facing new challenges with the Republican Party domestically, it will not reduce the scope of his activities abroad. In fact it is not the first time that a US President, curbed at home, looks abroad for broader maneuvering. At this point in his term, Obama long for a stage on which to act with flexibility, and foreign affairs provides that opening. It could also be argued that Obama’s weakened domestic position has a bearing on his international clout. It’s not just that the countdown on his time of office has begun. It also goes to the nature of his global standing.
The historic nature of Obama’s presidential victory in 2008, both as his country’s first black president and as a promising alternative to George W. Bush, gave him a kind of moral authority beyond the borders of United States. There is no doubt that his standing was impossibly high around the world, where he was viewed as the repository for the grandest hopes of a transformation in the world. Perhaps the Nobel Peace Prize that he won in 2009, when his feet were barely under the desk in the Oval Office is a good reflection of such global expectation. The reality has not worked out as Obama and his admirers have hoped for.
As a newly elected President in 2009 reaching out to the Middle East, Obama made his Cairo speech, promising a new beginning with the Muslim world. Since then, his presidency has seen the emergence and spread of the Islamic State. His decision to act in 2013 against the Syrian President was not fulfilled. His attempt to bargain about an accord between Israelis and Palestinians, carried by his secretary of state, John Kerry, has resulted in failure. His oppositions to Russia’s annexation of Crimea did not stop Vladimir Putin and his first pledge as president, to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay, remains unfulfilled today.
Perhaps it’s not just America who is delivering its verdict on Mr. Obama with mid-term election results. The rest of the world has, with a heavy heart and agony of mind, reached the conclusion that his power is indeed fading. In today’s uncontrollable, deeply polarized world, Mr. Obama faces a daunting challenge in reclaiming his relevance in a world that will soon enough shift its attention and energy to the battle to succeed him.If the hope-and-change slogan of his presidency is long over, he needs at least to produce a period of progress and consolidation to complete his time in office.
*This piece has been submitted to PressTV for publication.