…and assuming an Obama victory. If McCain wins expect very different thoughts on Wednesday morning!
1) That part of the world which does not include the USA is pretty much a one-party state for Obama and if he fails to win there will be much international wailing and gnashing of teeth at the “stupid, racist Americans.”
But the rest of the world should be careful for what it wishes because an Obama victory will make the usual knee-jerk anti-Americanism, now so common in the chancelleries and fashionable drawing-rooms of European and developing countries alike, much more difficult. With someone called Barack Hussein Obama, son of a Kenyan goat-herder sitting in the Oval Office, default ant-Americanism will be harder to sustain, especially in Europe which as no Obamas of its own.
Indeed Europe hasn’t even any Colin Powells or Condolezza Rices. France has 6m Muslims plus another 2m immigrant stock of black African origin, all in a country of 60m people. Yet not a single black or brown face is elected by metropolitan France to the French Assembly (a few come from distant colonial dependencies). Germany, with its huge and long-standing Turkish population, can manage only a few brown faces in its parliament. Italy is nowhere in representing racial minorities. While Britain, which does better than most big European countries, has more black and brown faces in Parliament but they are still under-represented and none is in the first rank.
Symbolically and practically, an Obama presidency, following hard on Rice and Powell, will place Europeans at a disadvantage when it comes to attacking America. After all, it may still be “stupid and racist” but there is no prospect in the foreseeable future of a British, French, German or Italian Obama (or Powell or Rice for that matter).
Europe’s anti-American intellectual snobs will have to think twice before uniting with the Jihadis to claim that whenever something goes wrong somewhere in the world “it is all the fault of American foreign policy, because it is racist and chauvinistic.”
An Obama victory would also reinforce the story of the “American Dream”, in which millions around the globe still believe, even if their governing elites affect to despise it. What other country would facilitate what Obama calls his “improbable journey?” It should chasten and humble other countries, which can only dream of such mobility.
2) It’s just as well that an Obama presidency should be able to count on international goodwill, at least at the start, because the new president will be greeted by the in-tray from hell when he gets his feet under the Oval Office desk. Two unfinished wars (Iraq and Afghanistan); a key ally in the war on terror on the brink of becoming a failed state (Pakistan); and the unresolved problem of Iran’s nuclear ambitions – all to be dealt with against a domestic background of the worst financial meltdown since the Great Crash and what could be a long and deep recession.
He will have some advantages. Anti-Americanism is still virulent but is now past its peak in Europe. Germany’s Merkel, France’s Sarkozy and Britain’s Brown are naturally pro-American and will want to work closely with the new Administration. In Iraq the new president should be able to declare some sort of victory and begin the disengagement, with the support of everybody from Baghdad to Berlin.
Afghanistan is the more immediate problem but there is a Nato consensus that withdrawal is not an option and that more men and materiel will probably need to be deployed. Many Europeans who opposed the war in Iraq will likely be on Obama’s side when it comes to Afghanistan.
Consensus doesn’t make it much easier to solve, however; and the one step that might make a difference (and which Obama has indicated he might do) – hard, relentless hits on the Taliban’s bases in Pakistan’s North-West frontier with Afghanistan – could tame the Taliban only at the cost of destroying Pakistan. Obama has called for 10,000 more troops in Afghanistan, a pledge he made to show he’s not soft on foreign policy. But that alone won’t make much of a difference.
While President Obama is grappling with that, he should expect difficulties from an emboldened Iran, which could be keen to test the new president to see on how many fronts he’s prepared to fight – militarily or diplomatically – at once. President Amadinijad’s star is in the descendent in Tehran for the moment, which is good news for the new incumbent in Washington. But a black man in the Oval Office – even one that wants to talk to Tehran — won’t make the Iranian regime any less anti-American. Iran could become for Obama what Cuba was for JFK.
There is, of course, also China, which could turn nasty and more nationalist in the current global downturn, but let’s leave that for another day.
3) The Democrats should rule the roost in Washington with an Obama presidency, with a bigger majority in the House and possibly a 60-seat filibuster-beating tally in the Senate after Tuesday. But monopoly won’t necessarily make for harmony between Capitol Hill and the White House.
Congressional Democrats will be more leftish than at anytime since the 1960s and they will put pressure on an Obama presidency to move in their direction. Mr Obama’s instincts might be to do so – he has been a very liberal Senator – but he will also have an eye on re-election in 2012 and that will keep dragging him back to the centre. Like New Labour in Britain, Mr Obama has the ability to disguise left-wing policies with right-wing rhetoric (so welfare tax credits are billed as tax cuts) but that will only take him so far with liberal-left Democrats in Congress, who will be pushing Obama to make some an epoch-defining reforms, in the manner of FDR.
That will appeal to Obama but he will not want to go too much against the grain of what is still a pretty conservative country. He is cautious and incrementalist, not given to bold moves. I expect him to govern largely from the centre, whatever his natural instincts, so tensions between the White House and Capitol Hill could emerge quite early in an Obama presidency. A sideshow of this will be deteriorating relations with America’s black political establishment, which doesn’t like Obama much and which he is bound to disappoint.
4) If the Republicans end up out in the cold, in the legislative and executive branches of government, they will be hoping a Democratic Congress drags an Obama presidency as far left as possible – because they’ll see that as the most likely opening for a quick Republican recovery. Some Republicans are already speaking quietly about a Democratic monopoly triggering a Gingrich-style comeback and snapping the GOP out of its current morass.
Maybe. But Republican problems could be more deep-seated than that. For a start, the 9/11 effect in US politics, which was a huge asset for the Republicans, is pretty much gone. It got Mr Bush re-elected in 2004 but has done nothing for Mr McCain in 2008. He was chosen as the national security candidate in an election that turned out to be about economic security. Since the worst financial crisis for 80 years happened on the Republican watch, that has been a huge handicap for him and could haunt the Republicans for years to come. The prominence of economic security issues in 2008 explains why the Republicans are not running as well as they did in states like New Jersey in 2004.
But it’s not just a reputation for economic competence that the Republicans have lost: because of Iraq they’ve also lost their reputation for national security competence. It’s potentially a fatal double-whammy, with historic ramifications.
The coalition of fiscal conservatives, social conservatives and neo-con hawks, which has been the dominant political force in recent American history, is coming apart at the seams (for Republicans that could be the most dismal part of the Bush legacy) and it is not easy to see either how it could be sown together again or what would quickly replace it. FDR won in 1932 and 1936 largely by blaming everything on Hoover. The same could be true in 2008 and 2012, with Obama blaming Bush; the Republicans could be too busy trying to rebuild their own house to do much about it.
The GOP primary in 2012 could be a bloodbath because there is increasingly little uniting social, economic and national security conservatives (one of reasons why Senator McCain has struggled in the campaign to find an effective domestic message).
Normally, you’d advise the Republicans to learn from recently successful centre-right renaissances, such as David Cameron’s Tories in Britain or President Sarkozy’s neo-Gaullists in France. But the US Republicans are so unlike any other right-wing parties abroad that I’m not sure there are any international lessons to be learned.
5) The election of 2008 heralds the emergence of a new America we will all have to get to know – and not only if it produces the first black President. If Obama takes Virginia and North Carolina, we will have come to terms with a new New South. Both states can no longer be considered part of the old New South, where the Republicans have dominated since Nixon’s Southern strategy in 1968: culturally and politically they have been moving away from the rest of the South for some time, thanks to a combination of migration from the North and the growth of hi-tech jobs. That could prove to be a major boon to the Democrats.
So could the emergence of a new New West. States like Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona and Nevada are now the fastest growing in the Union, as people flood in from the East and West (from California and even Oregon and Washington state) and Hispanic immigrants push up from the south. In the process they are ceasing to be safe Republican strongholds. It is possible the Republicans will win only Arizona on Tuesday, and that would be because their presidential candidate is its favourite son. The new New West and the new New South are re-writing the electoral map of America.
6) Finally, let me finish on an optimistic note: America’s faith in its ability to renew itself. A widely-regarded disastrous two-term presidency doesn’t result in people turning away from politics or to violence on the streets or disillusion but instead leads to an election that breaks viewing records, sees a record number of people donate to a candidate, produces one ticket led by a black American, the other with a woman on it — and, almost certainly, a record turnout come election day. Other democracies please note!