Lessons from Obama’s win

What a difference a period of four years makes. Barack Obama’s initial presidential victory in 2008 sparked hope and expectation across the globe.

This time round expectations were muted and the overwhelming feeling is one of relief that his opponent did not carry the day.

Many commentators across the world  have pointed to the litany of political letdowns that Obama has perpetrated, from his failure to confront vested private health interests over universal healthcare provision to his personal involvement in choosing targets for the assassination-by-drone campaign.

The sense of disappointment is palpable, but it was still correct to advocate, as US labour did, another four years for Obama.

Yes, he is a creature of Wall Street, committed to monopoly capitalism and US imperialism, but neither socialism nor working-class international solidarity was on the ballot paper.

Nor was it possible to state that there were no qualitative differences between the candidates of the two big business parties.

While Obama opted for the Keynesian approach of investing for growth to deal with the crisis unleashed by the banks, Mitt Romney remained hooked on his small-state austerity agenda.

Given the state of the US economy in the wake of the subprime mortgage scandal and the banking fiasco, which have delivered homelessness and unemployment, conventional wisdom dictates that he ought to have picked up his cards today.

But his response to the hurricane Sandy emergency, mobilising federal resources to save lives and property while his opponent lost his tongue, reversed the tide of opinion and carried him over the finish line.

There are lessons for Labour politicians to be learned from Obama’s success in plucking victory from the jaws of defeat.

The first is that there is no future in echoing the Mitt Romney-David Cameron line that deficit reduction is the priority.

Investing in economic expansion, through manufacturing and public services, can reverse rising unemployment, poverty and slashed welfare entitlements.

Increased government tax revenues by dint of enhanced economic activity and higher employment rates will be more effective in trimming government debt than the Romney-Cameron slash-and-burn formula.

US elections are not just about who sits in the White House for the next four years.

As well as deciding which party controls the two houses of Congress, citizens in individual states have the right to tender propositions on specific policies, two of which in California merit comment.

Proposition 30, advanced by Governor Jerry Brown, won popular support for his demand to increase income tax on those paid over $250,000 a year and to raise sales tax by 0.25 per cent to fund online education programmes.

Trade unionists were successful in leading a popular alliance to defeat Proposition 32, put forward by business and bankrolled by a secretive $11 million contribution, aimed at restricting unions’ capacity to fund political campaigns.

Similar grass-roots work will be essential to deciding how far Obama departs from the disappointing fare of his first term.

Apart from domestic economic issues, the president could make a positive regional impact by building bridges with Venezuela’s recently re-elected president and lifting the blockade – even temporarily – of Cuba in the wake of Sandy’s widespread destruction.

Whatever the problems associated with a Republican House of Representatives, Obama has the chance to confront the defenders of privilege and mark his period in office as historic in a way that many supporters dreamed of in 2008.

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