(Filed this on the morning after the election for The National. I hope I’m wrong, frankly)
After the votes were counted and the balloons had wafted down from the rafters, President Barack Obama awoke on last Wednesday to an ugly reality: he had won four more years in the White House.
Of course, no president wants to be turned away after only one term - America’s constitution limits presidents to two four-year terms, and winning a second one has come to be regarded as an early sign that history might smile on the man.
But Obama, America’s first black president, had already made his mark in the history books. And few would argue that fate has smiled upon a man who inherited the worst economy since the Great Depression at the beginning of his first term, and now faces a bitterly divided Congress and a looming fiscal disaster before he can even begin to enjoy his second term.
By far the greatest challenge facing Mr Obama as he surveys the four years ahead is navigating the issues involved with what has become known as the “fiscal cliff”. Economists and most politicians, Republican or Democratic, agree that the $600 billion (Dh2.2 trillion) package - a mix of tax hikes, expiring tax breaks and austerity measures that are supposed to automatically take effect on January 1 - could shave as much as 4 per cent off America’s GDP growth in coming years unless politicians agree on an extension.
In effect, this is austerity on such a vast - some would say reckless - level that it might be enough to cast the world’s largest economy back into recession, dragging a good part of the rest of the world along with it.
So it’s all hands on deck in Washington, right? After all, Mr Obama’s Democratic Party actually gained a seat in the Senate, and in the end his victory over challenger Mitt Romney should be viewed as a repudiation of the Republican Party’s rightward “Tea Party” tilt since 2010.
Well, not so fast …
All sides in the United States speak confidently - when the issue of the fiscal cliff is addressed at all - that a deal to avoid a cataclysm will be agreed. But there is little sign that politicians in any quarter are preparing the ground for truly hard, painful and necessary decisions that will have to be made. Where is the bipartisan presidential “blue ribbon” commission? Or the White House invitation for lunch with congressional Republicans? Nary a leak has emerged of anyone’s master plan to solve it all, either.
In fact, before the Romney campaign posters had even been recycled, some of the more right-wing Republicans were blaming his defeat on the fact that he had started sounding like a centrist. As Romney fought for the middle ground in November, he abandoned the radical social and economic proposals he had been forced to adopt to win the Republican nomination in the primaries.
(Read the rest at The National).