A second Obama term?

Can Obama win a second presidential term? It is a question that has preoccupied many people in the US and in other parts of the world ever since his victory in the 2008 election, all the more so as the first Obama term is approaching the finish line and he has already announced his intention to run a second time.

But where is this preoccupation coming from? First of all, many doubted Obama would be capable to carry out the programme of transformations announced in his first presidential campaign in just four years. Many said that, in order to achieve that promised substantial shift in domestic and foreign policies, Barack Obama would definitely need a second term. They thought that his programme really needed a total of eight years at the White House in order to be fully implemented or at least to make its accomplishment irreversible. Second of all, history had proven – and we can give a few recent examples in that respect – that presidents who do not manage to win a second term usually do not leave a substantial historic legacy (see Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, George Bush Sr.). It is but obvious that a president needs the first year in office just to become acquainted with the big political dossiers, the second year to launch major initiatives and the fourth year to engage in the election campaign for a second term, which leaves just one full year to harvest the fruits of a consistent presidential programme. In the third but not last place, many agree that, regardless of the political system in a country, four years are not enough for a massive political and economic programme to be implemented under modern democratic conditions.

This preoccupation is becoming even more visible now that Obama has announced his candidacy for a second term. Given the fact that his first term triggered enormous expectations of policy changes, a legitimate question arises whether his achievements so far actually give the incumbent president a chance of being re-elected.

Things do not look too good for Obama in that department. On the one hand, he promised in the 2008 election campaign to first solve domestic and foreign issues, which has not really happened, especially in terms of foreign politics where the two inherited wars – Iraq and Afghanistan – instead of being terminated, have been enriched with a third one – Libya. Of course, this latest war, legitimised by a UN Security Council resolution mandating the international community to step in, with the support of the Libyan people, now unfolds under NATO command, but, although decreased, the American contribution there is still important and its denouement – the overturn of the Gaddafi regime – will be seen as a test for the US’ commitment. In what concerns domestic policies, the economic recovery, necessary after the severe financial crisis hitting the end of 2008, is still in progress, with the creation of new jobs being a core element which will most certainly weight massively in the election. It is just as true that Obama has registered some robust successes in the implementation of his programme, both locally and abroad.

The most notable ones are the passage of the healthcare legislation and the constant and rewarding promotion of multilateralism in foreign politics. The setting of up of G-20 – a true world economic government assuring consistency and predictability in the global economic development – in April 2009, the commencement of the prolonged process of resetting relations with Russia, the rapprochement between the US and India and, in general, the policy consolidating stability in the Asia-Pacific region are just a few of the Obama Administration’s achievements so far. They give reasons to trust that positive processes have been firmly rooted in the international arena, which, however, need time to reach the critical mass of irreversibility.

As a result of the defeat suffered by the Democrat Party in the legislative election last November, the Obama Administration lost an important share of its support in the Congress which, naturally, makes the promotion of its political programme a bit more difficult. Many voices raise the issue of the US involvement in Libyan operations without the authorisation of the Congress as a dangerous move for US democracy.
It is slightly unusual for an incumbent president to announce his candidacy for a new term in office so well in advance – 20 months before the election,–just as the fact that he made the move before the opposing party. In our opinion, this can be explained by the fact that Obama’s team is aware of the fact that it has a lot of ground to recuperate in front of the voters disappointed with results obtained so far. In fact, it seems that one of the themes of Obama’s campaign will be exactly his faithfulness to the initial commitment of policy changes.

Of course that Obama’s chance of being re-elected will also be influenced by the size of his challengers. In the Republican Party there is a certain sate of uncertainty with regard to answering the question whether or not Obama can be defeated in next year’s election. The uncertainty can be measured by the fact that many candidates are looking to secure their nomination in order to join the race. Two of them are expected to be Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabbee, who have tried that in the past, too, as well as the former speaker of the Chamber of Representatives, Newt Gingrich or Mississippi governor Haley Harbor. Sarah Palin continues to be very popular and former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty has already announced his candidacy for nomination. If the powerful movement embodied in the Tea Party was very visible last year in the achievement of the good score in the November legislative election, currently is has no accurate and national orientation and it may not be obtained until the election date either.

Opinion polls measuring the current views of the American voters give a chance to Obama’s re-election. He enjoys 56 per cent of votes and the Republican Party, still undecided about its candidate, has a smaller score than the Democrats, which presumes a favourable situation for the president in office. Naturally, the situation can always be reversed during the time left until the election.

Will Barack Obama win his second term?  Maybe the strongest argument in favour of a positive answer is the fact that the Republican Party has not identified a charismatic candidate, capable to neutralize the attraction still exercised by the current president on the electorate. If the Republicans manage to identify and develop such candidate with care and foresight, Obama’s re-election at the White House in 2012 will become uncertain.

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