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Will Obama re-election lead to GOP soul-searching?

November 07, 2012 16:47 IST

As much as it was a thumping victory for Barack Obama, the election results were also a repudiation of the current Republican Party, held hostage by a rabid tea party, that has alienated minorities and women, who delivered for Obama despite an unemployment rate of over 7.8 percent, says Aziz Haniffa.

Republican challenger Mitt Romney, who got roundly thumped by President Barack Obama in the US presidential election, may very well have been the last great white hope in an America with its changing demographics and galloping diversity, where alienating minorities is today a recipe for disaster.

The bruising and lengthy GOP primaries, where a weak roster of candidates, were falling over themselves to pander to the anti-immigrant, anti-abortion, and race-baiting Tea Party, which forced even a relatively moderate northeasterner like Romney to move to the extreme right to secure the nomination, incensed the Latinos, women and other minorities like Asian Americans and Muslim Americans. They voted en masse for Obama and helped him to be the first President to be re-elected in over six decades with an unemployment rate of 7.2 percent.

Over 70 percent of Latinos voted for Obama and only about 27 percent preferred Romney and the women vote was also as impressive for Obama. Asian Americans and Muslim Americans, who had been racially profiled and subjected to hate crimes thanks to the rhetoric of rabid conservatives, coalesced to put Obama over the top, even though not a significant voting bloc, but religiously subscribing to the maxim that every vote counts.

Latinos may have been disappointed that Obama may not have delivered on immigration reform as promised, but Romney's threat to veto the DREAM Act and urge self-deportation of undocumented immigrants terrified this community.

Women were equally chagrined by his anti-abortion remarks and the misogynistic outbursts of fellow Republicans, which he never categorically condemned, as were the gay and lesbian community by his opposition to same-sex marriage and although he tried to appear more moderate, his moving to the centre seemingly was dubious.

And contrary to predictions that the African American community may be apathetic, the high turn-out of this community, many of them who stood for hours to vote and fought back voter suppression efforts in some precincts, turned the tide in states like Pennsylvania, which apparently was even higher than their support for Obama in 2008.

It was the nasty allegations and innuendo by the likes of Donald Trump -- the 'bloviating ignoramus' as conservative columnist and commentator George Will described him -- questioning Obama's birth in the US and resurrecting the birther movement paranoia and the incessant bigoted attacks by talk-radio ideologues like Rush Limbaugh and Fox News's Sean Hannity, that ignited the enthusiasm of not just the African American community but other minorities and even progressive whites and students who had been in the forefront of Obama's victory in 2008.

The veritable coalition of haters of Obama, including the evangelist movement, led by the high priests like Franklin Graham, son of the much revered Bill Graham, which after earlier calling Romney's Mormon faith a cult, removed it from their website, in an all out effort of endorsing Romney. Their spewing their wrath against Obama, apparently turned off the black churches and pastors, who, even though troubled by the President's support of same sex marriages and their conservatism on social issues, were nonetheless filled with angst over the demonisation of the first African American President.

And, then of course, there's no denying the Bill Clinton factor who did over two dozen campaign events for Obama. This was  the very same Clinton who in 2008 had angrily said the Obama quest for the presidency was the biggest 'fairy tale', when Obama was engaged in a bruising primary with his wife, Hillary Clinton. Clinton was catalytic in giving that extra oomph to the President's campaign when it seemed to be flailing.

No small wonder, that Obama, immediately after he received the concession call from Romney and before he delivered his victory speech, called Clinton to thank him for all his efforts, that had helped reinforce the massive mobilisation efforts and amazing ground game in getting out the vote that the campaign had sustained with an infrastructure reminiscent of the 2008 campaign.

It's also unknown if in the wake of Storm Sandy and his embrace and the kudos showered by New Jersey Republican Governor Chris Christie -- not to mention the bear hug that the portly Christie gave the President -- could have shored up his leadership credentials, at a time when it was being regularly questioned.

But the optics couldn't have but helped, especially coming from the same Christie, who was the keynote speaker at the Republican convention, and the attack dog who had slammed Obama's leadership abilities, and if  nothing else seemingly stalled Romney's momentum after the first debate where he had roundly defeated a listless and lacklustre Obama.

Thus, as much as it was a convincing victory for Obama and hardly the squeaker that the majority of pundits had predicted with harrowing scenarios of not just a long night but perhaps days of suspense reminiscent of 2000, when the quintessential bell-weather state of Ohio was in Obama's corner nearly an hour before midnight on November 6, the writing was on the wall that Romney's nearly decade-long quest in seeking the presidency was toast.

In the final analysis, the negative, yet strong Obama campaign ads against Romney during his Bain Capital days, and accusations that he was the 'pioneer of outsourcing,' and his inability to live down his rejection of the auto bailout that Obama championed and helped Detroit and Ohio recover, was not lost on even the white blue-collar workers, who helped propel the Ohio victory for the President.

And, it was not just Ohio, but even several of the other key battleground states, including Romney's running mate Paul Ryan's Wisconsin, as well as Virginia, Iowa, Colorado, Florida, that went Obama's way and garnered an comfortable electoral as well as popular vote win that obviously caught all of the talking heads by total surprise.

But, with the Republicans retaining the House and the Senate remaining with the Democrats, it's a return to the status quo and if the Republicans, far from soul-searching remain dogmatic and continue to filibuster all of the Obama's outreach, gridlock would be the order of the day with a financial cliff not far away.

Perhaps, the President clearly mindful that his re-election could be tarnished by a legacy at the end of his second term that he didn't leave the country better off economically and with a turnaround in jobs that when he was first elected, held out yet another olive branch to the detractors in the opposition. These were the same people who were hell-bent on making him a one-term President.

Even as he declared that the "best was yet to come," a phrase that was the signature line of today's Republican hero, the late President Ronald Reagan, Obama acknowledged, "By itself, the recognition that we have common hopes and dreams won't end all the gridlock, resolve all our problems or substitute for the painstaking work of building consensus and making the difficult comprises needed to move the country forward."

And that in the coming weeks and months, he would be "looking forward to reaching out and working with the leaders of both parties to meet the challenges we can only solve together -- reducing our deficit, reforming our tax code, fixing our immigration system, freeing ourselves from foreign oil."

But whether Obama's contention that "we are not divided as our politics suggests," rings true of hollow remains to be seen from an opposition who soul searching can go either way -- doubling down and being even more conservative a la the Tea Party, or an epiphanous realisation that such a course would forever deny the GOP not just the White House but the very ethos of the party of Abraham Lincoln, with all of its compassion and inclusion.

Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC