Daniel Hannan at The UK Telegraph expresses is disenchantment with President Obama….as if we don’t know why!…
“What is beyond doubt, though, is that Mr Obama cannot. His four years have left America poorer, less happy and less free.”
US election 2012: Obama won my support – but it won’t happen again
American pollsters will tell you that the presidential candidate who is in the lead going into the party conventions usually wins. Four polls last week showed a tiny lead for Barack Obama, two for Mitt Romney and one was level; all seven were well within the margin of error.
Another rule is that the Gallup poll taken 100 days before the poll foretells the winner. Only once in the past 60 years – the Bush-Dukakis race of 1988 – did that predictor fail. So, what did Gallup show on the date in question? A dead heat, with both candidates on 46 per cent.
Many Europeans wonder why Mr Obama is not comfortably ahead. Most media, both within the US and abroad, portray him as a serene statesman being shouted at by angry Tea Partiers in 18th-century fancy dress. Viewed solely through the medium of a television screen, he seems bigger than his Republican critics. They are presented as a gaggle of anti-abortionists, stump-toothed mountain men and crackpots hoarding gold against the presumed collapse of paper currencies – an extremist coalition led by a plutocrat. Seen from abroad, it looks like an election between Dr Hibbert and Montgomery Burns.
Then again, we don’t have to live with Mr Obama’s domestic policies. We see him doing what he does best: making speeches, carrying out ceremonial duties and reminding the world, simply by holding office, that America had the spirit to move in one generation from the formalised exclusion of black voters to the election of a mixed-race president.
It was largely on these grounds that I supported Mr Obama four years ago. I was distressed by the Republican Party’s abandonment of free markets for crony capitalism. I thought that Mr Obama’s election would wipe away the stain of segregation. And, frankly, I enjoyed his speeches.
Four years on, the speeches are starting to grate. Americans are tiring of their leader’s charm, much as we tired of Tony Blair’s. When demanding a trillion-dollar stimulus package at the start of his term, Mr Obama promised that it would bring unemployment down to below 5.6 per cent; today, the figure stands at 8.3 per cent. He pledged, in that slightly millenarian manner of his, to halve the deficit. Four years on, the deficit has fallen from $1.3 trillion to, er, $1.2 trillion. America’s credit rating has been downgraded as $5 trillion has been added to the national debt.
These are indescribable sums. There are no superlatives that can adequately convey what a $16 trillion national debt means. But Americans don’t need to wrap their minds around the statistics to know that they are worse off than they were 12 months ago, and will be yet worse off 12 months from now.
The real question is not why Mr Obama isn’t comfortably ahead, but why Mr Romney isn’t. When 64 per cent of Americans say that they expect their standard of living to decline under Mr Obama, and when Mr Romney enjoys a 19-point lead on economic competence, the election ought to be a walkover. Why isn’t it?
Largely because, so far, the campaign hasn’t really been about the economy. Before the Republican convention, the main news story was about a Republican senate candidate called Todd Akin who had made some idiotic remarks about rape – remarks which he immediately withdrew, which were universally condemned by the rest of his party and which concern a subject that is, in any case, wholly beyond the remit of the White House. The week before, the main issue had been gay marriage – again, a topic that has nothing to do with the federal government, being within the jurisdiction of the 50 states.
I can understand why Democrat strategists want to talk about something other than their economic record. As a delegate from Idaho said to me at the Republican convention this week: “Now I know how they must have felt when we kept talking about John Kerry.”
Mr Romney has been attacked as a shill for Wall Street, a vulture capitalist who takes pleasure in sacking people and (whisper it) a member of a strange cult that baptises the dead.
On Thursday night, rather late in the campaign, he answered his critics. Members of his congregation stepped forward to tell of the many acts of kindness and generosity that his faith had inspired, including his regular visits to a dying 14-year-old boy. If we didn’t already know about these things, ran the subtext, it was because Mitt Romney was naturally modest. Similarly, entrepreneurs lined up to praise the way his company had got their businesses started. It makes sense: religious toleration is drilled into Americans by their history, their constitution and their natural good manners, and the whispers against Mr Romney’s Mormonism have prompted a backlash from all creeds. Similarly, the sneers about his business record are starting to jar in a country where making a profit is regarded, I’m glad to say, as laudable rather than culpable.
Mr Romney’s team want to portray him as a competent, traditional, pro-business Republican. “President Obama promised to begin to slow the rise of the oceans and heal the planet,” Mr Romney told delegates in Tampa. “My promise is to help you and your family.” It makes sense. If you needed a plumber, would you send for the better orator or the more skilled technician?
Mr Romney is not a natural speech-maker. Once or twice during his address, I found my attention wandering. Then my eye would fall on the horrifying debt clock hanging over the hall and I’d remember quite how important this election is.
From a British point of view, the choice should be straightforward. Mr Obama made clear in his book, Dreams From My Father, that he had a low opinion of us, and has acted accordingly, removing Winston Churchill’s bust from the Oval Office, backing Argentina’s demands for sovereignty talks over the Falklands, raging at an imaginary company called “British Petroleum” during the Gulf oil spill. Mr Romney, by contrast, is an old-fashioned Republican when it comes to foreign policy: he knows who America’s friends are.
There is, though, a much stronger reason for wanting him to win. Focused as we are on what the Chancellor calls the “chilling effect” of the euro crisis, we rarely consider the possibility of a similar crisis in the United States. Yet, if we employ the measure used to calculate the Maastricht criteria, the US has a larger national debt than Greece’s. And whereas a Greek default might be managed as a controlled explosion, a collapse in the US would blow the world economy to splinters.
Whether Mitt Romney can eliminate the deficit is not clear. What is beyond doubt, though, is that Mr Obama cannot. His four years have left America poorer, less happy and less free. As Clint Eastwood told Republican delegates: “Politicians are employees of ours – and if somebody does not do the job, we gotta let ’em go.”
In a television interview after Mr Romney’s speech, the presenter asked me whether it was possible to win on an austerity message. Hadn’t the Greeks just punished the politicians who suggested deep budget cuts? “Yes,” I told him, “but Americans aren’t Greeks. We expect better of you.”
Daniel Hannan is a Conservative MEP