Any crisis should be seen as a boon by politicians. Problems become evident during times of turmoil and voters are more open to the prospects of sweeping change. This gives opportunities for leaders to implement a raft of new policies and stamp their mark on the pages of history. Yet, the opposite seems to be true with regard to the current presidential election in the United States. The candidates have provided few details of what changes they would implement and how to better position the United States to face a rising number of challenges which stem from both internal problems and external threats. The election has instead concentrated on the flaws of the candidates themselves rather than the ideas they espouse. The United States looks likely to be bogged down for at least another four years until the next presidential election which may offer up a chance for decisive leadership.
The presidential election comes at a time when the country is in desperate need of leadership. Obama has failed to deliver on his promises from the election four years ago. It has been ironic than a presidential candidate that has given rise to so much hope among disparaged Americans has been so underwhelming even by normal standards to which presidents aspire. In an election which should have been easy for any politician to beat Obama, Romney ended up the Republican candidate by default as other challengers each had their moment in the spotlight but all were deemed to be flawed. But as the default candidate, Romney has struggled to even animate Republicans. As such, the United States has been left without a genuine choice and campaigning has focused on the negatives of each candidates’ character due to a lack of new ideas.
In an uninspiring election, Obama may be the lesser of two evils. Obama has done a reasonable job of fixing the way in which the United States is seen by other countries in the world. The Democrats as a party are also less entrapped by ideologues on the left and have been more pragmatic at a time when action is necessary. On the other hand, the Republican Party has fallen under the sway of the Tea Party movement which has a virile hatred of government and taxes based primarily on ideological grounds. The stubbornness of Republicans has stopped progress being made on dealing with the government budget deficit. The party refuses to consider any tax increases to be implemented alongside cuts to government spending when this mix of more taxes and less spending is seen as optimal policy by many. Instead, Republicans choose to squabble while Rome burns which may see the fall of another “empire”.
There are signs that the United States may be heading into a period of gradual decline which its leaders refuse to confront. Along with the rise of China and other emerging economies which is destined to reshape the global economy, the United States is also being challenged internally by problems such as a lack of investment in infrastructure and education, growing inequality and falling social mobility, and unsustainable levels of pensions and health care. Obama has done little to solve these problems. But there is a fear that a Republican president could make the problems worse. Ballooning government debt in the United States during the Regan and Bush junior administrations has already shown Republicans to act more on ideology and less on economic realities. Your Neighbourhood Economist would (if possible) vote for Obama - better the devil you know - but would rather fast forward four years in the hope for real leadership.