By Gerad Muttukumaru
America has created history again. With the re-election of Barack Hussein Obama as the President of the United States, the world’s most powerful economy and superpower, has sent another signal to the world. For the first time in the history of this nation of immigrants, an African American has been elected twice as the leader of the free world. No President since Roosevelt has been re-elected when the economy was in recession and suffering an unemployment rate of 8%.
Leader of free world
Let us take a look as to how this happened. Obama won the majority of the popular vote by a slim margin and the Electoral College vote by a rather substantial margin. Almost half the country did not vote for him. This historic election, which was critical for the new global economy which depends heavily on the US economy, also raised a question that was really never asked before within America.
“Just what exactly is an American?” Over 75% of Asian Americans and Latin/Hispanic Americans voted for Barack Obama. Over 70% of women and youth between the ages of 21 and 30 also voted for him. Needless to say, over 90% of African Americans cast their vote for him. The face of America has changed and continues to change. In another decade, white Americans will be a minority in the land of Lincoln, Washington, Jefferson, Reagan, Bush Senior and Junior and Bill Clinton.
The Republicans now have no choice, if they are to regain the White House, but to go back to the drawing board and do some deep soul searching. What do they stand for? You don’t win elections by being against something. You must stand for something and have the right messenger to communicate this purpose and message.
In the new America two new faces appear to stand out in the Republican Party: Senator Marco Rubio of Florida who is of Cuban ancestry and Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal who is of Asian-Indian ancestry. They were both born in America. Will the Republican Party accept them?
And what about a woman? They constitute more than half of the electorate and helped re-elect Barack Obama. On the Democratic side, the question on the day after the election was, “Will Hillary run in 2016?” There is no question that she has been an exceptional Secretary of State.
The President of the USA is also the leader of the free world. But the reality is that only Americans can vote for the leader of the free world! However, it is interesting to note that if the free world could have voted in this election, over 90% of this vote would have gone to Barak Obama!
What about the ‘unfree’ world? This is even more interesting. The Chinese overwhelmingly both admired and wanted Obama to win! It was the same with the Russians. Even Hugo Chavez of Venezuela wanted Obama to win! One will never know what the President of Iran really wanted! The fate of the eurozone hangs in the balance.
Every one of these European nations was more comfortable with the known Obama than the unknown and untested Mitt Romney. Indonesia, the world’s largest Moslem nation, where he once lived, adopted him as one of their own. Africa, especially Kenya, rejoiced at his re-election. Australia was behind him.
Known vs. known candidate
In many nations of the world, it would be unthinkable for a member of a minority group to run for the highest elected office. Here again, the USA, has a lesson for the world. The two candidates, Obama and Romney were both members of minority groups. One was an African American and the other a Mormon! The vast majority of Americans are either Roman Catholic or Evangelical and Mainstream Protestants. They have always looked at Mormons with suspicion.
A Mormon Presidential Candidate and an African American Presidential Candidate would have been unthinkable 20 years ago in America! This is part of the greatness of America with all its flaws. No nation is perfect. No human being is perfect. Presidents are human beings.
Barack Obama entered the White House with the greatest of expectations and a message of hope and change. He inherited two very unpopular wars started by his predecessor and the worst economy since the great depression with the global economy in near meltdown.
He promised much. Promises are made in a campaign but governing is another matter. Obama accomplished much but also disappointed many. One African American lady confronted him at a campaign rally and said: “Mr. President, I voted for you. You have disappointed me. I am tired of defending you!” The President responded with an empathetic smile and connected with her.
This is also the greatness of a democracy. Over half the nation decided to give him a second chance. They ‘knew’ him. He got Osama Bin Laden. He saved the US automobile industry. On the eve of the election, he was tested with his response to the devastation of Super storm Sandy. An arch-critic, New Jersey Republican Governor Chris Christie embraced him, called his response outstanding, yet voted for the Republican candidate.
Mitt Romney was an ‘unknown’. I suspect that many of the votes that he got were really not votes for him but against Barack Obama. The former Governor did not help himself either by changing positions so many times. He may have been a talented CEO but he could not win the state of Massachusetts which he governed for one term. Even one of my heroes, the legendary Clint Eastwood, could not help him!
Former USA President Calvin Coolidge once observed, “The Business of America is Business”. In today’s interconnected global economy and new world, this is not true. The business of America goes way beyond mere business. The new world looks to the USA to provide real leadership in a world in which business, economics, politics, rising aspirations, a longing for freedom, human rights, justice, the environment and international security intersect. One can have a profound impact on the other.
Every nation, especially China, has a tremendous stake in the prosperity of the USA. In business, the USA and China remain the world’s biggest markets. China has invested heavily in the USA. American business has invested heavily in China. China has its own internal challenges and is in transition.
The outgoing and incoming leadership of China agree that their current course and system is unsustainable and that the biggest evil within is corruption. Income disparity is stark. The USA and China need each other desperately and the relationship must be managed delicately. The current US Ambassador in China is of Chinese descent and speaks Mandarin fluently.
Silicon Valley in California has helped transform India, China and so many nations. The most envied centers of research and learning in almost every field are in the USA with partnerships throughout the world. The dominant brands in the world continue to be American.
Yet, the USA is in trouble within because of its own excesses, flaws and what the former Chairman of the Federal Reserve described as “irrational exuberance”. It is in the interest of every nation that it succeeds.
The new President faces unprecedented challenges which must be addressed in a very divided country. Democracy is messy in America, in the Arab world and almost everywhere else where people yearn for freedom. As we have seen in the Arab Spring and now in China, the transition from authoritarianism to democracy is messy and sadly even bloody.
The genius of America must be brought back. Remember, half of America did not vote for Obama. Doing what must be done in 30 days to avoid the ‘fiscal cliff’ is first on his agenda. Putting American’s back to work and begin reducing the deficit is also at the top of the list. This has profound implications for China and every nation in the world.
Only in America will a newly elected President publicly state that he will meet with his opponent Mitt Romney before the year-end and give him, if he accepts, a role in public service. Governor Romney is a talented man who gained the Republican nomination. In the debates, both candidates disagreed strongly on the economy but agreed equally strongly, with few exceptions, on how Obama had handled the global challenges.
In a recent televised discussion on how the Obama Administration handled the Arab Spring, Russia, China and other global challenges, the former Republican Secretary of State James Baker and the current Secretary Hillary Clinton were in unanimous agreement on almost every issue.
The Crises in the Middle East, Syria, the larger Arab and Moslem world and Iran must be delicately handled. Obama has proved that when needed, he is a terrific collaborator and coalition builder. In a very complicated and volatile world, there will be disagreements between the new US President and nations from time to time. But let us understand that he is a human being with roots in Asia and Africa and understands the world. Discussion, negotiation and listening to each other is always the best way forward.
Let every nation help the new US President succeed. We don’t have a choice. We all live in one interconnected world and share the same planet.
(Gerard D. Muttukumaru, Adjunct Professor of Global Business, MBA and Executive Education Programmes-California, Chairman, US-Based Center for Global Leadership Worldwide LLC.
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