In less than six weeks, Americans will go the polls to vote for their next president. As the U.S. is the world's largest superpower, the outcome will not only affect the American people, but the entire global economy.
When Obama rode into power four years ago, he represented an icon of hope and reconciliation. Americans could be proud to be American again whilst the rest of the world could release a long sigh of relief after eight blunderous years under George W. Bush.
Four years later however, the euphoria has dissipated to reveal a disappointed nation. Obama has been unable to rein in Congress, and his lofty rhetoric has crumpled under the weight of a sickly economy still struggling to recover from its worst downturn since the Great Depression.
Unemployment is soaring at 8.1 percent, and according to history, no incumbent has managed to be re-elected with a jobless rate at this mark. The last president who was elected amidst such a severe economic crisis was Franklin D. Roosevelt.
The Republican nominee Mitt Romney has taken every advantage to unseat the president by attacking this point: "This president cannot tell us that you're better off today than when he took office." It's the same message Ronald Reagan used to ride into power in 1980, begging the question whether America would be better off with Romney at the helm.
According to Mark Hopkins, a senior adviser at Moody's Analytics, Romney's economic plan will only drive the nation deeper into recession. The former Bain Capital executive has pledged to reduce the country's ballooning deficit, yet he is committed to further tax cuts whilst ramping up military spending by $2.1 billion over the next decade. According to the Tax Policy Center, such a plan would add trillions to the deficit.
Moreover, he has vowed to label China a currency manipulator on his first day on the job. Given that Beijing is the U.S.'s largest purchaser of debt and the world's second largest economy, this is not the most inspired of ideas. His backward stance on China reflects his broader heavy handed position on foreign policy which hints at declaring war on Iran.
But, it's Romney's energy plan which is perhaps the gravest cause for concern. In a year where Arctic sea ice has fallen to record lows following a U.S. summer of horrendous heat waves and the worst drought in half a century, climate change has proven that it is one of the most pressing issues of our time.
It will not be solved by giving the oil sector further handouts whilst curbing those enjoyed by the green energy sector. Not only is this tantamount to committing to runaway global warming, it makes poor economic sense as the green sector is one the few areas that is adding jobs and still growing.
Although Obama's economic rating may be trawling near rock-bottom, is this necessarily a fair assessment of his record? Taking a look at the stock market, the S&P 500 is up more than 70 percent from the first day of trading after the president's inauguration. Stock prices are among the few economic numbers now approaching new highs. In the words of CNBC commentator Larry Kudlow in 2007: "I have long believed that stock markets are the best barometer of the health, wealth and security of a nation."
Moreover, if job growth continues at the pace of the past 12 months, more Americans would be working at election time than when Obama took office. This is no small feat given that 800,000 people were losing their jobs every month at the start of his tenure.
It's important to remember that Obama came into power during the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. The banking system was on its knees, pushing several corporations towards bankruptcy, and the housing market and employment were both heading for the abyss.
In many ways, winning the presidency was rather like inheriting a poisoned chalice. Even though Obama made history by becoming the first black president, he would also be saddled with all the blame should he fail to clean up the mess.
Moreover, he has had to wage a war against the Republicans every step of the way. From the stimulus to the abortive American Jobs Act, they have tried to block anything that may help the economy to ensure that Obama is only a one-term president. In fact, the Democrats have had to end over 300 Republican filibusters since 2007 -- a historical record for what was once a rarely used parliamentary procedure.
The real question is whether a four-year term is realistically enough time to fix such a broken economy. In the words of former U.S. President Bill Clinton:
A lot of Americans are still angry and frustrated about this economy. If you look at the numbers, you know employment is growing, and housing prices have even began to pick up. But too many people do not feel it yet. No president could have fully repaired all the damage in just four years. If you will renew the president's contract, you will feel it.
Martin Luther King once said, "The true measure of a man is not how he behaves in moments of comfort and convenience but how he stands at times of controversy and challenges." And for that, the president has performed well. Perhaps it's time to exercise a bit more patience, for in Obama's own words:
If you turn away now, if you buy into the cynicism that the change we fought for isn't possible, well, change will not happen. I never said this journey would be easy, and I won't promise that now. Yes, our path is harder, but it leads to a better place and we will travel it together. We don't turn back. And, we leave no one behind. But, only you have the power to move us forward.
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