President Barack Obama's narrow victory in the popular vote complicates his ability to launch a bold new agenda, reclaim the mandate of his 2008 electoral landslide or trigger deep soul-searching in Republican ranks. Apart from an initial period of conciliatory rhetoric, general continuity of the status quo will prevail. There will be no major transformation or breakthroughs in the political process for the foreseeable future.
Any form of progress will result from muddling through. It will be marked by short-term, and often last-minute, compromises to avoid complete paralysis and government shutdowns. Willingness for compromise remains in short supply. After an estimated $6 billion electoral contest, Obama's campaign slogan "Forward" will be replaced by the reality of "Gridlock."
Throughout the campaign, Governor Mitt Romney failed to inspire and Obama was not too far behind. The Republican right never considered Romney a real conservative. It backed him reluctantly due to strong anti-Obama sentiment. Despite many misgivings, the Democratic left still provided Obama with critical support. For undecided independent voters, the lowest common denominator was choosing the lesser of two evils and most opted for Obama.
The campaign was consistently an uphill struggle for Romney. He proved an incomplete and excessively flawed candidate. He simply failed to effectively exploit Obama's vulnerabilities and allowed himself to be defined by Obama.
Although a natural-born centrist, Romney attempted to wear too many masks. Doing so is an art reserved for the skilled political master. It was largely a task beyond his abilities. Struggling to capture the Republican party nomination, Romney went overboard by declaring himself "severely" conservative. Eventually Obama's spin doctors sealed the brand. Simply "conservative" would have sufficed.
Romney is guilty of overreach. He strayed too far right and left a middle-ground void filled by Obama. Romney's journey back to the center during the general election proved unconvincing. He failed to connect and strike a fine balance between the mainstream and his own grassroots. Ultimately, Obama beat Romney to the centrist punch and scored a knockout.
Despite the appearance of an impressive Romney during the first presidential debate, only sporadic sightings followed. It was not enough to fundamentally alter the campaign's course. Even a solid single debate performance could not compensate for a lackluster campaign effort. In addition, self-inflicted damage through gaffes and misstatements further sealed Romney's fate. He shot himself in the foot repeatedly. By election day, he was practically on crutches with no electoral limbs to stand on for support.
Obama's narrow victory is less a testament to his own political prowess and more a result of Romney's shortcomings. Despite his numerous flaws, Romney still managed to garner 48 per cent of the popular vote. Had a modestly decent Republican candidate emerged, a different outcome was possible. The Republican party is seriously afflicted by leadership deficit disorder. Its display of presidential primary candidates was dismal.
Overall, Obama's victory was far from convincing. Former President Bill Clinton literally lifted Obama at the Democratic convention and helped him to the finish line on November 6th. In the 2012 presidential election, Bill Clinton fully consolidated his historical role as the founder and re-maker of the modern Democratic party. Obama remains a stubborn pupil engaged in continuing political education. Bill Clinton's personal guidance, and the counsel of his former officials, will be indispensable to Obama's second term.
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