By John Rapley
In the celebrated 2004 convention speech in which he introduced himself to America, Barack Obama famously declared he knew nothing of red (Republican) and blue (Democratic) states, he knew only the United States of America. That was then. As Lawrence Powell has detailed in his columns these last two weeks, President Obama lives very much in a land of red and blue states, with little uniting them just now.
A month ago, a few Democrats were getting excited about the still-distant prospect of retaking Congress. After Mitt Romney upended the campaign in the first debate, that hope has receded into the distance. There is little doubt Republicans will hold the House, and narrow the Democratic margin in the Senate. There is even now an outside chance they could retake the Senate. As Lawrence pointed out in yesterday's Gleaner, Mr Obama still has a reasonable chance of winning re-election. However, he is unlikely to have the friendly Congress he would have wanted.
What would then face Mr Obama the day after the election? A rough ride.
In last week's column, I suggested that should he win office, the circumstances of the economy would quickly force Mitt Romney to make hard choices which would anger some of his supporters. Barack Obama will face a different challenge. With the wind blowing Republican at the moment, his Congressional opponents will have little appetite for compromise with the president.
Bear in mind that midterm elections generally go against the administration. If Republicans lose the Presidency in 2012 but gain seats everywhere else, they will immediately be eyeing the 2014 elections. Moreover, if Mitt Romney were to lose the Electoral College vote but win the popular vote, something Larry indicated yesterday is now a distinct possibility, Republicans will be in even less mood to compromise.
budget deal the first item
The first task confronting the incoming president will be to strike a budget deal with Congress that will enable the US to avoid going over the 'fiscal cliff'. Last year, as they fought over a budget agreement on which they couldn't find common ground - Congressional Republicans wanted to cut spending and President Obama wanted to raise taxes on the rich - the two sides agreed a temporary measure to keep the government solvent.
They then kicked the can down the road, agreeing a provisional budget until after this election. They agreed that if a new budget deal wasn't reached in the meantime, a set of automatic spending cuts and tax increases would kick in. While sufficient to eliminate the deficit, the economic impact of this fiscal cliff will probably push American back into recession.
The president will be anxious to quickly strike a bargain. President Obama has begun talking of the grand deal on the budget he hopes to make with Congress soon after being re-elected. A few weeks ago, with polls favouring Democrats, Republicans were starting to whisper that they'd have no choice but to work a deal.
no mood to deal
What a difference a few weeks, and some effective campaigning by Mr Romney, have made. Now, with the wind blowing their way, Congressional Republicans might not be in a mood to deal. At a minimum, they will demand steep concessions from the president. He will find it hard to engage in any major spending initiatives. He will find it hard to raise taxes on the rich. The American economy, which needs strong leadership, will probably instead get gridlock. And if that further postpones a strong economic recovery, Republicans will no doubt hope to reap the harvest in two years' time at the midterm elections.
One of the things which this year's campaign has revealed is how deep the fissures in US society are becoming. As the gap between rich and poor grows wider in the country, so too does the ideological canyon get deeper. Barack Obama came to office in 2008 amid great hopes that he could restore some of the civility to US politics. America will likely be anything but civil in the next few years, though, and we may all end up paying the price.
John Rapley is a foreign affairs analyst. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com