The changing narratives of US president campaigns

Business Times - 15 Sep 2011

The changing narratives of US president campaigns


AMERICANS will have to wait for 14 more months before having the opportunity to decide who will occupy the White House for four more years. Yet it is starting to feel as though the country is already in the midst of a heated presidential election campaign, providing a lot of business for pollsters, consultants, pundits, and making it all seem like paradise on earth for your average political junkie.

The Republican presidential candidates have been holding televised debates almost every other week, and much of the discussion on cable television news shows and the blogosphere has been focused on who was 'up' and who was 'down' in the Republican race, which will open officially only early next year when the party's first presidential primaries take place in Iowa and New Hampshire. Already it seems that the members of Washington's political punditry have changed their Republican Presidential Narrative several times. First, we were told to watch closely the battle between former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney and former Wisconsin governor Tim Pawlenty, with most experts betting on the younger and more conservative Mr Pawlenty.

Then after Tea Party darling Michelle Bachmann had won the Republican 'straw poll' in Iowa - and Mr Pawlenty, who had lost, withdrew from the race - every expert insisted that the ultra-conservative Congresswoman from Wisconsin had a good chance of winning the Republican presidential nomination next year; perhaps even of beating President Barack Obama in the presidential election.

That was the narrative until Republican Governor Rick Perry announced two weeks ago that he would be joining the presidential race. Like Ms Bachmann, Mr Perry is very popular among the Tea Partiers and the Christian Right. But Mr Perry is also a governor of a large and conservative state and exudes the kind of authentic cowboy-like vigour so admired by the current Republican electorate.

So now Ms Bachmann seems to be 'out' and the conventional wisdom is that it is Mr Romney vs Mr Perry. Recalling the 1980 Republican presidential race, Mr Romney is being compared to the favourite of the party's establishment that year, George WH Bush, who ended up losing the primaries to the more conservative Ronald Reagan. Indeed, Mr Perry is now being compared by pundits to Reagan who had been bashed by the political and media establishment in 1979 as being an 'extremist' and whose very conservative positions on social-cultural and economic issues would make it difficult for him to win the election against the then Democratic incumbent Jimmy Carter.

Reagan did win the Republican nomination and the presidency, which raises the possibility that Mr Perry, despite his views on the popular government-backed insurance programme for retirees and on Fed chairman Ben Bernanke, could get the support of the Republican electorate in the primaries and defeat President Obama next year.

Anything can happen at a time when miserable economic conditions and never-ending wars have made the angry American voters more susceptible to the kind of the populist and fuming rhetoric spouted by Mr Perry. But President Obama is taking no chances. He has been campaigning this week in Virginia and Ohio, two 'swing' states that had voted for him in the last election but now seem to be leaning in the Republican direction.

And to the delight of the members of his political base, President Obama is sounding more and more like the 'old' presidential candidate Obama of 2007. Gone is the Professor Obama that seems to be playing to role of the president in the last three years - lecturing the American people and trying to reach 'compromises' with the Republicans whose only goal was to destroy his presidency.

Instead, President Obama has embraced his own version of populism, demanding that the Republicans in Congress approve 'immediately'Â his US$447 billion plan to create new jobs. He would do this with funds raised by increasing the tax burden on the oil companies and other large corporations as well as on America's rich.

Public opinion polls suggest that the majority of American voters, including the crucial bloc of independents, like what they hear from President Obama and are getting tired of the Republican tactics. They do want Washington to start doing something about the economy, and in particular, about the large number of people without jobs.

So it is going to be a very long and gruelling presidential election campaign, during which the Republicans will be blaming President Obama for an economy that is not going to get better anytime soon - while the White House and the Democrats will be accusing the Republicans of being the obstructionists. It is too early to predict who is going to win. But it is probably safe to say that it is not going to be the American economy.

Copyright © 2010 Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. All rights reserved.


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