BOSTON – As the campaign dust settled, it became clear that US President Barack Obama would retain his hold on the White House, beating Republican challenger Mitt Romney after a grueling, bitter fight.
But the president was not the only politician to win re-election Tuesday night. The US House and Senate are also set to maintain their party divisions, the former Republican and the latter Democrat.
That means that come 2013, the same political configuration as is currently in place will have to deal with enormous, ongoing problems that it has so far failed to solve, such as massive deficits and Iran’s growing nuclear program.
Obama, though he defeated Romney more quickly than many expected, can hardly claim an emphatic mandate; committed Democratic spinner James Carville admitted as much on CNN right after the crucial state of Ohio was called for the president.
Instead the presidential contest seemed more to expose and reinforce ingrained divisions between Americans rather than offer a common path that citizens rallied around.
During the race, Mitt Romney wrested away the mantle of change that Obama so proudly wore in his campaign four years ago. The former Massachusetts governor was the one who promised to lead America in a new direction. But voters endorsed the same course they are already on.
The lack of new faces and the case history in gridlock and heightened partisanship written by Washington during Obama’s first term don’t bode well for those who want bold action and a fresh approach to the steep challenges facing America and the world.
During his campaign, Obama offered few new policies from those he has already articulated. And Congress has shown no sign of taking a different tack.
Conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer, speaking on Fox News soon after Ohio was chalked up for Obama, predicted that House Republicans would continue their opposition to the president’s prescriptions for fixing the economy and the host of other issues on the agenda.
“They’re not going to budge. There’s no way that after holding out on Obama for two years they’re going to cave in,” he said.
One of the few areas where Obama has acknowledged making mistakes during his first term is the Middle East peace process. Yet during the campaign he never spelled out what, if anything, he would do differently in a second administration.
And, just as importantly, the leaders in the region have stayed as consistent as the American political structure.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is widely expected to win a second consecutive term in office in January, and with it the continuation of the conflict between himself and Obama that has been on display ever since the prime minister’s first visit to the Obama White House.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, meanwhile, has reiterated his intention to seek a form of unilateral action at the UN which both the US and Israel see as counter-productive.
Elections usually turn a new page, and the president certainly has an opportunity to try to make a fresh start. But so far, Obama and other figures on the national and international stage have done little to suggest they’ll be using a different playbook.