Do you remember where you were exactly four years ago, on November 4 2008? For hundreds of millions around the world, it was an unforgettable night/morning. Barack Obama had just been elected US president. I remember frantically driving from the airport to the One & Only hotel in Mauritius with my wife, the same day our honeymoon had begun. She was rather peeved at my insistence that we got there in time to watch Obama’s acceptance speech in Grant Park, Chicago. To many of us, it was a moon landing moment; you had to watch it.
And he didn’t disappoint, ending with this beautiful story about a 106-year-old woman, called Ann Nixon Cooper. Obama spoke about how she had witnessed everything from the Great Depression to the fall of the Berlin Wall — and of course him winning the presidency. Obama said that night: “America, we have come so far. We have seen so much. But there is so much more to do. So tonight, let us ask ourselves — if our children should live to see the next century; if my daughters should be so lucky to live as long as Ann Nixon Cooper, what change will they see? What progress will we have made?” Ann Nixon Cooper died two months later. Had she lived, I have no doubt Fox News would have hired her to answer that very question – under Obama, what progress have we made?
With unemployment rates at 7.8 percent, you could argue it’s the lowest since January 2009 and shows progress. But not by much. The world’s biggest economy grew by an annualised rate of 2 percent in the third quarter. Compare that with China, which saw its economy expand 7.4 percent. Yes, progress, but hardly much. One could argue that Obama’s spending spree to bring the US out of recession is starting to work, but with public debt running at $16.2 trillion, is that progress? Not much.
What about on the international front? In a memorable 2009 speech in Cairo, Obama said: “Israelis must acknowledge that just as Israel’s right to exist cannot be denied, neither can Palestine’s...It is time for these settlements to stop.”
Since then, US policy has had zero effect on the Israeli policy of continued settlement in the West Bank. The administration has made several attempts to secure a freeze, but has been completely rebuffed. Progress? Absolutely zero. That’s not to say that American foreign policy would improve under Mitt Romney were he elected. In fact some former US officials like Martin Indyk, once America’s ambassador to Israel, highlighted fears that Romney, as president, would “subcontract Middle East policy to Israel.”
But back to Obama. The president’s promises to end the war in Afghanistan and close Guantanamo Bay turned out equally hollow, and with the exception of Libya, he has had little to say or do about the Arab Spring. Progress? Zero again.
But against all that, I firmly believe that Obama should and will be re-elected. There are two reasons: the first is the “other guy” factor - the other guy being one of the biggest fools in American political history. Anyone who thinks it’s appropriate to compare the GDP of Israel and the Palestinians, and then declare that Jerusalem should be the capital of the Jewish state, cannot be taken seriously.
It is also worth looking more closely at the mess Obama inherited on coming to office, and more importantly, his detailed economic plans. The billions that went into infrastructure spending, funding for states, tax cuts, and other simulative measures in 2009 were much needed. A year later, his move to effectively reduce taxes for millions was again the right thing to do.
Ann Nixon Cooper, were she still alive, probably wouldn’t be very impressed with the last four years. But America’s recovery, though slow, is now on the mend (unlike much of Europe), and has the right policies to make it a global economic power again. President Mitt Romney? No, definitely no.
Anil Bhoyrul is the Editorial Director of Arabian Business.
You can follow him on Twitter at @AnilBhoyrul