With the 2012 Presidential elections looming, America is gearing up for another year of 24/7 coverage, analysis, scandal and scrutiny of men and women vying to win the Oval Office hot-seat. But who does American need to take the oath of office come January 2013?
Let's begin with incumbent President Obama. The Democratic candidate can blissfully view the circus of primary season from the comfort of the White House, thankful of the fact he no longer needs to put himself through an early grueling battle against fellow colleagues. He will not be able to rest on his laurels however, as the upcoming election will test his resolve and credentials severely.
America's national debt will reach $14.3 trillion come August, with a budget deficit of $1.4 trillion to boot. Obama's failure to get to grips with this in his first term is a significant cause for concern. A government shutdown was narrowly avoided in April after Republicans demanded he start addressing American's overdraft. The need for fiscal conservatism grows in popularity with the American electorate and an ever-increasing gap seems to be appearing between Obama's rhetoric and his action. His pre-election promise to abolish the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy fell by the way-side to appease the Republican dominated House. Yet now, he is calling for Republican's to do the job for him and increase taxes for the rich. Needless to say this is about as likely as the Pope converting.
Simultaneously, President Obama is still keen to advance costly programs of social reform and expensive foreign policy adventures that link to his liberal political philosophy. These are commendable projects, but will take time and considerable investment to come to fruition. The media waits for no man however. Obama's inability to walk-on-water, in no small part due to pre-election over-hype, means he was always going to fall short of public expectations. But by not being able to conjure the huge economic recovery he proclaimed, he has lost both the wallet and political clout needed to deliver his vision of a liberal, modern, advanced America.
The next President needs to have the impetus and a mandate to push through tax rises at the top, reform welfare at the bottom and cut overzealous government spending. Economically speaking, America's current fiscal practice is sustainable; just. But unless action is taken there is the real possibility of the US becoming unable to support itself independently and relying on other sources (notably China) to keep its institutions functioning. A fiscal conservative is needed to bring America out of the red and into the black, adopting the model set out by Western Europe post-08.
Despite Obama's deficit deficiencies, his liberal social policies and values ring are located in the right place for 21st Century America. If he can incorporate conservative doctrines into his fiscal approach, he will enter the elections hot favourite, from whence he can lead America forward with much promise.
Traditionally, when the time for the economy is in a mess, the people turn to the Republicans to deliver austerity and proper management. If we take a look down their Presidential contenders, Mitt Romney stands out as the contender with the most early-traction and best fiscal conservative credentials. As a successful businessman, he will undoubtedly use his economic record to batter Obama's poor one on the campaign trail. Romney is no small fry in political circles either, with the name recognition and contact network required to raise the contributions needed to mount an assault on the White House. If he can focus his campaign around the economy, he will be able to tap into the growing apprehension the electorate has with Obama's fiscal policy.
Furthermore, Romney's social stance is relatively centre-right. Though he will no doubt experience internal criticism from the Republican right, his views on society are largely centered. Republican contender Tim Pawlenty even described the former Governor's health plan as "Obamneycare". Meant as a smear on Romney, American's holding the key demographic of the centre may instead view this similarity as a cue to focus attention back to more divisive and pressing matters - the economy. With Romney as a Republican candidate, 2012 will not focus on or be determined by healthcare issues. If he can negate these critiques from the conservative base, and dismiss the public hesitation over his Mormon religion, he could prove to be a real thorn in Obama's side. A fiscal conservative, who trends towards being socially liberal.
The Republican's have also thrown Michele Bachmann into the primary limelight. She is actively trying to mould herself into a politically respectable figure, and show the party faithful she is infact electable. Drafting in Sarah Palin's speaking coach and numerous top aides to bolster her campaign, she has begun to deliver the message that rigorous fiscal upheaval is required to re-set the American economy. Admirably, she envisages a United States that operates within its own means with all the fiscal (and political) security that brings.
Unfortunately, as is often the case with Tea party activists, their grasp of economics is questionable. Demands for lower taxes, but a reluctance to cut back on established and expensive social welfare programs is not affordable through simply cutting back 'big government' and 'wasteful spending'. Their longing for a nation of rugged individuals is overly nostalgic for a modern America who often envies the welfare programs of Europe (if not the taxes they pay!).
In addition, Bachmann's social conservative views are incompatible with the requirements of being Leader of Free World. Anti-abortion (even to rape victims), the teaching of evolution and a reigning in of gay/lesbian civil rights are all views promoted by Bachmann. While this will go down a hoot with the party die-hards who emerge from the long-grass during the primary season, it will alienate both middle America and the developed countries of the World. Expect Bachmann to use spin, guile and a little bit of masking tape to cover these views from that all important centre-ground of the electorate. Nevertheless, should she by some chance secure the Republican nomination, Obama will be rubbing his hands with glee at the prospect of exposing her weaknesses in 2012.
Nonetheless, the growing influence of the populist Tea Party movement and the rising strength of the GOP reflects the sentiments of the wider American public. The desire to put their house in order is both paramount and urgent. Obama should take heed. If he fails to deliver more fiscal conservatism he may find allegiances switch to someone who can, bringing all the baggage that social conservatism brings with it. Is it time to get nostalgic for Bill Clinton yet?
About Author / Additional Info:
I am a student of Newcastle University, reading politics. I am currently working at the Legatum Institute in London. Their impressive work can be found at http://www.li.com