Political Tidbits is the prestigious column of Belinda Olivares-Cunanan that ran for 25 continuous years in the op-ed page of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the newspaper that she helped put up with its multi-awarded founder, the legendary Eugenia Duran-Apostol, in December 1985, just two months before the EDSA Revolution.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Dead-heat for Obama and Romney as elections in US get underway. Fantastic, unprecedented nail-biting exercise not just for Americans but the world over.

More than an on-line column, this blog tonight is more like notes I’m jotting down fast as I sit up to watch the current elections in the US.

Like so many people around the globe, I have been fixated for weeks now with the US presidential elections, which tonight are already underway in 36 states in the US, starting with the East Coast states that’s 12 hours later than Manila. They will continue across the various time zones in the US all the way to the West Coast that’s 16 hours later than us here.

I have been watching US elections over the many years that I have been a journalist and most especially in the past three elections that took place between Al Gore and George W. Bush in 2000, between  Barack Obama and John McCaine in 2004 and now between Obama and Mitt Romney.

I also closely followed the primary race between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama for the presidential candidacy of the Democratic Party in 2007.  In 1976, I was in the US for the presidential elections between Gerard Ford and
Jimmy Carter, which the latter won.

What’s bearing down hard on Barack Obama in these current elections is the fact that he’s  for reelection and as CNN commentators have noted, in US history there have been only four incumbent presidents who failed to be reelected.

Some analysts note a tiny lead for Obama, but should he lose this one, it will be double tragedy for him, especially since he rode into the presidency four years ago on such a high crest of public adulation and even mass hysteria. Everywhere he campaigned, Obama drew unprecedentedly record crowds everywhere.  

The main reason he got elected was that he was the very first black man to win the White House in this nation of white supremacy. It was a truly  remarkable feat for a candidate then with only a two-year record as a junior senator and who, before that, had spent his time as a community organizer in a low-income area in Chicago.

Commentators have noted, however, that while Obama still stirs up people with his eloquence and delivery, his crowds this year have greatly shrunk from those of 2008 and the much of the political frenzy over him has frayed---largely because of some failed policies and target economic goals. 

As an analyst noted, where in 2008 Obama campaigned on the “Yes, we can!” theme, this year it morphed to “Yes, we should.” Expectedly he's now on a more defensive note.

By contrast Mitt Romney was Mitt Who? at the start of the campaign, lagging behind for months---until the first debate jumpstarted his campaign. It’s truly remarkable that now he’s running neck-to-neck with Obama, after having been out of office for so long (his one and only public stint was as four-year Massachussetts governor). This speaks less for Romney's strength than for Obama's weakness now. 

One thing going for Romney, and a nightmare for Obama, as I had said last week, is the laggard economy---the key issue will still be jobs and more jobs.  It's unfortunate for the President that updated official report places the  jobless at 7.9 percent. As analysts point out, Republican Ronald Reagan was the only recent incumbent president with a jobless rate above 7 percent, who managed to get re-elected (due to his being the Great Communicator). 

Moreover, there's the "fiscal cliff," as economists put it, that will have to be hurdled by whoever wins tomorrow---the US' staggering $16 trillion public debt, which had increased by $5.5 trillion in Obama's term.

The extra-high fever pitch of this year’s elections is reflected by the long lines of voters even before the polling places opened. This is more  remarkable owing to the fact that in the US, unlike in the Philippines, election day is NOT a holiday---people go to the polls early because majority of them have to report for work later.

As political pundits in the US have opined in the past two or three weeks, I must say I have never seen any US elections the way they have played out in 2012.  The elections are so unbelievably tight that tonight the United States remains clearly divided DOWN THE LINE, split right in the middle---so much so that no serious political analyst in the US or abroad would  hazard prediction of victory for either of them.  

As a US analyst put it, the American people are right now so bitterly split along party, ideological, racial, gender and just about every criterion. No doubt about it, the nation is so divided, but to this spectator, what is most notable is what I’ll call the socio-ideological divide, for lack of a better term right now as I jot these observations.

Traditionally, the Republican Party is thought of as the conservative party and the Democratic Party the more liberal (more swinging, if you will). It could be argued that these differences may be more clichés than anything else, but in the 2012 elections this is the perception we from outside the US are getting in a firmer way.

One reason could be that Mitt Romney is of the Mormon faith, which appears to be quite conservative in its adherence (I understand that this faith had given up allowing plural spouses decades back). But it appears that Romney has rallied to his side a lot of the other faiths because of his strong, clear-cut stand on life vs. abortion, single-spouse, man-woman marriage vs. same-sex marriage, divorce and other liberal tendencies.

By contrast, President Obama is perceived as leaning quite liberal. In other words, Obama appeals to the liberal strongholds of America, e.g., New York and the East, California and the big cities, whereas Romney is perceived as standing for the various faiths and the conservative Midwest, the so-called Bible Belt of America.

On CNN Cecille Richards, President of Planned Parenthood, came out endorsing Obama, and it was noted that the organization she heads received a total of $2 billion in Obama's four- year term for its advocacies in that direction.

An American listener was quoted as saying, in reaction, that he certainly does not want to have his hard-earned taxpayer's money to support contraceptives and abortion of people who should fund their own such advocacies.

The two candidates’ stand on the above related issues was played out quite well in the 2012 US elections: Mitt Romney projecting pro-life vs. the liberal Obama.

It’s also the most expensive presidential elections in US history---it’s estimated to have cost $4.2 billion, but probably it'll spill over even more when the whole exercise is all over. I was listening to one CNN broadcast and the commentator noted that in so many states in the last few days, the TV channels carried nothing but political ads.   

Don’t forget, too, that there could be frightful legal tussles all around over voting machines that didn’t work. Now, doesn’t that possible come closer to home, Pinoy voters?

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