Four more years

It was not so close an election after all. At least not in terms of the electoral college votes while in popular vote the result was much closer. This is the anti-democratic element of the American Constitution. The founding fathers did not trust the people in whose name they spoke. So barriers were placed in their way so the people could not have their way. America had a previous Constitution in which the State legislatures had a lot of power and the people who elected them could swing things their way. It led to a tax strike by farmers and attacks on property.

So the grandees met in Philadelphia and rewrote the Constitution. America became a Federation. Even so, the Centre was not very strong but in taxation and currency the powers were with the Centre.

To preserve the Federation, the fears of the smaller states had to be assuaged so Senators were to be the same number from each state regardless of size. The House is of course elected on a popular vote; the Senate had no popular voting till early 20th century. Caucuses were powerful and the electoral college is an example of that.

My favourite Western is The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance in which the shy diffident hero played by James Stewart is credited with killing the town bully and his friend, who was the brave person behind the act, is played by John Wayne. There is an election caucus where John Wayne argues for the election of James Stewart as the Senator on the ground that he had killed the town bully. The entire 'electorate' is crammed into a single noisy room with fisticuffs and the loudest voice wins attention. That caucus will give you an idea of how rough and ready American democracy used to be.

As the twentieth century advanced, the American people steadily seized more and more power to themselves. Urbanisation and migration out to the Pacific coast gave a weight to the seaside states in the East and the West which is what helped Obama and generation of Democratic Presidents who had less of a chance in rural and Midwestern parts of the country. The electoral map this time showed how the coastal areas were blue and in the middle was red.

America has also changed by continuing to absorb new 'nations'—Hispanic, and Asian, for example, who were hardly there as recently as 1960 when Kennedy got elected by a popular margin of 0.5 per cent, smaller even than Obama's margin in 2012. Since then, the Black vote has grown thanks to Civil Rights legislation. The Native Americans have had better treatment and non-White minorities such Hispanics, have become crucial. The Asians would be swinging election very soon. There may be a Presidential candidate, if not President, of Asian origins within the next twenty years.

Obama appeared weak and likely to lose only because of a single TV debate. The chatterati and those who measure every tiny swing in opinion polls got excited by that and the election came alive. But an incumbent is hard to beat. But even more than that, the Congressional results show that the Republicans, for all their venom and hatred of Obama, failed to take the people with them. Despite an unemployment level of just under 8 per cent, Obama won and the Democrats retained control of the Senate while the House remained Republican.

So at the end of a long expensive campaign, little has changed. We have the same President and the two Houses of the Congress are also the same colours. America's economic problems—the large deficit, the overhanging debt, the continuing low growth of the economy remain. It is most likely that the gridlock will continue while the Democrats and Republicans fail to agree on a plan to save the economy. America gave itself institutions and procedures which work well with consensus because the separation of powers never gives any President enough powers to overrule the Congress. But America remains a divided country and it has also not realised that its moment in history has now passed. The election of Barack Obama confirms that America needs a much bigger shake-up than electing a mixed race President twice.

Please read our terms of use before posting comments
TERMS OF USE: The views expressed in comments published on are those of the comment writer's alone. They do not represent the views or opinions of The Indian Express Group or its staff. Comments are automatically posted live; however, reserves the right to take it down at any time. We also reserve the right not to publish comments that are abusive, obscene, inflammatory, derogatory or defamatory.