Presidential election returns suggest more of the same.
No doubt about Obama's victory, in both electoral and popular vote.
However, talk about a "mandate" would be exaggerated. Not only is there a small difference in popular vote, and mixed results in House and Senate races, but talk of a mandate is always doubtful when there are more than 100 million votes and perhaps as many reasons for choosing one candidate over the other.
We all drowned in advocacy and commentary, and there will be no let up for several days. My own reading, along with those from two distinguished "foreign" papers, is that many Americans voted against one candidate and many others had less than robust enthusiasm for the candidate they chose.
The headline from the Economist op-ed piece that endorsed Obama, but with reservations, not as strong as the paper's reservations about Romney:
"America could do better than Barack Obama; Sadly, Mitt Romney does not fit the bill"
Ha'aretz did not pronounce an endorsement, but shortly before election day headlined the race as
"יתרון קל לאובמה כשהאמריקאים נדרשים לבחור בין הרע לרע במיעוטו"
("Narrow advantage for Obama as Americans are forced to choose between the bad and the least bad.")
Obama partisans claim success for his economic rescue effort, but the data is too diverse to justify applause. The record on foreign policy is even less positive. Claims of leaving Iraq in decent shape and being about to leave an improved Afghanistan clash with assessments from the generally supportive New York Times. There is even less praise due Obama for whatever he did in spurring Arab spring via his Cairo speech and abandoning Hosni Mubarak.
Obama deserves considerable praise for breaking a jam on health insurance. Still to be tested is his program's success in the context of profit-seeking insurance companies, and the strong opposition to anything like what is available in other democracies.
Also among the factors muddying the claims of "mandate" are the generally low turnout rates for American presidential elections. While historic data from Western European and Israeli elections generally show turnout rates in the range of 70-80 percent of eligible voters, and ocassionally reach 90 percent, American rates often do not reach 60 percent and virtually never get to 70 percent. While some party and election officials expressed optimistic views of this year's turnout, it is too early to find reliable data.
What explains American indifference? A culture that denigrates the public sector may have something to do with it, along with cumbersome registration procedures and ballots crammed with offices elsewhere filled by appointment and numerous referendum questions. Pictures of long lines at the polls and reports that each voter was spending a half-four making choices could discourage me from the effort to express myself. Other democracies deal with voter registration automatically by universal id cards and required registration of one's current address (anathema to anti-governmental Americans), and lines are shorter when the offices to be chosen are fewer. Americans, in effect, limit their democracy by expanding the people's right to choose beyond the average citizen's knowledge or interest.
Skimpy voting hours and elections on a working day also differ from Western European (and Israeli) models. Complex procedures under the heading of "provsional ballot" do not promise a great move to citizen friendly voting, especially in the context of partisan conflicts, tinged with racial and ethnic interests, about easing or stiffening requirements for verifying identity and eligibility.
What's in the outcome for the Jews, notably those of Israel?
My own guess is more of the same. While many view Benyamin Netanyahu as having supported Mitt Romney, the Prime Minister and prominent colleagues in his government deny any such thing. The closest Netanyahu came to endorsing Romney was to appear along with him and their mutual banker, Sheldon Adelson, at a fund raising event attended by American Republicans in Jerusalem. Likud-friendly commentators say that was an invitation no donation-dependent politician could refuse. Not a few Israelis view Adelson as an ugly American on account of his brazen funding of right-wing candidates and his support of the give-away newspaper Israel Hayom that is not only tilted strongly to the right, but has endangered the financial health of established Israeli papers.
Even if Obama may not like Netanyahu, and futhermore sees him as supporting Romney, that may not overcome other reasons for continued cooperation between the Obama White House and whoever is the Israeli Prime MInister (most likely Netanyahu according to the polls). National interests generally surpass personal feelings, especially in the case of figures always in the media spotlight. There remain divisions at the peak of American national politics, and the muddied nature of the region extending from North Africa to Afghanistan and down into Muslim Africa. All suggest a continuation of cooperation between the US and Israel, along with expressions of comity despite disagreements along the way.
The closest flash points will be Iran, and Palestinians' inclinations to increase their standing in the United Nations.
Elections may be landmarks for commentators' judgments, but they do not stop the clock. History and politics do not end. Who knows what we'll be arguing about next week?
Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Posted by Ira Sharkansky at November 07, 2012 06:09 AM