Goals for the new US president
Americans enthusiastically voted four years ago for Barack Obama to be their next president. As they go to the polls today to again choose a leader, they are less certain about who they want. Popularity surveys put the liberal commander-in-chief running neck and neck with his conservative challenger Mitt Romney. That is to be expected after a campaign that has been so negative, with the candidates having offered little to entice the electorate, and a political system that has become disruptively fractious and polarised.
Ideally, the winner would be declared, animosities set aside and Obama's Democratic Party and Romney's Republicans would get down to the job of jointly making the US and world a better place. Partisan politics make this unlikely. It is the reason why governing the nation has become so difficult and some are calling for a rethink of American-style democracy. Whichever man wins, we hope - as wishful as that may seem - that he strives for inclusiveness and compromise and that the losing party sets aside obstructive thoughts.
The manner in which both sides ran their campaigns unfortunately suggests otherwise. Negative advertising was all-pervasive, leaving woeful impressions. Obama, the man who offered so much hope for change in 2008, has emerged as aloof and insular, offering little more than a continuation of policies. Romney has adopted that old battle cry of change and pledged to lead the US to a better place, but has given few hints as to where that may be or how it is to be attained.
Of the two, Obama has a marginal edge - he has shown that he can be trusted on the economy and foreign policy, the issues that most matter. But the best that can be said for the former is that the US is doing better than Europe, while on foreign affairs there has been more following than leading. Obama has at least understood that Asia is where his nation needs to be focused.
Romney has made contradictory statements. He has not been specific on how he will cut the deficit or streamline government, yet has promised tax cuts and increased military spending. Most worrying is his vow to declare China a currency manipulator on his first day in office, a sure-fire way to start a trade war with a country that the US needs above all others.
Extremism has no place in politics. Instead, there has to be compromise and a willingness to strike bipartisan deals. China has to be treated as a friend, not a foe. Those have to be the goals of whoever triumphs in today's election.