After winning re-election, Barack Obama once again called for greater cross-party cooperation. But there are serious doubts that the president will be able to overcome the deadlock that grips Washington.
After it became clear that he had lost the presidential election, Mitt Romney offered reconciliation. "At a time like this, we can't risk partisan bickering and political posturing," he declared in his speech to supporters in Boston. "And we look to Democrats and Republicans in government at all levels to put the people before the politics."
The president reciprocated, offering to work together with the night's loser, and reminded his fans in Chicago of the slogan with which he had inspired the Democratic convention in Boston in 2004: "We remain more than a collection of red states and blue states. We are, and forever will be, the United States of America."
But Obama also warned that the tasks facing America would require more than bipartisanship - they would also require the active participation of American citizens. He listed some of the challenges: "reducing our deficit, reforming our tax code, fixing our immigration system, freeing ourselves from foreign oil."
Compromise to avoid automatic cuts?
But it seems unlikely that the deep division between Democrats and Republicans will disappear overnight and the political stalemate will suddenly resolve itself. At least for two more years, Obama will have to govern with a Democrat senate and a Republican House of Representatives.
"I think there will be an enormous amount of pressure to solve this fiscal issue, the so-called fiscal cliff," said Stephen Szabo, executive director of the Transatlantic Academy (TA) in Washington. "I don't think that anybody can afford to let that happen so I think there will be a compromise on the budget." He added that there would also have to be a compromise in the negotiations about raising the limit of new debts. As far as Szabo was concerned, the Republicans brought the country to the edge of financial insolvency by remaining stubborn during the last round of talks.
Michael Werz, of the liberal Center for American Progress, said, "The Republicans will not put themselves in a position where it looks like they are once again ready to push the country over an economic cliff and drag the country into an abyss."
With his re-election, the president has prevented his biggest political initiative so far - health care reform - from being repealed. He will also be able to appoint judges to free spaces on the Supreme Court, which has the power to influence the country's legislative procedures for many years. But deadlock is likely to continue on plenty of bills that Obama attempts to pass.
For Szabo, the political climate is down to the Republicans: "They have to realize that they lost this election largely because they are trying to defend an America that is fading away and they haven't been able to connect to the new America, to a very demographically different America with the Latino vote especially being very important."
Werz argues, "If you talk to moderate Republicans here in Washington, there does seem to be a different climate that suggests they are prepared to work with the Democrats a little more." Like Bill Clinton before him, Obama does have the opportunity to govern "more freely" in his second term, the analyst argues.
But Nile Gardiner, of conservative think tank the Heritage Foundation, does not believe that the Republicans' defeat is of great significance, since they still have the power to stymie the president's bills. He points out that the new generation of Republicans, like Florida senator Marco Rubio, are just as conservative as the old. "So you're not going to see the Republicans shifting to the left but maintaining their core conservative principles," said. He also believes that the Tea Party will continue to have a lot of influence.
But for now, the ball is undoubtedly in Obama's court, said Gardiner, and any bipartisan agreement depends on him. "So far there isn't any evidence that he is willing to be bipartisan," he warned.
Gardiner also argued that though Obama is politically further left than the country as a whole, he will still be a "lame duck president." And he adds that Obama will struggle to pass his immigration reform proposal. "I don't see any Republican appetite for immigration reform," he said.
No change in foreign policy
Obama has more freedom when it comes to foreign policy, because that is an area where is he is not dependent on Congress. "I would expect him, especially in the Iran case, to try to find a solution short of war. I think he's going to try to work with Russia but I'm not optimistic that he can get much from the Russians at this point," said Szabo.
The withdrawal from Afghanistan will continue as planned, believed Szabo, and little will change in the relationship with Europe. Obama will continue to turn more towards Asia, and occupy himself with developments in the Middle East and the wider Arab world.
Werz does not expect any fundamental policy shifts either. The moderate tone that Obama brought to the White House will likely be kept, he said, and there would probably not be ruptures in transatlantic relations. "The danger is much more that though relations will stay stable and economic cooperation will remain strong and important and close, there are signs of fatigue on a political level - there will be little effort to find a way for Europe and the US to work together to solve problems in other parts of the world," he said.
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