Obama's second-term effectiveness questioned

While there seemed to be a global sigh of relief at Barack Obama's re-election as United States President, University of Otago political experts have questioned whether it will bring any meaningful change to the country, or the rest of the world.

The result of the US presidential election was discussed by University of Otago politics lecturers Prof Robert Patman and Prof Jim Flynn, and National Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies director Prof Kevin Clements and deputy director Associate Prof Richard Jackson before an audience of about 100 during the National Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies public forum at the University of Otago on Thursday.

Prof Jackson said Mr Obama's re-election had generated relief and optimism around the globe, but he questioned whether the president could make the changes he had promised.

He said there were issues surrounding the environment, the economy, the levels of inequality, the prison population, foreign wars, the arms trade, and the conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan which the president would be looking to change.

But there had been promises before, such as closing Guantanamo Bay prison, which he had not been able to make happen, Prof Jackson said.

"Even if he wanted to make changes in a radical way, the system won't let him do it.

"I think the American system will carry on as usual.

"It's a bit like a super tanker. Once it's on its way, it's very difficult to change its direction."

Prof Patman said Mr Obama had been "frustrated" by domestic and international political constraints since he took office in 2008.

He believed two issues Mr Obama would focus on this term would be comprehensive immigration reform (given much of his vote came from women and minority groups) and climate change, as a result of the hottest summer on record and the recent hurricane Sandy.

The question was: "Will Obama's soaring oratory from yesterday [election day] be able to be transferred into action tomorrow", Prof Clements said.

Despite facing urgent economic challenges, a looming fiscal showdown and a still-divided Congress able to block Mr Obama's every move, Prof Clements believed it could, because he did not have to worry about winning another term in office.

"He has nothing to lose this time around."

Prof Flynn agreed Mr Obama was more free to do what he wanted in his second term. But he believed the president still had to do "what it takes" to help the Democrats win the next election.

Prof Patman said there was no doubt New Zealand was influenced by politics in the US.

"We only have to think back to the Bush administration to see how America could have such a negative impact on us."


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