On Tuesday the world will know who will be giving the orders for the next four years in the world’s most powerful government: the Democrat Barack Obama, or the Republican Mitt Romney. The former is known for his good sense and sobriety, and for having a vision of America’s role adapted to new times. Against the excesses of George W. Bush, Obama has restored America’s status as a country that is more respected than feared. He has failed to close the opprobrious prison of Guantánamo, but knows he has to distance himself from a unilateralism that even the world’s most powerful country can no longer afford.
But Romney is an unknown. We do not know if he is the moderate governor of Massachusetts, the aspirant who radicalized his line to attract Tea Party extremists in the primaries, or the candidate who, with a centrist line, got the better of Obama in the first debate. In the final stretch of the campaign, Romney has managed to attract votes that are for himself and not only from those who are against Obama. However, it is not the rest of the world that is going to vote — much less the Europeans, to whom neither Obama nor Romney have paid any attention — but the citizens of the United States, a society much more polarized than the two contenders themselves.
Perhaps Obama’s greatest achievement, hard to appreciate at first sight, has been to prevent the recession — left behind by Bush — from becoming a depression for the United States and for the rest of the world, and to put his country back on the path of growth, albeit still modest in scale. Today many people in the United States are asking whether things are better than they were four years ago, as if the crisis touched off by the fall of Lehman Brothers could be disregarded. The latest employment data may be good for Obama. On the other hand, the cutbacks in spending and taxes that Romney is proposing may promote short-term recovery, but the result would have long-term consequences.
The campaign has shown the strength of democracy. What seemed a victory parade for Obama has turned into a complicated race. In the final stretch, the Hurricane Sandy catastrophe has offered him a chance to show his management skills at the head of an administration that has worked well, highlighting the value of the public sector — which a part of the Republican party has sought to demonize. His record also includes the nearly universal healthcare coverage imposed by Obama against tooth-and-nail resistance, and his tenacity, against similar resistance, in saving the failing automotive industry.
This Obama is not the enthusiastic communicator of four years ago. He has been unable to bridle the financial powers of Wall Street, which caused the recession, and the attrition of exercising power against a Republican-dominated Congress — as may again happen — has worn away his freshness. But he still has some of his “audacity of hope.” His ideals, his sense of mission and his determination to bring out the best that American society is capable of offering the world, are surely deserving of another four years in the White House.