Election day is finally here, and while one shouldn’t be too sure before the votes are actually counted, it looks very likely that Barrack Obama will be the next American president. That is unfortunate, even though it’s hard to get particularly inspired by his Republican opponent John McCain. At the time of writing, the betting markets are favouring Obama 93 to 7.
To my mind two things stand out, concerning the campaign. One is that the campaign has been unusually long, starting way before the midterm election two years ago. Given the relatively lightweight take on the issues this has been a rather tiring circus to follow, even for someone with my level of interest. On the other hand it does offer a potential benefit — it gives journalists (and others) more time to take an in depth look at the candidates and press them on the various issues. Which brings us to point two: the media’s infatuation with one of the candidates. Journalists tending to prefer the Democratic candidate is one thing, but the stubborn refusal to take a closer look at Obama’s claims and proposals have been embarrassing and — if part of a trend — potentially dangerous to the democratic institutions. Harold Evans wrote well about it in the Guardian, a few days ago.
What about the effects of electing Obama rather than McCain? As is often the case, I believe the differences would be smaller than people expect, in spite of the fact that the next president would face a Congress controlled by Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid (both Democrats). Presidents, as well as Congressmen, like to be re-elected, so in spite of their ambitions they tend to be relatively risk-averse and reluctant to big changes. Still some things would obviously differ, and in those lie the reasons for my preference for McCain.
- Foreign policy. The area where many of Obama’s supporters are expecting the biggest changes, and also the area where they are most likely to be disappointed. Pragmatic considerations will probably underpin both Obama’s and McCain’s decisions. Both would take most of the troops out of Iraq as the situation remains relatively stable, although the rhetoric would differ. Both would have to strengthen the force in Afghanistan. Both would face a similar level of resistance from other countries, whether Europeans, Russians and Chinese. Obama would be quick to learn that the dislike of America had little to do with Bush after all.
- Economic policy. Here the difference would likely be bigger. Obama would be able to move towards a more redistributive system (one might say Social Democratic or Socialist), with his (slightly hidden) tax increases and increased government handouts. McCain, facing a hostile Congress, would have to compromise, with the likely outcome being status quo.
- Trade policy. This is the most important and potentially harmful one. With McCain, we would see the current trade agreements upheld, and potentially new ones signed (with Latin American countries) although those would be tough to get through the Senate. With Obama the U.S. would take a more protectionist turn, perhaps including some tinkering with the current agreements, and certainly with no new ones signed. Higher trade barriers towards countries like China would also be more likely. All in all this would substantially harm both American consumers (that is, Americans in general) and people all over the world trying to sell their goods to the U.S.
Tomorrow we will know. When all the results are in I will post a comparison with the state by state predictions I made, in which I picked McCain as the slight winner just before the candidates chose their VP candidates.