NEW YORK – Capping high levels of anticipation and excitement for the results of the 2012 U.S. presidential elections, Democratic incumbent Barack Obama secured a second term in office.
“I return to the White House more determined and inspired than ever,” said Obama, America’s 44th president, in his victory speech that was broadcast from Chicago after midnight local time.
Recounting the tough presidential race, the president stated that democracy “in a country of 300 million can be noisy, messy, and complicated.”
It was fascinating to observe the American elections from the perspective of an outsider, and especially someone who has covered the political transition in Tunisia as a journalist. I was keenly aware and appreciative of aspects in the U.S. presidential election that Americans take for granted.
I, as a Tunisian, could not help but compare political behaviors in the long-established democracy of the U.S. and a fragile nascent democracy like Tunisia’s. Naturally, there is not a strong electoral tradition in Tunisia after decades of fake elections. Tunisians grew frustrated with and disinterested in election charades in which the president would win more than 90% of the votes.
By contrast, the American elections have several pre-electoral practices that encourage voter awareness and participation.
One American tradition in U.S. political campaigns that I believe holds great importance are the debates in which the candidates come together to tackle, discuss, and argue over their respective stances and visions on an array of issues.
During the first presidential debate on October 3, the importance that Americans ascribe to the debates was evident to me. That night, some areas of New York city seemed deserted as people were watching the debate. While some watched it with friends in their homes, others gathered in bars to tune in to the debate. I recall an amusing scene that followed when a customer asked the bartender to change the TV channel to one that is known for its Republican leaning. Apart from spontaneous gatherings, political parties and other organizations even held their own special events during the debate nights.
It is believed that the debates play a major role in shaping public opinion and allowing independent and undecided voters to better understand the political orientation of the candidates.
In the end, it appears Obama was better able to connect with the concerns of the voters.
In his victory speech, Obama reiterated his commitment to fulfill the people’s aspirations, provide more jobs, and enable American children to access better schools.
Obama said that he will keep cherishing a “generous, compassionate, and tolerant America” that will not be “weakened by inequality.”
During the anticipation of the 2012 election results, many people – mainly Obama supporters – gathered in Times Square in front of ABC Studios and were following closely and impatiently the ongoing vote count across different states.
For some, news of Obama’s reelection unleashed a pang of joy.
David and Alex, a gay couple, expressed their conviction that Obama, an outspoken advocate of gay marriage, will defend their rights more vigorously during his second term.
I encountered Ashley, a 23 year-old African American girl, who was holding a sign with the inscribed statement AFRICAMERICA RULES THE WORLD, on the night of Obama’s victory. She said that the reelection of America’s first ever black president meant that in the U.S. the sky is the limit. Ashley expressed optimism for the future and believes Obama will work hard on advancing the socio-economic status of African Americans, and racial minorities in general.
Others responded more tepidly to what a second term will bring.
A few blocks away from Times Square, optimism seemed to be fading when I ran into Hamid, who works nightshifts in a deli. Hamid, an American citizen who is the son of an immigrant, said he did not cast his ballot.
“The system here is deeply rooted. Neither Obama nor even superman will change anything in this country, or in this world full of injustices,” desperately deplored Hamid.
Obama is expected to take on major domestic issues, such as unemployment and universal health care. The rest of the world, namely the Middle East, is hopeful that the U.S. will play a more active role in promoting the Palestinian-Israeli peace process as well as halting the bloodshed in Syria.