Reading about the upcoming US elections, I was reminded suddenly of the choices facing Americans in a much earlier election, that of 1828 – an election that ended the one-term presidency of John Quincy Adams and resulted in the rapid unravelling under Andrew Jackson, his successor, of the American System designed to improve the US economy. The work of the Adams administration required a longer time span to achieve its aims, and didn’t get it. In retrospect, Adams’s presidency appears as a blip in American history, and has been seen by historians (and also by himself at the time) as a failure. What would have happened if that close election of 1828 had been won by Adams instead of lost?
I have the feeling that Obama’s reforms, hindered as they have been by the checks and balances built into the US constitution, by the financial crisis and recession that hit just as he began his term, and also by blinkered right-wing obturacy in some quarters, need that extra time – another presidential term – too. We have not yet seen the best of Obama, whose scholarly and lawyerly reasonableness and desire for consensus sits ill with the adversarial and visceral politics that he has had to contend with, and I hope very much that US voters will give him chance of a second term. I would prefer to see him bring the best he can offer his country to the role of Chief Executive, not to some lesser capacity as Adams was forced to do, brilliant though the latter’s post-presidential career was. To those outside the USA, to waste Obama’s talents by rejecting him and choosing Mitt Romney in his place would be a mistake whose enormity we would find hard to understand.
The election process creaks, undoubtedly, with its electoral colleges that can run counter to the popular vote, to the detriment of US democratic credentials, and the swing states have too much power. I think the system is out of date and needs changing. But we will put up with swing states and electoral colleges, if they deliver an Obama victory. Then perhaps we will see an Obama unleashed, unfettered, able to lead as perhaps only he can. A good start has been made. America, don’t throw it way.