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UPDATED: December 1, 2014 NO. 49 DECEMBER 4, 2014
Mid-Term Misfortune
Barack Obama strives for a sound legacy
By An Gang

Preparing for 2016

In face of an uncooperative Congress, Obama is more concerned about how best to capitalize on his remaining two years in office—to leave his historical legacy. Overcoming the political impasse should, however, be the focus of discourse in the society. The end of history, a thesis put forward by Francis Fukuyama, lamented that the United States has entered an unprecedented institutional crisis in that Americans not only need strong leadership, but also need to reform the political structure and related laws, in order to reduce the use of the veto and simplify decision-making procedures.

However, politicians have already turned their eyes to the 2016 presidential election instead of reflecting on the institutional system. The Republicans that triumphed in the mid-term election believe they have a great opportunity to regain the White House in just two years. In fact, the record of winning three consecutive presidential elections by the same political party has happened only once in the past sixty years. In 1988, the GOP candidate George Bush followed the Republican President Ronald Reagan, who had been in office for eight years, to become the 41st U.S. president.

The GOP's problem is that the party has not found a powerful enough figure. There are a dozen potential candidates circulating within the U.S. politics and media, the most promising of whom is former governor of Florida, Jeb Bush, who is also the son of former President George Bush and brother of former President George W. Bush.

Other Republicans that have shown presidential ambitions include New Jersey Governor Christopher J. Christie, Texas Senator Ted Cruz, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, Florida Senator Marco Rubio, as well as Representative Paul Ryan of Wisconsin. After the GOP takes control of Capitol Hill, these potential presidential candidates will intensify their efforts to challenge for the White House. In addition, it also cannot be ruled out that Mitt Romney, the Republican presidential candidate in 2012, will make another run at the presidency.

Another problem for the GOP is its vague political message. The neo-conservatism, ultra-conservatism and moderate-conservatism views within the party are conflicting with each other. It is very hard for the party to raise persuasive, attractive and integrative reformist platforms that can meet the current social demands of the United States. After the mid-term election, ultra-conservative Tea Party members proposed the GOP to focus on the abolition of Obama's healthcare reform, while Republican congressional leaders disagreed.

But for the Democrats, the party is pinning its 2016 hopes on Hilary Clinton and pushing most of its resources to this former secretary of state. During the mid-term election campaign, Clinton traveled to 18 states to support the Democrats. The Washington Post claimed that with the GOP taking control of Capitol Hill, Clinton mustn't invest more efforts on emphasizing her policy differences with Obama, noting that she is a real winner of the mid-term election. Clinton may announce her run for the 2016 presidential election at the end of this year or the beginning of 2015.

The gradual deepening of the "political polarization" in the United States has taken the society far off the track of consultation and compromise. Almost every GOP member declares himself a conservative, while all Democrats identify as liberals, and they only vote along party lines. The moderate center—conservative Democrats and liberal Republicans—has collapsed.

In the 2016 presidential election, the candidate who can persuade voters that he or she is capable to do the job will win. Clinton, who showed her diligence serving as secretary of state in the Obama administration, was probably making early preparations for the presidential contest.

China policy

Generally speaking, U.S. presidents who lose support of the Congress achieve little on domestic issues in their remaining terms, and are likely to turn to foreign affairs. The Obama administration may choose to focus on negotiations on the Middle East peace process and the Iranian nuclear issue, mastering the situation concerning the U.S.-Russia confrontation, as well as steering the Pivot-to-Asia strategy—its most important diplomatic legacy.

Shortly after the mid-term election, Obama flew to Beijing to attend the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Economic Leaders' Meeting and paid a state visit to China from November 8 to 10. Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping confirmed the consensus on building a new type of major-country relationship. Obama also reiterated that the United States welcomes China's peaceful development and has no intention of containing China.

The Obama administration needs China's cooperation on many international issues. Obviously, the Obama administration cannot separate the United States' China policy from its Asia-Pacific strategy. On the contrary, the Obama administration will probably develop a stable and steady U.S.-China relationship rationally based on its own national interests. But the Sino-U.S. relationship is still full of risks and challenges in the next two years. Therefore, it will continue to test the wisdom and patience of the leaders of the two countries in how to deal with the unavoidable strategic contradictions between them.

The author is an op-ed contributor to Beijing Review

Email us at: yanwei@bjreview.com

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