Fran O'Sullivan: US needs the change Romney is promising

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Obama no longer the poster boy for policies to turn country around.

Mitt Romney is a proven man of action. Photo / AP
Mitt Romney is a proven man of action. Photo / AP

Five days to a new United States president. Or four more years of a political rock star whose election as America's first black President has not delivered on his slogan - "the audacity of hope".

It is no surprise that Americans fell for the dream Democratic candidate in 2008. He was sexy, cool, young, hip and black.

Obama Girl - the slightly risque video of a model rising seductively from the waves to lip-sync "I've got a crush on Obama" - went viral fully one year before the presidential election. Amber Lee Ettinger was a political hottie, but no one in their right mind would have imagined Republican candidate John McCain as a heart throb.

This was evidenced when the easily seduced Nobel committee awarded Obama the Nobel Peace Prize "for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and co-operation between peoples" just one year into his presidency.

But being blessed with an extraordinary oratorical gift - and the backing of a superbly orchestrated internet-based campaign - does not make for a great presidency.

Four years ago I questioned if Obama's victory was really the seismic shift in American politics that it was cracked up to be.

Obama was indeed a stark contrast to outgoing President George Bush. But his relatively short road to the White House was the easiest part of his journey. The President-elect had raised expectations that he would find difficult to meet given the huge challenges facing the US economy - how to deleverage an economy which has floated for so long on a sea of debt and how to keep faith with voters while having to disappoint them.

So, it has proven to be.

Obama bailed out profligate US banks which have since thrown that goodwill back into the face of hard-pressed American taxpayers by once again lining their own pockets with the proceeds of unmitigated greed.

But Obama has not thrown the money-lenders from the temple. They are part of the belt and braces of his own presidency. Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke has pumped the US financial system with billions of dollars of "printed money". But the fiscal cliff is looming and there are no signs that Obama will be able to gain sufficient bipartisan support to rapidly move the US Government's finances back into the black.

The mere fact that Mitt Romney has overcome the negative factor of having made his own stupendous wealth as a private equity jock to erode Obama's support over the course of the election campaign proves the point.

Romney is not an overwhelming Republican candidate.

The hard numbers give the lie to some of his fiscal promises, but Romney has built much more than a beachhead during the past few weeks.

The reality is that during the global financial crisis, Americans have been in the trenches. Jobs are finally increasing. But the economy has been a wretched place.

The United States no longer bestrides the world like the colossus of the past. It is still a superpower. But it is no longer the world's sole superpower. China is rapidly laying claim to equal status.

The US is at least no longer seen as a "rogue nation" - Obama should take credit for that.

But mere rhetoric will not save the day for Americans.

Their nation - like ours - has considerable hard yards ahead. Disgorging the huge debt the US Government has taken on to bail out Wall Street, fund the Iraq and Afghanistan incursions and yet still sustain public services at a level Americans cannot afford will be a vast challenge for whoever occupies the White House after next week's election.

Before Hurricane Sandy, I would have given the race outright to Romney.

His record is one of a man of action. Americans need such an approach in the White House. It is true that he has been guilty of hyping expectations - all candidates do that.

But Sandy blew Romney off the front pages and off the lead items on the television bulletins. Obama was suddenly out front again.

Both candidates are now working over the swing states.

Romney is positioning himself as the candidate for change. And America does need to change. Personally, I would like to see a change.

But the ill wind has blown Obama a great deal of good.

If that wind blows him back to the White House this coming week he has some hard work ahead of him. America no longer has a crush on Obama.


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- NZ Herald

Fran O'Sullivan

A columnist for the NZ Herald

Fran O'Sullivan has written a weekly column for the Business Herald since its inception in April 1997. In her early journalistic career she was a political journalist in Wellington and subsequently an investigative journalist who broke many major business stories including the first articles that led to the Winebox Inquiry in both NBR and the Sydney Morning Herald. She has specific expertise in relation to China where she has been a frequent visitor since the late 1990s. She is a former Editor of the National Business Review; has twice been awarded Qantas Journalist of the Year and is a multiple winner of the Westpac Financial Journalism Supreme Award.

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