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Sunday 7 November 2010

* Uppity Obama left shellacked by angry brigade

US voters are far from happy, as the midterm results reveal, writes Ruth Dudley Edwards

The US midterm elections were bad news for all the key players. No one should rejoice. In America as in Britain, and as will be in Ireland, citizens voted in anger not enthusiasm. In Western democracies, few people like politicians these days.

For President Obama it was, as he put it himself, a shellacking. His party has lost a slew of governorships as well as control of the House of Representatives and has a tiny majority in the Senate. For a proud man, it's hard to bear, and he did not conduct himself well in his press conference despite his attempts to feign humility. He persists in believing that the problem is that the White House failed to communicate to the voters what a wonderful job his administration is doing. It's not. The problem is that he believes in 'Big Government' and a majority of Americans don't, which is part of the reason they feel so alienated from him. His distant, superior manner doesn't help.

When in 1994, to Bill Clinton's consternation, the Democrats lost both houses of Congress the canny president tacked so fast to the centre that he wrong-footed the Republicans and was re-elected two years later. Obama says he'll be prepared to compromise, but being more principled than Clinton there's little chance of him fundamentally changing direction. Gridlock beckons. As does trouble in his party between disenchanted liberals and Democratic dealmakers. For Congressman John Boehner, future Speaker of the House of Representatives, who is notorious for bursting into tears publicly, there are plenty of problems ahead to make him cry. Should he, as the Republican right want, try to destroy Obama's legislative programme and have the party perceived as wreckers? Should he try to initiate radical legislation to shrink the state that he knows will fail in the senate or be vetoed by the president?

Or should he try to steer a moderate course which achieves some Republican objectives but disappoints all those who believe they've come to Washington to change politics? And then there's the Tea Party, which notched up failures as well as successes. Its heroine, Sarah Palin, had thrown her weight behind several candidates whom the electorate repudiated. Among the Mama Grizzlies who didn't make it was Carly Fiorina, ex-CEO of Hewlett Packard -- having taken a pro-life position to win the Republican nomination, she lost out in the liberal state of California to the incumbent pro-choice senator, Barbara Boxer.

African-American Star Parker did badly in her bid for a Congress seat because her impassioned pleas for self-reliance failed to tempt black voters away from the Democrats. Christine O'Donnell was perceived as so off-the-wall that she lost for the Republicans the Delaware seat that should have been a certain gain. Still, Nikki Haley -- who wants Obama's health-care bill overturned -- is now Governor-Elect of Southern California; Mary Fallin, who is an evangelist for the right to bear arms, is Governor-Elect of Oklahoma; and Susana Martinez, who is tough on immigration, won the New Mexico governorship on a ticket of being tough on immigration.

Palin has released a video featuring much flag-waving and Tea-Party jubilation which pays special attention to Haley, of Sikh Indian immigrant background; Susana Martinez, Latina; Congressman-Elect Tim Scott, of South Carolina, the first black Republican to win in the Deep South since the Civil War; and Marco Rubio, a Cuban-American who will be senator for Florida, and who is being tipped as a future president.

Palin may be a populist but she's politically shrewd and she's determined to counter the image peddled by the liberal media of the Tea Party as a bunch of white, racist bigots.

Palin is throwing her hat in the presidential ring for 2012, but whether she thinks she really could win or merely wants to be a king or queen-maker is unclear. Much will depend on how the Tea Party candidates perform in Washington. Ideally, they should learn the business of legislating without becoming absorbed in to the establishment and becoming another group for electors to turn on.

Obama can't be beaten in 2012 unless Republicans unite behind a talent. If they have any sense, they'll seriously consider Mitch Daniels -- governor of Indiana since 2005, George W Bush's director of the office of management and budget, has served on the National Security Council, and as governor has been fiscally responsible and efficient. He also visits every part of his enormous fiefdom on his motorbike, sits in diners with whoever happens to be there and understands how Americans think.

He lacks charisma and is only 5ft 6in, but, by 2012, Americans might be fed up with visionaries and ready for an ordinary guy. Anyhow, I'm going to put a tenner on him.

* I didn't write this headline and I'm sure the person who did was not aware of the connotations of the word 'uppity' when applied to an African-American.

Ruth Dudley Edwards

© Ruth Dudley Edwards