The United States holds midterm elections every second year. Even when they are concurrent with a presidential poll, congressional and gubernatorial elections are generally seen as a strictly local concern. Yet, this midterm has received as much global attention as a major national election. This was because of two circumstances that attracted an
international audience. One is the fervour and excitement that greeted the election of President Barack Obama and how rapidly he is losing his halo among his own people. The other is that the US is both economically sick and politically unsettled. This has major repercussions globally. Unfortunately the sheer magnitude of the ruling Democratic Party's defeats indicates that Washington will remain the capital of a country in turmoil for some years to come.
There can be little doubt that the Obama administration has suffered a major setback. The Democratic Party's loss of over 60 seats in the House of Representatives is the worst midterm electoral result for a ruling party in 60 years. This means that the US voter used the midterm to serve a
protest against Mr Obama and his party. Polls says that a third of voters say they were casting ballots largely to send a message against their president. Democrats will rightly argue they were the victim of an economic crisis that they inherited. However, it will not be possible for Mr Obama to avoid questions regarding his leadership. The US has faced economic downturns of this size before. And it has been caught in unpopular wars as well. However, Mr Obama seems to have
struggled to be the sort of beacon of hope for his people that Abraham Lincoln or Franklin Delano Roosevelt became during earlier national crises.
Mr Obama has already signalled that he will seek a common ground with the Republicans in the remaining years of his term. This will not be an easy experience for a US president who is remarkable for many things, not least his lack of political and executive experience. However, it is inevitable given the impossibility of waging a two-year partisan war at a time when the US is doing so poorly on so many fronts. It is often said that Bill Clinton became truly presidential only after he was given a thrashing in the 1994 midterm elections. President Obama now has a chance to show his true mettle, to go beyond soaring oratory and deliver the kind of governance that his presidency had promised but never quite delivered.