17 November 2012

New Year in November (Reprise) 十一月的新年(重奏)

Four years ago, I wrote an article titled New Year in November about Barack Obama's historic victory. That's what it felt like  a new beginning, a rebirth  even to a blogger half the world away. Four years flew by in the blink of an eye and the president was up for re-election this month. This time I wanted to be there  in America, in the thick of things. I planned my annual home leave in the second week of November and arrived in New York just days after Hurricane Sandy ravaged the East Coast. Expecting the vote count to last all night, I stocked up on junk food in my hotel room in Midtown Manhattan. I had my laptop showing the electoral map and a calculator to tally the votes. I toggled back-and-forth between CNN and Fox News on the flat-screen TV while posting the latest election results on Facebook. I was a ready for a showdown.

New Year in November (Reprise)

I’m not an American citizen and so I can’t actually vote. Even if I were, my vote wouldn’t have mattered much because New York is what they call a “Blue State,” where residents predominantly vote for the Democratic Party. Under the winner-take-all electoral college system, all of the state’s 29 electoral votes would have gone to Obama regardless which way I would have voted. Since the Bush era, America has become more polarized and adversarial than ever. The political divide between the liberals (“Blue States”) and the conservatives (“Red States”) is so wide that there are even talks of secession. Either side refuses to compromise or acknowledge that their opponents can sometimes be right. This extreme case of partisanship sounds eerily familiar. Here in Hong Kong, the standoff between political movements like People Power (人民力量) and Scholarism (學民思潮) on the one hand, and C.Y. Leung’s government and the pro-Beijing camp on the other hand, turns every policy issue into a binary proposition: my way or the high way. I have always been a staunch liberal and a fervent supporter of the anti-government movement in Hong Kong. These days, I am finding myself increasingly intolerant of dissent and opposing viewpoints. I suppose I am every bit as guilty of partisanship as the political opponents I criticize.

A country polarized

At around 8:15PM on Election Night, after I had barely finished my first Kit Kat bar, NBC News declared Obama the projected winner of Ohio. The 18 electoral votes from the swing state were enough for the president to defeat his Republican challenger Mitt Romney. Just like that, the show was over: Obama had won a second term. I was relieved. For a long time I had been genuinely worried that Obama would lose the race. After all, no U.S. president since Franklin D. Roosevelt has been re-elected with the national unemployment rate above 7%. And the stakes were so much higher this time around. It would have been far worse for Obama to lose the re-election in 2012 than to lose the first election in 2008. In American politics, there is no bigger kick-in-the-teeth than a one-term presidency. Just ask Jimmy Carter and George Bush Senior. If Obama had lost to John McCain four years ago, we would have shrugged it off and told ourselves that America wasn’t ready for a black president. But kicking Obama out of the White House after a single term would have been a whole other matter. It would have been tantamount to telling the world that America is ready for a black president but just that the black guy can’t handle the job. It would have made the country look narrow-minded and small. In a way I was as much rooting for America as I was for Obama.

The Republican Party's top (only?) priority

But Obama didn’t really win the election – it was Romney who lost it. Post-mortems are heavily underway, as the Republican Party scrambles to find out what went wrong. Pundits and political analysts are blanketing the airwaves with their own explanations. To me, the reason for Romney's loss is as plain as day: the Tea Party movement. The weak American economy has fueled the rise of radical conservatism, which in turn has intimidated moderate Republicans into taking more extreme social and political positions. While the GOP speaks of fiscal responsibility and job creation, it seems far more interested in rolling back women’s rights and civil liberties. In the process, the Republicans have alienated women, blacks, Hispanics and other minority voters. The radicalization of the Republican Party troubles many Americans and baffles the rest of the world. Outside the U.S., we wonder how a country progressive enough to elect a black president can allow a bunch of red-neck whack jobs to hijack its national agenda. No wonder tourism in America is down and visitors steer clear of the Red States.

A tea-bagger having a grand old time

With Obama back on the job, all eyes are now on the next election. If my predictions are right, 2016 will see a run-off between Hillary Clinton and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. Clinton has already stepped down as secretary of state to presumably make time for her White House bid. Christie, on the other hand, has been thrust to the national forefront after scoring major political points for his handling of Hurricane Sandy. To increase his odds against the most admired woman in America, the heavy-set WASPy governor will need to lose 100 pounds and learn a little Spanish. I've always wondered why America, a country that revels in political showmanship and invented reality television, doesn't have a first lady debate. It's about time we changed that, starting with Campaign 2016. Imagine the fireworks when Bill Clinton takes on little known Mary Christie on foreign policy in front of tens of millions of viewers. I can't think of a better prime-time entertainment.

The charismatic Chris Christie and his wife Mary

To those who say that Obama has lost his mojo after a lackluster performance in the first presidential debate, look no further than the way he delivered his victory speech on Election Night. He still has plenty of fire in his belly. And to those who say that Western democracy is doomed because of wasteful campaign spending and paralyzing partisanship, look no further than what Obama said in his victory speech. He offered a cogent rebuttal. 

“That’s why we do this,” he explained, “[because] people in distant nations are risking their lives just for a chance to argue about the issues that matter, the chance to cast their ballots like we did today.” 

Obama was talking about us. He was talking about the 1.3 billion Chinese who, just two days ago, were told the names of their new leaders after the National Congress convened behind closed doors. In his first public speech as the new paramount leader, Xi Jinping (習近平) spoke of reform and a better life for the poor. That’s all very kind of Xi, except that not one of us had voted for him.

The new leadership meets the press


This article also appears on SCMP.com under Jason Y. Ng's column "As I See It."

As posted on SCMP.com


  1. Jason,

    No kidding, I just thought that Chris Christie much resembles the main character "Fred Flintstone" (香港譯作「聰明笨伯」), U.S. cartoon series in the 70's. To be frank,I don't know him, would he be the loving husband to his wife, Mary, like Fred to Wilma or would her wife be more intelligent & level-headed than him ? Ha ha, at least, Wilma Flintstone was. Anyhow, he gotta to read "The 4-hour Body" fast to catch up with his weight lost. But, does he really need that weight lost, that's his sign. "Be yourself ,Chris."

    Here comes the first lady debate, Bill Clinton vs Mary Christie. Cool, I like that ! What else ?!


  2. That means Chris Christie looks like John Goodman, which I guess is true.


  3. The Republicans were in denial all the way. Did you see Carl Rove being dressed down by the Fox News anchor? They were on his side all the way, but at least not willfully blind.


  4. " If my predictions are right, 2016 will see a run-off between Hillary Clinton and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. Clinton has already stepped down as secretary of state to presumably make time for her own White House bid. Christie, on the other hand, has been thrust to the natonal forefront after scoring major political points for his handling of Hurricane Sandy."

    To predict that Chris Christie will be the Republican candidate in 2016 implicitly assumes that the GOP will pull itself back from the fanaticism of the Tea Party Movement. This is perhaps far from certain. A civil war within the GOP is brewing in the aftermath their failed bid to reclaim the White House despite the high level of unemployment. Although it is reasonable to assume that the GOP should logically move itself back towards the political centre, it is also not far-fetched that the extremist wing could galvanise itself by attributing the party's loss to a candidate like Romney who is more of a RINO. The solution to find a more "purist" candidate of the Ron Paul type. Should this argument prevail, i am not so sure if Christie will be on the GOP's ticket four years down the road. As the late British PM Harold Wilson had said, "A week is a long time in politics." What's more for four years in this case?


  5. Ross, hopefully Romney's loss will put an end to many radical conservatives' careers.


  6. Adrian,

    Chris Christie is probably the GOP's best chance of reclaiming the White House in 2016. But if the Republican Party wants to put a Ron Paul type on the ticket, that's good news for Hillary.


  7. Jason,

    As of now, this is what the extremists in the GOP are thinking. They took the GOP's control of the House as some sort of vindication and blamed the loss on Romney because to them, he was "who opportunistically had been on both sides of most issues and told people what he thought they wanted to hear, rather than what he believed."

    Where does the Republican Party go from here?

    Whether Christie will eventually be on the GOP's ticket will depend on the outcome of the civil war between Republican moderates and the firebrand fanatics in the Tea Party Movement who increasingly resembles the Red Guards within the Chinese Communist Party during the Cultural Revolution in my opinion.

  8. Interesting ...didnt think about those two running next time...that, and didnt realise u'd be a kitkat kinda guy.


  9. Adrian,

    Thanks for the link. I'm not surprised that Christian Whiton threw Mitt Romney under the bus. Politics is a bare-knuckled sport. But it's scary to hear Whiton say "the two most successful conservatives of the last century were Ronald Reagan and Newt Gingrich." I thought Haynes Johnson's treatise on the Reagan years "Sleepwalking Through History" already settled on his legacy. As for Gingrich, I thought he was declared politically radioactive a few years ago. I thought he was nuked.

    Call me intolerant, but it pains me to read anything in the conservative media.



    1. Haha, I don't read things in the conservative media for information. But Fox News does serve the purpose of giving us a glimpse of what is going in the minds of these people. It's like reading mouthpieces like Wen Wei Po or Ta Kung Po in order to know what the dictators in Zhongnanhai are thinking.


  10. I completely agree about the radical republicans. Both parties have their crazy people it just seems that the Republicans do let the fringe dictate the agenda. Also that one Senator or congressman from Missouri who said something stupid about rape was definitely ill-timed...they just can't help themselves. It is shocking that you don't have to be too bright to be an elected official. If there ever was a time for the Republicans to drop their religious mantra...anti abortion...anti gay rights and focus purely on the economy, this was the year. I think the Republicans will find it even more difficult to win these swing states in the future if they do not change their approach.

    I agree a new party should be created. This party should focus on what 50-70% of most Americans stand for and move the country forward. Not sure why everyone tries to please their base. The base will vote for you regardless. In a two party system the die hards will never vote for the other party so why not try to appeal to the middle right from the start.

    I agree about the 2016 race will be Hillary and Christie. I will be torn as I like them both. I like Christie for speaking his mind and being a standup guy. I don't know much about his policies but on the surface I like him ( I agree he will need to lose 100 pounds). Mark has forecasted a Christie presidency for the past few years.

    I also like Hillary and actually voted for her in the primaries back in 2008 over Obama. Overall I think her image improved as the Secretary of State (except for the Libya fiasco). It would be great to see the first woman president.

    Hopefully in 4 years time the economy will be good and the unemployment rate will be under control and the Congress will get our debt in order. If that is the case I won't care much who is president.


  11. I was surprised that Obama managed to secure enough votes. I got exactly the same feeling as you that he would be able to make it the second time round. I can’t say he has done heaps, but there is something bugging me that Romney is not the man to vote for (and I thought I am not biased… well, well, well…)

    Actually as an irrelevant (n irreverent) aside, I laughed out loud when you mentioned about stocking up on junk food and finishing off your Kit Kat bar, I couldn’t quite associate you with junk food. Gosh, you were even more seasoned than a futures broker or something (no offence). No doubt your years at the investment bank has given you a good grounding in connecting up all the gadgets and monitors and access to air-waves and whatever to obtain first hand information first and foremost. Good on you!

    Well, so is this a global phenomenon, that “[e]ither side refuses to compromise or acknowledge that their opponents can sometimes be right.” and how the same is being played out in Hong Kong. But this shouldn’t be tolerated in any country, least of all in one that prides itself on its “democracy”. One is entitled to one’s own views, but nothing should go too extreme. The difficulty is, against what benchmark should this be gauged? I would have thought part of politics is about arguing for one’s case and compromising with others?!

    [To be cont'd]


  12. I hate to say this pointedly, but you might just be as guilty of partisanship as the political opponents you criticize. But at least you are not blind to this and have the guts to own up to it. I may be hopelessly naïve, but I am an advocate of listening to all sides and arguing it through and arriving at a win-win solution. That means there will be compromises and each side has to give and take. No party can ever say they are right or have the best policy for 101% of the time, right?

    Your prediction of how the people would view America had Obama not been re-elected is true, but I wonder if that would be the whole picture too. Some would definitely propagandized that a black guy can’t handle the job, others may project equally unfathomable reason for his failure to remain in the White House. And ultimately it might depend on how the press blow the whole thing up in whatever hues their prejudice might fancy.

    But in a way, I have to admit that I can’t see Obama has done a lot or made riveting improvements to the States, but same with the Hong Kong Chief Executive, his government came at a time when all the fortunes are turning against him in the States and in the other parts of the world. Massive financial crisis follow natural calamities. One can’t really expect him to be a wizard or a jack-of-all-trades or a savior to the world in these unpredictable times! I can feel that he has tried very hard, but like all bygone dynasties, the aftermath of his “reign” can only be felt / gauged down the history and not immediately at this point in time. Tides are changing as we are writing about this whole event.


  13. Thanks, Christine.

    If Obama looks like he hasn't done much, that's because the Republican-controlled House refuses to compromise. It's difficult to work with a party that has made it its top priority to "make sure that Obama is a one-term president." The GOP is shameless.

    Interestingly enough, People Power is doing EXACTLY the same thing to C.Y. Leung that the Republicans are doing to Obama. People Power is blocking every government bill using filibuster. The key difference between the two situations is that Obama has a mandate (he was democratically elected) and that the Republicans' animosity toward him is driven largely (I believe) by racism. On the other hand, C.Y. Leung has no mandate (he was hand-picked by Beijing) and that People Power's animosity toward him to driven by a sense of social justice.


  14. Jason,

    Brilliant observation. Fully understand the point about the Republican-controlled House point. But it annoyed me that something like that could happen in a country that boasts of its democracy and tolerance and is picking on others like China on it political intolerance. Or is it the case that the game of politics is that narrow-minded wherever it is being played out?

    I have to admit I was and am never a big supporter of People Power, I can see what they are trying to achieve and I agree with that but I beg to differ on some of their means / methods at times. But yep, Obama was elected and CY Leung is just a perpetuation of practically the feudal systems / imperialism before. I may be wrong, but I don't even see Queen Elizabeth II controlling the British society to that degree as CY Leung is doing, blatantly or insidiously. Remember I told you how shocked I was to learn that the national education thing has been so long in the making so we can be burnt on the altar to the gods once he got himself seated on the throne?

    All I can say is, I am relieved (for want of a better word) that Obama was re-elected and I hope the present term fared better than the previous term, but we all have a lot to worry about ourselves right here in HK, and I don't like that threat, consciously or subconsciously playing on my mind constantly.