The Daily Telegraph

By Piers Akerman

IT MAY be that US President Barack Obama made the most honest and most hopeful remark of his life yesterday when he told his cheering supporters: “The best is yet to come.”

For the record shows his first term in office was a shocker.

Anything should be better but there is no certainty with Obama as the rising debt and unemployment levels in the US demonstrate.

Certainly, Obama is to be congratulated on his victory, and his clever politics.

But though he took the necessary electoral college votes his popular support has waned.

He controls the Senate but not the House.

The US is a nation divided at a time when unity is needed.

The division is basic – it is essentially the divide between socialism and capitalism.

Obama is the socialist, Romney was arch-capitalist.

The issue which most divided voters was not the extravagantly expensive healthcare system but wealth redistribution.

Obama believes that those who do not contribute to the national wealth should be entitled to a larger share of the benefits of hard work.

He has grown the entitlement rolls, he has increased the numbers of those who believe they are owed a living.

And they voted for him to continue the gravy train.

Sydney University US Studies Centre academic Michael Ondaatje summed up the situation when he said the United States of America might best be called the Divided States of America.

The popular vote has been virtually split down the middle. So much for bipartisanship, Dr Ondaatje said.

Bates Gill, the new CEO of the centre, said he was slightly pessimistic about America’s near-term economic prospects.

It’s possible that America could grow itself out of this, but the economy could continue to be a drag and for Australia that’s a real concern in the near term, said Professor Gill.

He said Obama faced extreme difficulties without a serious mandate.

He faces continuing divisive politics, a divided Congress and a divided America, Prof Gill said.

David Weisbrot, professor of legal studies at the centre, warned: “If the US economy tanks any further it could have a deep effect on Australia.”

That view was supported by Prof Gill, who said despite Australia’s shift of focus from the US to Asia, the US was still the biggest investor in Australia, by a factor of five.

“So don’t write us off as your economic partner,” he said.

Even Treasurer Wayne Swan, who is in Washington for talks with the US Treasury, acknowledged that Obama will have to deal almost immediately with the so-called “fiscal cliff” to prevent the US economy reeling into recession early next year and dragging the rest of the world with it.

Automatic tax increases and spending cuts are scheduled to come in at the beginning of next year, which could see a recession in the US economy if left unattended.

“That would have a dramatic impact and flow-on effect to the global economy, and in turn would impact on Australia,” Swan said.

The best is yet to come is a first-term president’s promise, not that for a second-termer to make.

But when your first term has been disastrous you can only hope, and Obama can really only offer hope.