| 4.7°C Dublin

An astounding victory, but now a cliff lies ahead

US PRESIDENT Barack Obama's victory means his economic vision is still alive and about to drive the political conversation with his adversaries. The legacy of Obama's first term is safe and enshrined to history.

Obama will push for higher taxes on the wealthy as a way to shrink a choking debt and to steer money toward the programmes he wants. He will try to land a massive financial deficit-cutting deal with Congress in the coming months and then move on to an immigration overhaul, tax reform and other bipartisan dreams.

He will not have to worry that his healthcare law will be repealed, or that his Wall Street reforms will be gutted, or that his name will be consigned to the list of one-term presidents.

Yet big honeymoons don't come twice and Republicans won't swoon. And if Obama cannot end gridlock in Washington, his second term will be reduced to veto threats, empty promises, end runs around Congress and legacy-sealing forays into foreign lands.

For now, he can revel in knowing what he pulled off.


Obama won despite an economy that sucked away much of the nation's spirit. He won with the highest unemployment rate -- at 7.9pc -- for any incumbent since the Great Depression of the 1930s. He won even though voters said they thought Romney would be the better choice to end stalemate in Washington.

He won even though a huge majority of voters said they were not better off than they were four years ago -- a huge test of survival for a president.

The reason is that voters wanted the president they knew. They believed convincingly that Obama, not Romney, understood their woes of college costs and insurance bills and sleepless nights. Exit polls showed that voters viewed Obama as the voice of the poor and the middle class, and Romney as tilting toward the rich.

The voice of the voter came through from 42-year-old Bernadette Hatcher in Indianapolis, who voted after finishing a night shift.

"It's all about what he's doing," she said. "No one can correct everything in four years."

Romney never broke through as the man who would secure people's security and their dreams, though he was close.

"I mean, I looked," said Tamara Johnson of Apex, North Carolina, a 35-year-old mother of two young children. "I didn't feel I got the answers I wanted or needed to hear."

The election was never enthralling, and it was fought for far too long with negative ads and silly comments. It seemed like the whole country endured it until the end, when the crowds grew and the candidates reached for their most inspiring words. "Americans don't settle. We build, we aspire, we listen to that voice inside that says 'We can do better'," Romney pleaded toward that end. Americans agreed. They just wanted Obama to take them there.

Incumbents get no transition, so Obama will be tested immediately.

A "fiscal cliff" of expiring tax cuts and automatic budget cuts looms on January 1. If they kick in, economists warn the economy will tank, again. Obama, at least, won the right to fight the fight on his terms.