Barack Obama is an historic figure, the first black president of the United States. But this achievement is a tribute to America, not to Obama. The man is ordinary. He is no Martin Luther King for vision, passion, commitment and articulate power. He won the 2008 democratic primaries because Hillary Clinton lacked strategy beyond Super Tuesday; and he beat John McCain who offered little different from Bush 43 and disastrously chose Sarah Palin as his running mate. Obama's early "soaring rhetoric'' made the liberal left swoon but his speeches were hollow and hackneyed. Compared with Lincoln, Churchill, Eric Williams or Jack Kennedy, they reveal an amateurish pretender to profundity and intellectual impoverishment compared to Naipaul, Lloyd Best or CLR James. "We are the change we've been waiting for," was his best try at poetic heights.
I hope Mitt Romney wins the election. He is also ordinary, but on the American economy and foreign policy, he could make the US stronger and the world more stable.
Obama's economics is democratic socialist, the entitlement society of transfers and dependency, now under question in Europe where governments spend 47 per cent of the GDP. Under him the American economy has worsened with 23 million now unemployed; 46 million poor and on food stamps; the national debt at US$16 trillion; and growth the slowest for any recession since World War II. With a perfunctory nod to small business, Obama's core economic strategy remains increased government spending and taxes on the rich.
In contrast, Romney has a clear five-point plan: energy independence; reducing the debt and deficit; small business expansion; education and research; and reducing taxes on the middle class.
Importantly, as Republican governor of Massachusetts, a Democratic stronghold, Romney demonstrated ability to work across the aisle, indispensable for gridlocked Washington. But Obama remained aloof during four years, and despite an initial super majority in Congress, failed to deliver on campaign promises like immigration and entitlement reforms. He even later ignored his own bi-partisan Simpson-Bowles commission on debt reduction. Federal stimuli was his main economic tool and he spent his first two years on Obamacare, creating a huge role for government in health, discouraging competition in the sector and suppressing economic growth by increasing health insurance for small businesses.
Left-leaning, Obama favours big government—historically wasteful, inefficient and corrupt. But the key to economic growth remains the private initiative and business expansion of free market capitalism. This is at the heart of Romney's economic strategy to make America strong again.
Despite past errors, a strong America remains critical for a safer world. Western civilisation would have disappeared had the US not entered the Second World War.
America weakened the Soviet Union in the arms race and won the cold war under Reagan supported by Margaret Thatcher, Pope John Paul II and Lech Walesa.
We cannot afford four more years of Barack Obama, whose foreign policy, notwithstanding the killing of Bin Laden, has seen American influence diminish and the world a more dangerous place. The Middle East, Iran and Russia have been the focus of an Obama Doctrine, characterised by looseness, placation and naivete. He promised "a new beginning'' with the Islamic world, extending his hand to Iran, believing his smile would suffice to stop its sponsorship of terrorism and development of a nuclear weapon. But he let slip the real chance for change in that country by refusing to identify with the Green Revolution when hundreds of thousands took to the streets.
He completely withdrew from Iraq, leaving it vulnerable to Iranian machinations; and after so much American blood and treasure, squandered the opportunity for the spread of democracy in the Arab world. He announced a fixed timetable for leaving Afghanistan so that Al Qaeda now just has to sit and wait until 2014.
He created "daylight'' between the US and Israel, America's strongest ally in the Middle East, emboldening those who wish to obliterate the Jewish state. He embarked on a "reset'' with Russia and betrayed important central European allies by cancelling a US missile defence system scheduled for Poland and the Czech Republic but strongly opposed by Russia.
Along with a new start treaty, this was supposed to make relations warm, and gain Russian help in halting Iran's nuclear programme. It all collapsed to peals of laughter in Tehran and Moscow. Under the "apologiser-in-chief'', anti-Americanism escalated throughout the Islamic world. American interests have been set on fire; the US ambassador to Libya and three other Americans murdered in Benghazi; and "the black flag of Salafism raised over American embassies in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen and Sudan".
Obama declared "the tide of war is receding." Ridiculous! Civil war has engulfed Syria with 30,000 killed and tensions spreading to Turkey and Lebanon; the Taliban is very alive again in Afghanistan; and Islamists are on the rise in North Africa: Mali, the Maghreb and Egypt. And the Russia "reset''? Putin remains belligerent, provides arms to Syria and has done little to stop Iran's nuclear programme.
Elsewhere, Obama has proven powerless to prevent China manipulating its currency at the expense of global manufacturing; and ineffective as Pakistan continues to harbour terrorists. He has virtually ignored Latin America and the Caribbean.
And, tellingly, in the last debate with Romney, he was competent but "condescending, mean and unpresidential''. Ordinary.
• Ralph Maraj is a former