This is the stage at which you would expect people to start to rally behind the incumbent, to stick with what they know, and to decide that Obama may not have been as dazzling as he promised, but he has been far from disastrous and deserves another term. It is Romney, therefore, who needs to show something extra – and I suggest that extra ingredient is a sudden flash of global statesmanship, a surprising and gratifying awareness of the granular detail of American foreign policy.
Look at the world, rather than Ohio, and there is nothing remotely close about this race. If the population of the planet were allowed to vote on its most powerful political post, Obama would win by a landslide. According to a recent study by UPI polling, Obama has support running at an amazing 90 cent in France, and he is almost as huge throughout the rest of Europe. Denmark, Finland, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, and, yes, the UK – we are all apparently firmly in the Obama camp, with about 70 per cent support. The incumbent would romp home in Australia, China, Latin America, Canada, Mexico, and virtually the entire Middle East. He would win in 31 out of 32 countries, in fact, and the only nation to come out quite strongly in favour of Romney is – as you may perhaps have guessed – Israel.
The reasons for this are intuitively obvious. The world as a whole is leery of Republican foreign policy, because it is associated – rightly or wrongly – with a general willingness to bomb Middle Eastern countries. The yellow-bellied world has listened carefully to what Mitt Romney has to say about Iran, and decided – rightly or wrongly – that it sounds worrying. In Israel, of course, they have listened to Mr Romney’s talk of military action against Iran and think that it sounds very positive.
Now, Romney can respond to this in two ways. He can take it as a badge of honour that the world so clearly favours Obama; indeed, he could stress that he will be a president for Americans and not for foreigners. Or else he could say something that shows America is listening. He could show that America is not the arrogant hyperpower her enemies suggest, but a country that understands her place in the comity of nations, a country that is willing to muck in, a country that is willing – in the immortal words of President J F Kennedy – to pay any price, to bear any burden in the cause of reconciliation.
Mitt needs a last-minute symbolic act of American humility and goodwill, and the one I propose is relatively painless. He doesn’t need to sign up to the International Criminal Court, or the Kyoto Protocol on climate change. He doesn’t have to close a single military base, and he doesn’t have to resile one bit from America’s amazing and arrogant doctrines of extra-territoriality on everything from extradition to personal taxation.
With one small but significant stroke he can outflank Obama on the environment and stand shoulder to shoulder with the majority of the world’s law-abiding nations, from Sweden to Kuwait to Brazil. He can abandon the flagrantly illegal stance of previous US administrations, and do the right thing by the hard-pressed London motorist.
Romney should announce now – just as those febrile Ohioans are making up their mind on that secondary but still important question of whether or not the Republican will bring reassurance around the world – that as soon as he sits down behind that desk in the Oval Office, he will sign the order for all American diplomatic vehicles in London to pay the congestion charge. He will instantly write a cheque for the fines that US vehicles have incurred, now standing at more than £7 million, in the course of about 61,000 infractions since the scheme began. And if he does, Mitt will have my support.
Mind you, I would support Obama if he did the same.