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Obama vs McCain: Clash of the Non-Titans?
I would normally have shied away from commenting about the forthcoming US presidential elections...

5 October   |   2008   |   Subject  Middle East & North Africa (MENA)

... After all, I am neither a US citizen nor do I live or work in that country, and it is primarily up to the Americans to write about their own elections. However, as the huge financial woes, frightening credit crunches and expensive bail-outs facing this vast country have shown us, what happens in the USA still very much affects the rest of our world.

So let me share with you few elemental thoughts from across our side of the pond, from our little European continent of ‘old’ or ‘new’, fully aware that the jury is still out regarding the outcome of the elections next month. But as it happens, I consider this to be a most critical election when America will at long last face up to some hard questions about its energy resources, the role of government, domestic & foreign politics and the nexus between justice & freedom.

I would therefore briefly suggest that the four overarching themes affecting the political discourse in the USA are those of war, race, religion and wealth. The first war theme largely affects questions about Iraq versus Afghanistan. The second race theme focuses on the possible election of an African American president. The third religion theme looks at Obama's roots in the black church and its impact on him in contrast to the vocal Midwestern evangelical rump. Finally, the fourth wealth theme matters immensely because the USA is bound to question its future consuming habits, its sharing of global resources and even its financial ideologies and markets.

Today, with the shifting polls, it is not inconceivable that either Senators McCain or Obama could win the election next month. Moreover, and Obama's contrived Kennedy-unlike performance in Berlin last summer notwithstanding, Europe also remains ambivalent about both candidates. But without being trite about it, I can subscribe to the maxim that this is an election for the Democrats to lose - rather than for the Republicans to win.

Having watched Obama's performance in the first debate, and now with the introduction of Governor Sarah Palin as McCain's running mate, I have often been puzzled not only by Obama's lack of clarity, verve and forcefulness of views, but his professorial attitude to the whole campaign - a Harvard lecturer who bends back while bull terriers with ‘another’ political message snap at his ankles.

Obama talks about serious philosophical principles - individualism, mutuality, community, common purpose -but seems almost too afraid to punch his views through in case he miscalculates their compass! As we often say here in the UK, where is the fire in his belly? Or is it simply not there, and he is a sham? Now is the time for him to avoid ‘doing a Kerry’ and to articulate his views with courage and conviction so that he might become the vessel that lifts up the hopes not only of African Americans but also of other undecided communities.

After all, there are many clear differences between the 2:4 candidates running on those two tickets - all the way from the environment to Pakistan. Yet here is Palin who would make the incumbent look almost a Socialist in comparison with her views. It is perhaps sobering to think of the actuarial rates that - if elected to the highest office - she of the alternate language universe could be a heartbeat away from the presidency and end up becoming the 45th US president. Are Americans ready for her minus McCain, assuming they are ready for her with McCain?

I might be quite wrong: unlike Palin’s woeful interview with Katie Couric of CBS News, the vice-presidential debate last week between the two candidates was most interesting for its blandness even though Biden exhibited a command of facts whilst Palin succeeded with her populist approach. True, Biden also confused Syria for Hizbullah and Palin lost the plot when it came to climate change. But what truly unsettled me above all else was Palin’s lack of recognition on how profoundly Vice President Dick Cheney has defied the constitutional checks and balances on the Executive and in the process defeated democracy by pushing forward his menagerie of power spins. Just pause for a minute to scan his legacy: a war with Iraq, weapons of mass destruction, illegal prison camps, illegal wiretapping and an energy policy that favoured the oil industry and the rich. For her to ignore those points in the cheerful format of an Alaskan happy-go-lucky down-to-earth hockey-mum attitude does not wash down well - at least in our neck of the political woods. To paraphrase the historian Simon Schama, her extrovert patriotism is not a far cry away from her introvert jingoism.

What about the Middle East? Well, the region has begun to understand at long last that what impacts the US decision-making process is not so much a function of the person sitting behind the Oval Office desk and whether he is fairer or more balanced in his approach to the region. What matters is the small business of US interests. Therefore, put bluntly, it is by changing interests, not agonising over personalities, that one could perhaps also begin to introduce a change in decision-making processes and ultimately decisions too.

Let me make another bold statement: the odds today could well have been different today had different choices been made for both the presidential and vice-presidential nominees. Yet, America remains a great democracy and an exemplar for other countries. What its voters - you - from the swing states to the more solid ones, decide next month will affect not only your gasoline prices, or the fate of the polar bears, but also the fragile fate of your whole country and much of our global world too from Iraq to Afghanistan and pretty much everything else in-between.

May God bless America and us all: I trust you will tick the right box for the right man or woman?

Good luck!

© Dr Harry Hagopian   |   2008   |   5 October


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