Both Barack Obama and John McCain stand for change. Yet despite months of electioneering the nature of that change, whoever becomes President, remains unclear.
With George Bush’s approval ratings, the surprise of the current Presidential election is that Barack Obama is not leading by a far greater margin. The Republican Party is fighting the prospect of losing the Presidential election and perhaps also in both Houses of Congress.
It is a testimony to the strength of character of John McCain and the level of trust and admiration for the man that he has stayed in the race. Polls have been wrong before, and the margins at the weekend before the Presidential election are close enough for McCain to be positive.
That said, it is more than likely that Obama will win on Tuesday. On that day, and with hindsight, the Democrats will congratulate themselves on making the right choice. That will remain to be proven by Obama in Office. Certainly, he won the Democratic nomination by appealing to the Democrat grassroots, more liberal (left) than the overall Democrat registered voter who largely backed Hilary Clinton. In the course of the Presidential campaign he has been more centrist, as far as we can tell.
Will Obama be the pragmatic President or go with the liberal flow, particularly if both Houses of Congress are controlled by Democrats? We don’t know. Despite the huge election spend and thousands of miles travelled on the campaign trail, Obama has stuck to a simple constant message that gives little about the future conduct of President Obama.
Obama has been criticised for keeping the press at bay and controlling a very disciplined campaign. That would be wrong. His team understands that political victory does not happen because you are right, but because you have a message that connects with people and (even more importantly) because you are better organised than your opponent.
If both candidates have offered change, what makes the more inexperienced and relatively unknown quality of Barack Obama more popular? Both represent how Americans would like to believe themselves to be. John McCain represents the brave, redoubtable spirit of ‘never say die’. He is an independent spirit, someone who does what is right rather than what is popular and someone prepared to stand up to vested interests, even those of his own Party.
And yet. John McCain’s heroism is of another war. As the Iraqi ‘surge’ pushes the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan out of the headlines, and the battle for economic recovery is more pressing, John McCain’s strengths seem not to be for this era.
Instead it is Barack Obama who represents the moment. America is a ‘can do’ society. There is a belief that anyone can achieve success, no matter their background and no matter their start in life. It matters to America what others think of them: that it appears President Bush has made America unpopular abroad. It matters, equally, that Barack Obama is highly regarded overseas, which was seen to be demonstrated in Berlin – check out the Economist world poll, which reflects that goodwill. Obama aspires, inspires and, because of war and the economy, he is the man who at this moment most completely represents the American Dream. At this point in time, he represents what America wants to believe about itself and what it can achieve.
John McCain might very possibly be a great American President. It is not his time. The Republican Party needs to look at what McCain has achieved in this election, to the electorate he has reached outside the core Republican vote, and to the messages on which he has built his support. John McCain will not have lost the Presidential election, Barack Obama will have resolutely won.
If the Republican Party does not understand the desire of Americans for a change in their political process then it will be the biggest loser on Tuesday 4 November. While Sarah Palin might reassure the core Republican vote, that vote would not in itself elect John McCain, nor will it save Republicans from losing Congressional seats. A mean spirited Republican Party out to punish Democrats for their victory will only end up proving its own unelectability. The Republican Party needs to understand this for its own sake and to ensure that it holds Barack Obama to his message of reaching out across America to build the future, especially as it remains unclear what sort of future that will be.
Even if Democrats take Congress, House of Representatives and Senate, Obama will have been more than a significant part of that success. He be in a position to lead Congress, not follow. He will, in his own right, hold the mandate to fulfil the hopes and dreams of the American people. He will be able to shape America to his own ideal, whatever that is. Along with the American electorate we must all hope that an Obama Presidency will bring ‘change we can believe in’.