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The Changing Face of Uncle Sam

The U.S. Presidential election rolls around every four years but by the time Americans actually go to the polls next month, both candidates will have been campaigning for nearly half that time. Maybe that’s because this time around, there’s a lot to be talking about. America has involved itself in two major wars in the Middle East, and the current financial crisis has seen the value of American savings and house prices plummet. On top of that, the new bailout package, though promising repayment, has sent the Federal deficit (the American government’s debt) through the $10 trillion mark. Times look bad for the United States. As we have seen with British contributions to the military effort in the Middle East and the financial crisis going global, what happens in the U.S. clearly has a gargantuan impact in the U.K. and the rest of the world.

What happens in the U.S. clearly has a gargantuan impact in the U.K. and the rest of the worldThe primary campaigns that have absorbed the past two years have seen some historic political feats. While John McCain clinched the Republican nomination early on, the tussle between Senators Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton became a Civil Rights dream. Either a black man or a woman would win the presidential nomination of a major party for the first time in the nation’s history. The fight was long and arduous and for a while, threatened to go to the courts over victories not awarded in two key states. But now only Senator John McCain, the war hero from Arizona, stands in the way of Obama’s monumental march to the White House.

It was all looking a bit easy for Obama as his message of change was lapped up by a middle class struggling under an increasing income divide separating them from their upper-class neighbours. Thanks in part to Hillary Clinton’s persistence in making mandatory health care a policy issue of the party, the 46 million uninsured Americans have responded heartily to Obama’s calls for universal health coverage. The Democrat base was excited and rallied behind this new man of change, the embodiment of the American dream: the grandson of a Kenyan goat herder who worked hard and rose to the top. In contrast, despite his relatively easy victory in the primaries, McCain had failed to stir up a Republican electorate bitterly divided over their candidate’s conservative credentials.

But all this was before the Republican primary last month. While Obama played it safe with his Vice Presidential pick – selecting Joe Biden, an older white guy with a bucket of experience – McCain went maverick and chose the unknown Governor of Alaska, a young, pretty, hunting machine who loves guns and hates abortion. Perfect to revitalise a slumbering party, a collapsing campaign, and a 72-year-old running mate who was looking dead and buried. She has become McCain’s lifeline.

What we aim to give you now is a briefing on the most important aspects of this historic election: bios of the candidates, their key policies, and the current outlook for election day on November 4th. Thrown in with all this amazing information we’ve got opinions from students in Nottingham and across the pond from Texas A&M University, a relatively conservative school in the heart of Bush country. Enjoy!

Barack Obama: Agent of Change

While ‘change’ has been his rallying cry, opponents have been pointing to a record that is lacking in evidence. Indeed, while Obama is clearly the fresh face looking to transform the stoic image of Washington, his limited experience leaves many sceptical. The story goes that following an upbringing that took him from Hawaii to Indonesia, Obama graduated from Harvard Law School. With one of the most prestigious degrees in the world he could have gone to Wall Street to make a killing, as we are repeatedly told by his campaign. But instead Obama moved to the South side of Chicago where he became a ‘community organizer’ for poor communities suffering unemployment, failing schools and an untenable economic situation. Obama was then elected to the Illinois State Senate in 1996 where he served until election to the United States Senate in 2004.

Key Policies: Obama has proposed federally mandated health insurance that will provide coverage for every American citizen. He also proposes a tax cut for the bottom 95% of income earners, phased transfer of military forces from Iraq to Afghanistan and economic protection for American industry. Obama, should he be elected, has committed to active diplomacy in foreign policy, pledging to sit down with America’s historical foes such as Castro and Ahamadinajad. He is a supporter of Roe Vs Wade and has, his opponents claim, the most liberal record on abortion in the Senate.

Highs: Is the only candidate of the four to have spoken out against the Iraq war prior to invasion in 2003, and despite refusing to hire lobbyists or take their campaign contributions, has raised more money for his election than any other candidate in history.

Lows: At only 47 his political accomplishments are limited, initiating few pieces of legislation during his time in office. His connections to Jeremiah Wright, the former Pastor of Obama’s church where he attended services for 20 years continues to concern voters that question Obama’s faith and patriotism (Wright famously shouted from the pulpit “not God bless America, God damn America”). As do his ties with Bill Ayers – a man whom was part of radical terrorist group The Weather Underground that tried to bomb the Pentagon and Capitol building in the sixties. Obama and Ayres served on the board of a charity together during his time in Chicago.

Joe Biden

Having served in the United States Senate since 1973 he is easily the most politically experienced of all four candidates. As Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Biden oozes confidence on the key issues, especially foreign policy, making him the Washington heavyweight on the Democrat ticket. In his first year in office, Biden’s wife and year-old daughter were killed in an automobile accident that left him to raise his two sons alone, one of whom is currently serving in Iraq. 66-year old Biden is the picture President there to assure voters that the young gun standing beside him is ready and able to lead in the nation’s highest office.

Lows: His first run for the Presidency in 1988 ended before the primary stages when it was revealed that he had plagiarised a speech by Neil Kinnock, then Labour Party leader. Whoops.

John McCain: The Maverick

After graduating 894th out of a class of 899 from the U.S. Naval Academy, John McCain became a public hero due to his service in the Vietnam war effort. As a pilot McCain was shot down and subsequently captured by the North Vietnamese, who tortured him during a six-year imprisonment. He has served in the U.S. Congress for 16 years, during which developing a reputation as a political ‘maverick’, willing to stand up to members of his own party on crucial issues. One such occurrence is the McCain-Feingold bill, a piece of legislation designed to limit the excesses of political campaign contributions. To get the bill through McCain worked across party lines with Democrat Senator Russ Feingold and withstood strong opposition from his own Republican Party. Both McCain and Palin have sons currently in the armed forces.

Key Policies: Most notably, John McCain opposes any immediate withdrawal from Iraq, advocating a continued military presence until ‘victory’ is achieved. He is a traditional conservative in that he’s pro-life and believes in across-the-board tax cuts from oil companies to the lowest income earners; however he stands in opposition to the mainstream of his party on stem cell research (he supports) and torture (McCain does not support the use of ‘water-boarding’ – an interrogation technique whereby subjects suffer simulated drowning).

Highs: An active supporter of increased troop presence at the outset of the Iraq war, McCain’s ‘surge’ policy has seemed to stem the tide of violence since its adoption last year.

Lows: His credentials on domestic issues appear weak. On the eve of the financial crisis he stated that ‘the fundamentals of our economy are strong’ (which he now claims was a reference to the ingenuity of the American workforce), and in the 1980s he was found to have taken large political contributions in order to prevent federal regulation of a failing financial institution – not great considering deregulation of the financial industry is among the causes of the current economic climate. At 72, John McCain would be the oldest first-term president in the nation’s history.

Sarah Palin

The meteoric rise of the Alaskan Governor is nothing short of incredible. Plucked out of nowhere (Alaska), Palin is everything religious conservatives in America dream of. She opposes abortion even in the case of rape and incest, does not attribute climate change to the actions of man, and therefore favours oil drilling off America’s coasts and even in the protected lands of her native state. This year she has won hearts with the birth of her fifth child ‘Trig’, prenatally diagnosed with Down Syndrome, but has left many critical when it was revealed that her 17-yr old unmarried daughter is pregnant. Nevertheless, now representing the closest a woman has ever been to the Presidency, Palin threatens to steal disenchanted Hillary supporters. Let’s not forget as well that she is the only candidate in the election with executive experience, serving as Mayor of Wasilla (pop. 9000) for 10 years, and Governor of Alaska for the past 2 years.

Lows: Since her appearance on the Republican ticket, Palin has existed in a media bubble. This is partly because she has failed to deliver a national interview without a major hiccup. So far she could not express knowledge of the Bush Doctrine, could not cite a Supreme Court case she opposes other than Roe Vs Wade, thinks that Alaska’s proximity to Russia gives her foreign policy experience and, when asked what newspapers she reads replied, ‘I read all of them’. This has led to almost daily parody on America’s evening entertainment shows. She is also hindered by an ongoing investigation over whether her dismissal of Alaska’s police commissioner was the result of a family feud.

Over the course of this election Barack Obama has successfully married John McCain to the policies of George Bush, arguing that McCain voted with the President 95% of the time. And, considering the President’s approval rating is at a dismally low 28%,[1] it seems to be a very effective strategy. A recent ‘poll of polls’ by American news organisation CNN showed Obama leading McCain by 6%, quite a large margin for an election thought to be remarkably close. But McCain has fought back, going on his own offensive over recent weeks by rekindling Obama’s ties with a domestic terrorist (Ayres), and falsely accusing Obama of supporting sex education for pre-schoolers (in reality Obama supported “age appropriate” education that would teach pre-schoolers to avoid predators). This is American politics at its finest.

But it’s not all doom and gloom for McCain-Palin. The ‘October Surprise’ is a notorious event in every U.S. election cycle, a mythic of epic proportions that has the capacity to turn an election dramatically as voters drive to the polls. And with a Republican President currently at the nation’s helm, John McCain has the advantage. Over the next few weeks don’t be surprised to see Osama bin Laden captured in Iraq with a warhead signed by Saddam Hussein, an event that would vindicate Bush and McCain’s foreign policy.

Failing that however, this election looks increasingly likely to reach its historic conclusion. President Barack Obama, the 44th President of the United States. How does that sound? The American electorate will give us their verdict on November 4th.

Jordan Wilson

[1] Time Magazine, 3-6/10/08. http://www.pollingreport.com/BushJob.htm

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