It Ain’t Over ’Til It’s Over

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Well, it’s been a busy few weeks trying to keep up with the US Presidential election campaign and the global economic crisis, to say nothing of trying to do some work occasionally.So, inevitably, the campaign is taking place in the shadow of ‘events’ and has been affected by them. As we move into the final two weeks, things are looking good for Obama. He’s gained the endorsement of Colin Powell and done well out of the Joe the Plumber episode, although ‘spread the wealth around‘ was rather a high risk statement in the US context. The choice of Sarah Palin as VP candidate is starting to backfire badly and is being used against McCain as an error of judgement, for example by Powell when he endorsed Obama.

The polls are looking OK but not brilliant. The Real Clear Politics poll average is now Obama 49.2% and McCain 43.7%, given Obama a lead of 5.5%. More importantly, in the states targeted by McCain – Florida, North Carolina and Virginia – Obama is leading by 3.2%, 1.3% and 8.1% respectively. Anyone who has experience of fighting elections knows this isn’t enough to be sure of victory. The Obama campaign is very aware of the danger of complacency and has been working hard on voter registration and to get the vote out; in addition, there’s always a question about the accuracy of polls, and in this campaign it’s about race. Quite rightly, nothing is being taken for granted. The Washington Post thinks the next priority should be for Obama to communicate exactly how he would lead:

Over the next two weeks, Obama should help the country visualize what his administration would look like. He should show how he would step up to the economic crisis, an unfolding disaster that we compare so often to the Great Depression that the analogy is losing its horrific impact. What sorts of people would Obama appoint to his Cabinet? How would he deal with two wars, as commander in chief rather than as political campaigner?

In other words, forget about McCain, it’s all about you, Obama.

So how will we remember the 2008 campaign?

The one that took place during a financial crisis

Obama’s nomination speech on August 29th seems a very long time ago now. Then, it seemed obvious that the next two months would be dominated by the campaign. But that was before Fanny Mae and Freddy Mac, the Lehman Brothers collapse, the banks bailout that wasn’t supported, then the one that was, and continuing economic bad news around the world. Economic issues sidelined the campaign at times and contextualised it for the voters (and the rest of us) in a way that rarely happens in elections – next year, the guy who wins will be the one addressing the nation on all this, folks. Both candidates’ economic policies gained an extra edge from the urgency of the situation. Obama came out of it well: decisive, calm, and Presidential looking. McCain was stuck between the impetus to do something and his dislike of further state intervention.

The one where the smears didn’t quite come off

Palling around with terrorists, being a Muslim (and so what if he had been?), being too black, too old, too corrupt, having too large a family to look after, not having enough experience, not having the right kind of experience, not having suffered enough in Vietnam, not defending the environment…

There have been smears in this campaign, but they haven’t done the damage. It’s been remarkably focused on the issues: candidates have suffered, not through the traded insults, but if they’ve given the impression that they are indecisive, lack credible policies or, in the case of Sarah Palin, can’t give a comprehensible answer. At different times, both campaigns have been urged to be tougher on their opponents but have not done so. Of course there’s an element of negativity out there, but both campaigns have done well to keep it under control.

The one where there actually were policy differences

The presidential and vice-presidential candidates’ debates failed to reach inspirational heights, but there are real differences between the candidates which ought to make it easy for Americans to choose. Take the economy and foreign policy. Each candidate has been forced to clarify their policies on the economy due to the current situation and they have defended their proposals face to face. McCain still believes in the trickle down theory; Obama wants to cut taxes for those on lower incomes, and create jobs through public sector works programmes. Obama is saying some people can afford to pay a little more tax, which in US terms is very radical indeed. Regarding foreign policy, the message is watch Pakistan if Obama wins – he may disagree with the war in Iraq, but he’s no pacifist.

But in some cases you can never do enough.

The one with the bimbo and the amazing  wife

The role of women in the campaign has been prominent since the time when it was assumed that Hillary Clinton would be the Democrats’ nominee. The highest profile women have been Sarah Palin and Michelle Obama, but Hillary’s putative votes have remained hovering in the background, and let’s not forget the women policy advisers, interviewers, satirists and bloggers who have pitched in this time around.

The choice of Sarah Palin as Republican VP candidate must rank as the biggest screw-up of the campaign. It would be easy to say ‘what were they thinking of?’, but we all know. It was a cynical attempt to get votes from women, including Clinton supporters. And for the men, she’s good-looking too. The initial concerns were about the strange mix of her rabidly right-wing opinions and large areas of ignorance; but this is now solidifying into a view that, given McCain’s age and potential health problems, she is a completely inappropriate choice for a potential President.

Michelle Obama, on the other hand, has been winning hearts wherever she goes. What a woman. And a tactical strength to the campaign as she emphasises the Obamas’ stable family life and sense of values, including their (Christian) religious beliefs and practices. Watch here how she never, ever, loses it. You might be able to be a Black President, but I don’t think I’ll see the day when a single man or woman makes it.

The one we could laugh at

And the world was introduced to the Daily Show and Saturday Night Live. My life wasn’t complete until I discovered Jon Stewart and Tina Fey. But why was there so much to laugh at? Americans aren’t famous for satire, but how could you not send up some aspects of this campaign? Funny, clever and pro-Democrat, Obama should give them a job.

So finally, and hopefully, this election will be…

The one which elected the first African American President of the United States.

But there are another two weeks to go, and it’s by no means certain yet.

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Jenny Muir is a lecturer who lives and works in Belfast. You can also contact Jenny through e-mail: s.belfastATyahooDOTcoDOTuk