Change they must believe in

Conditions have never been more favorable for a Democratic candidate. Outgoing George W. Bush’s presidency has already gone down as the worst in American history. The economic meltdown has been added to the difficulties in Afghanistan and the failure in Iraq. The economic crisis has taken a hefty toll on Americans’ living standards and highlighted the bankruptcy of the US economic model. Despite his efforts to distance himself from Bush, John McCain represents the continuation of the former’s political legacy, not just because of his political identity but also because he backed a number of the administration’s key policy decisions. And yet Barack Obama is leading by just 5 to 6 percent, reflecting the deep prejudices harbored by voters. A strong minority is opposed to the election of an Afro-American born to a Muslim father from Kenya. Racial prejudice often comes in disguise. Blatant lies, such as warnings that Obama will turn the US into a socialist state, are finding many a sympathetic ear. On the other hand, Obama’s identity carries strong symbolism. In such times, America needs political change to break the deadlock and renew its dynamism. Obama fits the bill. His election alone will improve Washington’s international profile, as other states will see the wounded superpower in a different light. For this reason, the most responsible section of the American ruling establishment put themselves behind Obama, allowing him to confound forecasts and sideline his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton. The Bush administration accentuated political and ideological differences, dividing the American people. The presidential elections, for decades relegated to a rather indifferent process, are now viewed as a crucial turning point, with one America pitted against the other. It explains why the Democrats have decided to wage a battle under a commander who, at least on a symbolic level, stands for change and not just a change of guard.