On the whole, I have a better record of forecasting American elections than British. Distance makes one see the developments more clearly. I certainly can claim to be one of the early birds in detecting the strength of the movement towards Barack Obama. I am not sure that those early forecasts are of any importance except to the columnist himself, but they do reassure the writer that he, or she, is in touch with some sort of political reality.
On January 28th I wrote a column for the London Times, which started with the question: “Has Barack Obama developed the “Big Mo”, vital momentum that would take him through to the Democratic nomination, very possibly to the Presidency.” I answered my opening question in the last paragraph “Youth, idealism, style are powerful political weapons. On February 5th, we shall see whether they have captivated America. If they do, we shall find that they have captivated Britain as well. Barack Obama could have a message for us all.”
After Super-Tuesday, I went a stage farther. My opening sentence surprised many of my London friends and readers. I wrote that “it is hard to see who can stop Barack Obama becoming the next President of the United States…. Barack Obama has the future of America ahead of him.”
At any rate he has been fully tested by Hillary Clinton’s campaign. That had its own faults, and Bill’s interventions were usually disastrous, but we all came away with a new respect for Hillary’s resilience and endurance, even if many of us felt a great relief that she had lost. Now it is Obama versus McCain. Do I still feel that Obama is almost unstoppable, even though Hillary undoubtedly came closer to stopping him than I had expected?
There are of course inherent risks in being the first black candidate from a major party to be nominated for the Presidency. In 1968, the Vietnam primaries, Bobbie Kennedy, also a candidate of idealism, was assassinated. Separately from the primary struggle, so was Martin Luther King. Barack Obama is both black and idealist, a double challenge to the worst kind of American bigot. Everyone is aware of the risk, and nobody wants to talk about it.
There are other events which could change the ordinary pattern of political events, what the strategic study groups call “low probability, high impact events”. The classic low probability, high impact event was of course 9/11 itself. A crisis in the Middle East, or a terrorist attack on the U.S. itself could change the whole character of the Presidential debate.
However, these are not predictable events, they are merely conceivable possibilities. Outside those possibilities Senator Obama seems to me to be a very strong favourite to win the Presidency in November.
In the first place, he is the candidate of youth, idealism and change. Americans are tired of the Republican Presidency after two terms of George W. Bush. They are tired of the dynastic Presidency which proved a serious handicap to Senator Clinton. If she had won the Presidency that would have been the sixth successive term of the Bush or Clinton dynasties.
Senator McCain has much more experience of defence, and would be an impressive Commander-in-Chief, but he is already in his seventies – he is not a symbol of domestic renewal, because of his age. If the campaign concentrates on the recent Republican record, McCain will be hurt by that; if it concentrates on domestic issues, McCain is less attractive than Obama to the young and radical.
I still see Senator Obama as the candidate of change and vision. That was the appeal of John F. Kennedy. If America is tired of Washington cynicism, Obama is the Kennedy of the present generation.
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