Unless you have been living in deep dark cave for the last nine months, you can not have failed to notice that an election was to take place in America on the 4th November 2008.
What can only be described as an historic event took place on this day – Democratic Senator Barack Obama has been elected the first black president of the United States. The BBC’s Justin Webb says the result will have a profound impact on the US. He says that the American people have made two fundamental statements about themselves; that they are profoundly unhappy with the status quo, and that they are slamming the door on the country’s racial past.
So how did this monumental occasion happen? Two years ago Barack Obama was barley a blip on America’s political radar. But with a brilliant, disciplined campaign, a vast amount of money and a favourable political climate, the junior Senator from Illinois has risen to the most powerful job in the world.
The money he had access to was one of the key factors – Obama realised he had developed a broad donor base, so he rejected federal funding for his campaign and the financial limits that went with it. He also had an army of helpers. Chris Hughes the founder of Facebook devised an innovative internet fundraising system – the campaign eventually attracted more than 3 million donors who donated about $650 (£403m) more than both presidential contenders in 2004 combined.
Both candidates were well aware of previous ‘misdemeanours’ that had happened in the previous 2 presidential elections. Democratic candidate Senator Obama and his campaign were not taking any chances. Obama’s camp hired a team of lawyers to handle the election process, whilst McCain’s campaign spokesman Ben Porritt said “we are not jumping to conclusions that litigation efforts are going to be widespread”. But, McCain’s campaign wouldn’t disclose how many lawyers they had hired to be part of the process.
This election hardly any Americans will pull a lever or punch out chads, but this does not mean the problems of the past are gone. Some touch-screen machines in key battle grounds such as Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Jersey & Virginna had malfunctions. This caused some polling stations to resort to back-up paper ballots, but in some cases, even these ran out.
But with Obama’s large victory margin, election officials and voters being more familiar with high-tech machinery, problems were sporadic and inconsequential when it came to determining who was elected president in 2008.
Many people said they felt they had voted in a historic election – and for many African-Americans the moment was especially poignant. It was especially poignant to see Jesse Jackson, the Civil Rights campaigner in tears when the result was being announced. Comparisons have been made between Jackson and Obama. In 1984, Jackson was the second African American (after Shirley Chisholm) to mount a nationwide campaign for President of the USA running as a Democrat.
Jackson was viewed as having little chance at winning the nomination but surprised many when he took 3rd place behind Senator Gary Hart and former Vice President Walter Mondale (who went on to win). Jackson got 18.2% of the total vote in 1984 and won five primaries and caucuses. But what probably led to his downfall in this election were his controversial comments about Jews. Even though he eventually acknowledge he had made these comments and it was wrong to use such terms, continuing suspicions led to an enduring split between Jackson and many Jews.
He offered himself again in 1988 as a candidate for the Democratic Party presidential nomination. This time round he was viewed as a more credible candidate and he was both better financed and organized. In this election he lost out as the Democratic frontrunner to Dukakis. In both races, Jackson ran on a very liberal platform, declaring that he wanted to create a “Rainbow coalition” of various minority groups. In March 2007, Jackson declared his support for Senator Barak Obama.
So what now for Obama and America? Never has the US been so unpopular, so derided and dismissed by the outside world. Obama clearly understands this and he will be open to the World in a way President Bush never was. The America people are hoping that Obama will show once again the value of the American dream.
To find out more information on the US Elections, both past & present, check out these databases and web sites to find good quality information.
Worldwide political science abstracts
Nexis (Athens password required)
Web of Science
BBC News – http://www.bbc.ao.uk
CNN New – http://www.cnn.com
Fox News – http://www.foxnews.com