30 October 2008

Less than a week to go...

Although the blogosphere is famously populated by nutjobs, some of the vitriol being chucked Obama's way is really quite shocking, and falls into several key areas:

1. He is a Muslim.
He's not. His father was a Muslim, but the young Barack was raised by his white mother in no particular faith. He became a Christian in his 20s. And, what's wrong with being a Muslim anyway?

2. He is an Arab.
He's not. He is half Kenyan, and Kenya is a long way from the Arabian peninsular, which I doubt many Americans could find on a map anyway. And, what's wrong with being an Arab anyway?

3. He is a traitor.
He's not, and there is little logic to even beginning a rumour like this.

4. He is a terrorist.
He's not. This accusation stems from the fact that he knows a Professor in Chicago who took part in radical activities in the early 1970s. The boards they sat on together also hosted several respected politicians and business people both Democratic and Republican.

5. He has no experience.
He has more experience than Abraham Lincoln did, and despite Dick Cheney's 40 years of political experience the country is on its knees after 8 years of him pulling the strings.

6. He is black.
He is black. So what?

By Nick Cooper

More of the same

Did you hear Obama’s a socialist? The McCain campaign has gone back to the old “tax and spend liberal” attack. In the past this strategy has convinced Americans to vote against their own economic interest.

The Obama tax plan is and has always been extremely clear and unambiguous. It will only roll back the Bush tax cuts on those earning over $250,000 a year. The fact is that this will affect less then 2% of households.

McCain’s claim that Obama wants “to spread the wealth around,” something he himself once agreed with, is intended to instill fear among voters.

However, the reality of the situation is that the Democrats’ tax plans would not only help the 98% of households earning less then $250,000 dollars through improving schools, universities, transportation, and raising wages for public sector workers including teachers, police officers, and firefighters. These tax increases will also benefit those earning more than a quarter of a million dollars through improving infrastructure, airports, and other facilities necessary to grow a business.

The progressive tax structure which charges a higher rate on income above a certain level is intended to charge more to those who can afford it. John McCain has never argued for the abolition of progressive income tax, which apparently he now believes is socialism, and therefore his attacks on Obama’s plans are empty words. Tax policies which invest in their citizens to grow and maintain a strong workforce will in the end benefit the entire country.

By Michael Goldberg

Will Obama or McCain become the last ‘Emperor’?

Since 1946, and the end of the Second World War in the Far East, America has been the dominant force in global politics. Although she sparred with the Soviet Union for overall dominance, America emerged victorious from this ‘bout’ that never was. The United States became the new Super Power of the twentieth century. She inherited that title from the British, who in turn inherited it from the Spanish and so forth. Like the previous great powers, America has established an empire that spans the globe in many shapes and forms.

Although the American empire of the twentieth and twenty first centuries has not taken the same guise as those of the vast imperial possessions of Great Britain and Spain, she is as powerful, if not more so than the great imposing empires of the past. The post Second World War era and the reverberating effects of that conflict put an end to imperial conquests, and the process of self determination, started by Woodrow Wilson in 1919, was finally being put into effect. Because of this America could not possibly have the same sort of influence and dominance as the empires of Europe and Japan who caused thee bloodiest conflict known to man. However, a new form of domination was to take place.

America imposed herself on the world, as the great beacon of democracy and hope for those who had suffered at the hands of imperial regimes. She became a liberator in one sense. But in another, she simply took up the mantle of imperialist. The United States managed to do this because of the threat of Communism. America was able to impose her economic, social, religious, idealistic and militaristic views upon sovereign nations under the pre-text of defeating Communism.

It worked. Communism was defeated with the fall of the Soviet Union, and the raising of the Iron Curtain. For over forty years, America had fought an ideological war with the forces of Communism. The end of this stand off America had asserted America as the sole superpower of world politics. Her military might was unchallenged; a massive well-trained standing army could reach all points across the globe. A Navy and Air force unparalleled in history. Dominance over the Middle East, the Far East, Latin America and a new form of ‘protectorship’ over Europe strengthened the so-called ‘American Empire’. Military bases were popping up across the world in far-flung places, and the American led NATO alliance was creeping ever eastwards into the old backyard of the USSR, to add to expanding strength of the United States across the world.

However, as the history books have taught us, Empires do not last forever. And the Bush years have highlighted that maybe this is the beginning of the end for the American Empire. The next President will inherit a massive budget deficit that will ultimately tie his hands in many ways, both domestically and internationally. He will find that his armed forces are stretched to breaking point, with over 150,000 soldiers still in Iraq and tens of thousands in Afghanistan.

Iran will pose the 44th US President with a huge problem too. Should diplomacy and sanctions fail, the harsh reality is that conflict with the Islamic Republic may turn out to be a foregone conclusion if they continue down the path of producing a nuclear weapon, as the Americans and Israelis accuse them of. But for all the might of the US, they are in no position to successfully launch a ground attack on Iran. This would be worrying, especially to John McCain, who of the two candidates vying for the White House is most aggressive towards Iran.

Russia is posing The United States with problems as well. The threat of conflict between the Western backed Ukraine and Russia will emerge sooner rather than later. Is America really in a position to guarantee the security of the Ukraine and for that matter is she even in a position to defend NATO allies Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia?

The emergence of China as the financier of the world also undermines American strength, especially when you consider that there is so much American money invested in Chinese banks. If the problem of Taiwanese independence was to resurface under Obama or McCain, confrontation with China could be very embarrassing to America as they could either be forced into a humiliating climb down and fail to back up their ally Taiwan or they could be overrun by the vast Chinese military machine if any conflict emerged between the two nations.

Europe too is becoming stronger than America in terms of their economy. One day Europe will realise how strong she can be as a collective group, and will become more organised that reliance on American military assistance could soon become a thing of the past as well. Relations between Europe and America are not going to deteriorate but my point is that Europe is beginning to break free from the parental control of America. Maybe we saw the first signs of this during the Iraq War where Europe was so divided regarding support for President Bush’s war. Europe found a voice, and former great powers such as Germany and France would not be bullied by America into a needless conflict.

These are the problems, which will affect Obama or McCain whoever gets to the White House in January. American hegemony in the world is no longer a sure thing. Whoever wins next weeks momentous election will become a very powerful man, but he shall most likely also be overseeing the decline of the modern American Empire. Unless (and I am sorry, but I couldn’t resist)...the Empire Strikes Back? (Oh dear.)

By Stewart Munn

What does Britain want from a US President?

-- Originally written: 18th October

The US Presidential election is always big news here in the UK. We take a vested interest in US politics. Mainly because what happens in America ultimately shapes what happens in Europe. The events of the last few weeks, where the global economies have collapsed, all started in the US and the reverberations were felt across the globe. Not only that but because the USA is the leader of the Western World. Like it or not, but that is true. The USA leads NATO; they lead the democracies of the West. This has been the case ever since the Second World War.

It is not only the USA’s economy that has a great effect over the UK but also the military. In the past ten years, Britain has assumed the role of the key ally to America in the face of global terrorism and the fateful venture into Iraq. We have followed the US into Afghanistan and Iraq, and it is possible that any future military activity against Iran would involve Her Majesty’s Forces as well.

It is only right therefore that the people of Great Britain should look intently across the Atlantic to see whom the next President shall be. So what do we, as a nation, want from the next President of the United States? It is often the case that as a whole, we generally side with one candidate over the other. And if I am honest, it is usually the Democratic candidate that gets the nod from the British public. Clinton or Dole? Clinton was favourable. Gore or Bush? We went for Gore. Kerry or Bush? Again, we looked to the Democrat. This year is different though. The British public do not just side with Barack Obama, they are infatuated with the Illinois Senator. Obama’s summer tour to Europe not only highlighted in popularity with the Germans and the French, but also here in the UK as well. 52% of the UK said they preferred Obama, with only 15% saying they would like to see John McCain in the White House. This is a staggering show of support for Obama.

So what is it about Obama that appeals to the British public? And what is it about Democrats that we endear ourselves to? As a society the British people have always voted in the Conservatives and then they will always give the Labour Party a try as well. So why do we not see British voters feeling more sympathetic towards John McCain this time around? It seems to me that as a nation, for all our faults we do remain a much more liberal society than America. I think that goes for the whole of Europe as well. Therefore we back the Democratic candidate because he is seen as the most liberal and socially conscious, which is always a winner for European voters. However, there is really very little to choose between Democrats and Republicans, as there is say between Labour and Conservatives, or SDP and Christian Democrats in Germany, for example. But Barack Obama still gets the nod over McCain by UK citizens.

After eight years of George W Bush and Dick Cheney policies, the 2008 election is high on the agenda for a lot of British people. That is why Barack Obama has surged ahead in the polls here, because he does represent great change for the chaos of the Bush administration. He also offers stability, and I think that is what we like most about him. It is not that John McCain is as bad as Bush, far from it. It would be wrong to suggest so, but he does not represent sufficient change for the British people. He reminds us too much of the old order. He sings about bombing Iran, he threatens to expel Russia form the G8 instead of engaging Medvedev and Putin. He wants American forces to stay 9in Iraq for one hundred years. And he is not willing to engage the Palestinians, as he proved on his tour of the Middle East. This smacks of Bush foreign policy, which to be frank, has been disastrous.

Obama’s core message in this election has been change. I am of the opinion that this is what the British people want the most from the next US President. That is why Obama is so popular in the UK and across Europe. However, Barack Obama will learn that if he becomes President of the United States his stock here in the UK could fall as quickly as it has risen over the past year. His foreign policy decisions are what will make or break him in the eyes of the British public.

By Stewart Munn

Foreign Policy? What Foreign Policy?

-- Originally written: 17th October

The past few weeks have produced great economic turmoil.
The world has not seen such a down turn in prosperity since the Great Depression. As you’d expect this has taken hold of the US Presidential Election, and has become the focal point of both John McCain and Barack Obama’s campaigns. Other seemingly high agenda issues such as abortion, immigration and energy have now slipped into the background of people’s attentions as the American public come to terms with the implications of the crashing markets across the world, and their effects on their livelihoods.

However, one issue, which has also slipped into distant memory, is foreign policy. This was meant to be one of the most important issues for US voters in the 2008 election. It pitted the vastly experienced John McCain against the international novice, Barack Obama. It also put the wily old foreign policy expert, Joe Biden, against Sarah Palin, whose foreign policy experience is simply laughable for a woman in her position. Both sides perfectly balanced against one another, about to go toe to toe in a foreign policy battle to win the hearts and minds of the US electorate. It has panned out most people, myself included, expected.

However, the issues remain. American soldiers are still in Iraq. More are flying out to the Middle East every day on yet another tour of duty. The US military is fighting Taleban insurgents in Afghanistan and Pakistan, with no end in sight. Osama bin Laden is still at large. Iran is still pushing ahead with its controversial nuclear plans. The Israelis and the Palestinians are nowhere near reaching peace by the end of the year, as set out at Anapolis. And the threat of Russia still looms over Eastern Europe, especially an increasingly volatile looking Ukraine. Not to mention Darfur and Zimbabwe, which are now completely, lost in the back pages of US foreign policy doctrines.

These are the issues that will face the victorious duo from January 20th onwards, but they thus far not drawing much attention. Sure, the economic situation is very important to the American voter. But so is American standing in the world, and for all the faults of the last eight years of the Bush-Cheney foreign policy, America is still the number one power in the world. The stereotypical view of American voters has always been that they are very inward looking considering the authority their nation has over the world. The economic crisis has only strengthened this view in my mind.

The new President and his Vice President will find that you can push foreign policy to the side for only so long before it comes back, and becomes hard to shift. Iran is likely to be the main issue for the Obama or McCain to face. Let’s hope that the American voters will consider this too when going to the polls on November 4th, because although the American economy is very important, but so is American involvement in the world. A lack of jobs may see an increase in recruitment for the military, which is very much needed with the calls for a troop ‘surge’ in Afghanistan. Barack Obama has stated in his manifesto that he wants tens of thousands of extra troops in the American military. The economic crisis hitting American families might unexpectedly help him out with this.

On a lighter note, it was very amusing to see Hugo Chavez refer to President George W. Bush as his “Comrade”. I have a feeling the Venezuelan President is going to miss ‘Dubya’ come January.

By Stewart Munn

Colin Powell returns to the fore in US Presidential Election

-- Originally written: 17th October

This Sunday (19th October) sees Colin Powell return to the political fray. His return could be make-or-break for John McCain. Powell was, at one time, seen as a potential running mate for McCain. However, his return is seen as extremely controversial as it has emerged that his appearance on NBC’s “Meet the Press” could be used as an opportunity to back Barack Obama instead.

This would be a huge move for Powell, who has served under the past three Republican administrations, most recently as President George W Bush’s Secretary of State up until 2005. However, he was unceremoniously removed from that position and replaced by Condoleeza Rice. Although Powell is heavily linked to the Republican Party he professes not to know if he is a Republican or a Democrat. If he does in fact endorse Senator Obama it will be an embarrassing move for John McCain, the Republicans and George W Bush.

For Powell to support Obama would be a huge disappointment to McCain, as Powell carries with him a great wealth of foreign policy experience as well as a high standing within American society amongst all walks of life. An endorsement for Obama would surely boost his ratings in the polls even further and make his lead insurmountable with less than three weeks of campaigning left, and no more live debates for Senator McCain to score points.

Colin Powell is seen by many as a maverick. He was at the forefront of the Iraq debacle where he presented flawed evidence to the UN Security Council regarding Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. This event obviously hurt Colin Powell as he has talked in the past of his distress in his actions taken that fateful day in New York. Powell has been able to distance himself from the wreckage that is the Bush administration, and although having been involved in the Iraq War, he has managed to disassociate himself with it and still remain a credible and respected member of the political elite in the US.

It remains to be seen whom Colin Powell will endorse. However, his entry into the election race at this late stage could give either candidate a boost before the November 4th Election. I am unwilling to go out on a limb and make a prediction here because I feel it really is too close to call. However, it is John McCain that needs him the most.

By Stewart Munn

Note: Since this post was written, Colin Powell has announced his endorsement of Barack Obama. During a Meet the Press interview (Sunday 19th October), Powell cited "his ability to inspire, because of the inclusive nature of his campaign, because he is reaching out all across America, because of who he is and his rhetorical abilities", as well as his "style and substance." He also referred to Obama as a "transformational figure."

Obama's lead over McCain

-- Originally written: 7th October

For the last few weeks, now that the excitement over Sarah Palin has died down, Barack Obama has led John McCain by at least 3 points in the CNN poll of polls, and for the last week he has been at least 5 points ahead. 5 points in the popular vote is enough if that's what happens on polling day. Bush beat John Kerry by 3% in 2004 and beat Gore by -0.5% in 2000. Carter won with 3% in 1976, and Nixon with 2% in 1968. Kennedy famously won by 0.1% in 1960. So 5 per cent is way more than enough. But the key as always is the votes in the individual states.

Florida, the scene of the recount and Supreme Court debacle in 2000, was taken by Bush with a 500 vote margin and sealed the Electoral College for him despite Gore winning the overall popular vote. Bush solidified his lead in 2004, helped along by his brother who happened to be the popular incumbent Governor.

In 2004 Bush had a lead of 3% in the popular vote in the country as a whole, but if just 120,000 voters in Ohio had switched sides, John Kerry would be running for a second term as president today. The vote in Ohio in 2004 is another story, but I don't want to get into that here.

New Mexico voted for Gore by just 350 votes in 2000 and went Bush's way in 2004 by only 6,000. Bush took New Hampshire by 7,000 in 2000 (Gore would have been president if he hadn't) and John Kerry edged it by 9,000 in 2004. Although Oregon is considered a safe Democratic state, Gore won by just 7,000 votes in 2000. Bush won Iowa by just 10,000 votes in 2004.

So the individual swing states are crucial to any presidential election, and this year more than ever as more states are tossups than in 2000 or 2004. Along with the traditional big swing states of Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania and the smaller tossups, several other recently Republican states are in play. Virginia, North Carolina, Colorado, and Indiana are all in play this year, states that gave Bush big wins in 2000 and 2004. Obama is leading the polls in most of them.

Is this increase in uncertainty in state by state voting a healthy development? Yes. Will it increase the chance of close results and legal battles? Sadly, yes. But based on current polls Obama looks odds on to win, and as bill Clinton put it, he may well 'win handily'.

By Nick Cooper

Note: The 'CNN poll of polls' for October 23-28 shows Obama leading by 7 points, 2 points more than 2 weeks ago.

Drama at the debate? No Chance.

-- Originally written: 3rd October

So very little of note happened in the television debates so far. Those Obama supporters rubbing their hands in anticipation of a Palin meltdown live on TV were disappointed. Surprise, surprise. The truth is that they were always going to be disappointed for one simple reason – nothing of note ever happens in presidential or vice-presidential debates. They have always been the set pieces that promise the most but deliver the least.

A quick recap of those TV debate bombshells throughout history. 1960, Richard Nixon sports a five o’clock shadow and looks a little sweaty. No debates are held again until 1976 where Republican VP candidate Bob Dole appears to blame World Wars One and Two on the Democrats. In 1988, Democrat Veep nominee Lloyd Bentsen delivers his “you’re no Jack Kennedy’ zinger to a startled Dan Quayle. Bush-Quayle win the election. 1992 George Bush is spotted glancing at his watch and third party VP candidate Admiral James Stockdale admits to having his hearing aid turned off. 2004 a suspicious looking crease in President Bush’s jacket leads to theories that he is being fed lines from offstage. And... that’s about it.

Actually, I must admit to exaggerating for effect. There are two moments that stand out as genuinely injurious to the candidates: in 1976 Gerald Ford’s assertion that “there is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe” and Michael Dukakis’s 1988 unemotional and rambling answer to an outrageous question about what his reaction would be to his wife being raped and murdered. But those moments, at best, can be said to have confirmed existing doubts surrounding the candidates rather than blowing the campaign wide open.

The problem is that these set pieces are just that – set pieces; endlessly prepped, rehearsed and largely devoid of spontaneity – and because of this (with some rare exceptions) the result is mostly the same. The only time a person ‘wins’ (a meaningless term loved by the punditry) is when there was someone who was expected to lose, just because they surpassed their low expectations. The bumbling Ronald Reagan was expected to be roasted by the experienced President Cater in 1980 but held his own and so came out on top. A similar scenario played out in 2000 with the tongue-tied George W up against Harvard debater Al Gore.

So no surprise that Sarah Palin didn’t morph into her Saturday Night Live parody, Joe Biden failed to stray recklessly off-message, McCain didn’t lose his famous temper and Obama managed to avoid insulting small town America once again. They know their lines, they’ve been here before and the road-show will plough on until the next debate where – hopefully tempting fate here – not much will happen.

By Ross English