[Viewpoint]Change is coming in AmericaDuring the 2004 U.S. presidential election campaign, Americans were faced with the threatening idea that the country had been irreversibly divided into two. The conservative “red” states were religious, ethical, patriotic and masculine. Red America was less educated, and included the rural and suburban areas inhabited mostly by whites. The progressive “blue” states were secular, international and multicultural. Those in the blue states supported feminist values and were highly educated and urban.
Red America backed the right to own weapons and favored capital punishment, while blue America advocated abortion rights and protecting the environment. The Americans in the red states went to see car races on Saturdays and went to church on Sundays. They were, of course, Republicans. The Americans in the blue states went to the farmers’ markets on Saturdays and read the New York Times on Sundays. They were Democrats. Americans who lived in the two divided worlds were not willing to integrate or look at the other side.
Until not so long ago, intellectuals and the media had discussed the division of America from various perspectives. The United States had been classified into countless segments in terms of race, class and values, to the point where the national identity of the United States of America had gotten ambiguous.
America had lost its national ideology, or focal point, that united its citizens. It had turned into a dinosaur without a sense of direction amid the various interest groups. The 2000 presidential election exemplified the disorganization of the nation’s identity as a mutually exclusive concept. The campaign strategists, who spotted an opportunity to change the administration, and the intellectuals, who hoped to take advantage of the situation, promoted division. They followed the same tactic in 2004.
However, worries about the divisions arose. Not all Americans live in the world of two-party politics. The Pew Research Center found that about 40 percent of Americans, which make up the biggest part of the country, are independent. These “purple” Americans have a different combination of mixed values and are often undecided until the day of the election. They are moderate Americans who are tolerant of others and tend to reserve judgment.
The intellectuals and party members are the only ones with clear and radical opinions, and they are distorting the truth. Critics say cultural friction had been declining lately.
American citizens are tired of the political rhetoric of division and disorganization. The consensus is growing that they can no longer neglect the republic and let it drift aimlessly as a raft of interest groups.
Barack Obama has precisely caught the spirit of the times in America. He also has the courage to speak up. Armed with eloquent speech, he has reached the public. Americans, especially the younger generation, cannot help but fall in love with him.
Compared to past elections, the three primary leaders, namely Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and John McCain, aren’t as divided on policy. They all fall into the moderate spectrum. The three candidates seem to have sensed the change of the times. They don’t show much difference in terms of policy promises.
Among them, Obama projects the message of change and integration on the biggest scale. However, he fails to present specific ways as to how the United States should tackle to the Iraq war, the nuclear issues with North Korea and Iran, the economic slump ignited by the subprime crisis and immigration issues. Clinton has detected what Obama lacks and promises to present solutions. McCain is solidifying his position as the Republican presidential candidate by supporting the Iraq war despite the discontent held by conservative Republicans, especially Christian fundamentalists.
Obama is currently leading Clinton for the nomination of the Democratic Party in the state primaries, but it is unclear whether he will win the Pennsylvania primary or get the support of enough superdelegates.
While Americans are largely disappointed by President Bush, the Republican Party is observing the situation and is secretly hoping for a catastrophe in the course of Democratic nominations.
No matter who is ultimately elected president of the United States, the next president must pursue change on the national level.
*The writer is a professor of history at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Kim Hyeong-in