[Outlook]The Obama effect

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[Outlook]The Obama effect

In five days, the question of who will be the next president of the United States will be answered. Unless something extraordinary happens, the Democratic candidate, Barack Obama, is highly likely to become the first African-American president in U.S. history.

The so-called Bradley effect may be the last variable that can change things. This is the phenomenon in which white voters say they will support a black candidate in polls, but in the actual election cast their votes for a white candidate.

But experts predict that this effect won’t make a big difference in this year’s presidential election. Most voters think their country is heading in the wrong direction. Because of this, it will be extremely difficult for Senator John McCain, the presidential candidate for the Republican Party of unpopular two-term President George W. Bush, to reverse the situation and make a dramatic comeback victory. If the forecast of an Obama victory proves correct, Americans who voted for him would be shocked in a positive way along with the entire world. It would be revolutionary for an African-American to ascend to the office of president of the United States, a country that has been dominated by a white majority since its foundation.

There have been other cases which were nearly as groundbreaking. In Jamaica, a nation whose population is over 90 percent black, the people elected an American-born white man, Edward Seaga, as prime minister in the 1980s. In India, Hindus account for 80 percent of the population, but a Sikh prime minister, Manmohan Singh, is now in office. Sonya Ghandi, the chairwoman of the ruling party, is an Italian-born Catholic Caucasian. Up until last year, Abdul Kalam, born to a devout Muslim father, served as India’s president.

But these can’t compare to a candidate of African descent being elected as the leader of the world’s only superpower. In the United States, the 13th amendment to the Constitution - which ended slavery - was ratified in 1865. In 1964, the Civil Rights Act was established, banning racial discrimination in public places. However, very few people are under the illusion that discrimination based on skin color has entirely disappeared from the United States.

If the Democratic candidate is elected, the Obama effect will prove powerful, and will significantly improve the image of the United States in the world. The assumption in the Declaration of Independence that “All men are created equal” will have a greater foundation in reality. A country of inequality where racial discrimination still remains will be reborn as a country of tolerance and acceptance. It will be a chance to rid the nation of the negative relics of President Bush, such as the war in Iraq, unilateralism, neoconservative ideology, Guantanamo and the financial crisis.

America will also likely restore its influence if Obama is elected. Since the collapse of the former Soviet Union, the U.S. has dominated the global stage. And during the eight years of the Bush administration in particular, the country demonstrated arrogance and even traits of despotism. Things have gotten so bad that even traditional allies have turned their backs. As a result, the U.S. has been losing trust and influence. Many expect that an Obama administration would be able to transform the country into the one it used to be before President Bush, as the Democratic candidate emphasizes multilateralism and international cooperation.

But it isn’t easy to predict how long such rosy expectations will continue. Some believe that the U.S. won’t change much even if Obama is elected, because the same distinct limitations that existed during the Bush administration will still be around.

From the moment he becomes the 44th U.S. president, if he does, Obama will have to struggle with countless issues in which U.S. national interests clash with international society’s expectations. Depending on how he finds a balance between the two, the world’s evaluation of the Obama effect will vary.

But no one really knows what will happen until the votes are counted. McCain won’t give up hope until the last minute. Even if McCain, the self-proclaimed maverick of the Republican Party, is elected, the U.S. won’t be much different from the one that Obama is now pursuing.

The Obama effect is probably already sprouting from the seeds of hope that he has planted.

*The writer is a deputy international news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Han Kyung-hwan
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