As he accepted the Democratic Party’s nomination in August to take on Republican John McCain in what has been a historically significant effort to become the 44th president of the United States, Barack Obama said this of America, “We are a better country than this.”
In light of what happened in the US economy since and the global mayhem that has ensued, we couldn’t agree more. And that belief is one singular reason why this newspaper, published some 11,977km away from the White House, is today formally endorsing Obama as the best person to be elected the next president of the US.
We believe the world’s largest economy—and its political, cultural and intellectual capital— still make America the essential nation. The current economic and stock markets crises, we hope, end up being seen as a transformational crisis because what failed us wasn’t necessarily free markets, something Mint has proudly stood for since its own birth, but greed abetted by a failure of transparency. The danger, as some of our columnists have pointed out in recent weeks, is that the very US-led global financial bailout will make some push for a permanent role for governments and bureaucrats in running all aspects of many economies. When those voices become as loud and irrational as those bullish voices that created the crisis, America, we think, will again have to play a vital role in shaping that global debate, just as the US government acted quickly and decisively—while many governments, including that of India, just talked—once the magnitude of the current problem was clear. This is vital because the past few weeks have clearly shown how interlinked we all are, no matter where one lives. As an Irish proverb says, “It is in the shelter of each other that the people live.”
Therefore, the fact that the past eight years under George W. Bush have seen a disastrous slide in America’s global standing don’t necessarily give us much cheer even if there are some who want to see a false silver lining in this decline, perhaps a faster rise for China and, maybe, even India.
Today’s America is one whose health is weak and, more importantly, whose morale is low. For good reason. Under eight years of post-Bill Clinton Republican rule in America, some five million citizens of that wealthy nation have fallen into poverty while seven million more citizens are now without health insurance.
A US-started war and the resultant fighting has already gone on longer than America’s involvement in World War II, killing tens of thousands, Americans and Iraqis alike. America’s national debt has almost doubled and is close to $10 trillion, and the Bush administration has run up what looks like a $500 billion—and mounting—federal deficit (even as it spent at least $600 billion on the Iraq conflict), after starting its term with a $700 billion surplus in 2001.
The land of the free and the home of the brave is now one where the government can spy on many more of its citizens than ever before; its prisoners are tortured and its post-11 September 2001 goodwill and moral credibility was mostly eviscerated by President Bush’s haughty hubris.
Yet, from a purely selfish Indian perspective, the past few years of Republican rule, culminating in the unprecedented India-US nuclear deal, have been perhaps the best years for India, despite what has always been an uneasy political relationship.Indeed, more US companies—GE, Wal-Mart, Ford—have invested more dollars in India, creating more jobs and wealth than before, and many Indian companies—most notably the likes of Infosys, TCS, Suzlon and the Tata group—have done quite well, thank you, in expanding their US footprint.
So, why do we endorse the relatively inexperienced Obama over the 26-year-strong track record of Republican senator McCain?
McCain keeps saying he is not Bush and he wasn’t, to begin with. But he has relentlessly pandered to the extreme right wing of the Republican Party, initially abandoning fundamental immigration reform that America really needs, and has embraced unlimited drilling for oil and gas rather than seek green energy.
He has opposed banning CIA-sponsored torture (“enhanced interrogation”) of prisoners; proposed a new League of Democracies as if a new global bureaucracy is what is needed post-UN; focused on an undefined victorious return of American troops from Iraq; joked about bombing Iran; wants to see Russia’s transgressions naively through a Cold War prism; and has chiselled notions of right and wrong just when a humbler America needs to listen, not preach. Finally, in a stunning gamble that put campaign over country, McCain picked featherweight Sarah Palin for vice-president, making even Dick Cheney look almost bearable.
Election campaigns can’t make up for inexperience, but in a gruelling 21-month effort during which he overcame a seasoned Hillary Clinton, Obama has shown a measured demeanour that has withstood many attacks, some that also questioned his faith and his patriotism. While he may have played it safe, especially in the three debates, Obama has made decisions, such as picking foreign policy expert senator Joe Biden for a running mate, that have been reassuring. And his awareness that reducing forces in Iraq is important to help reinforce the rapidly deteriorating situation in Afghanistan is a sign of someone who has studied the problem a lot more carefully than the Republican candidate. And, despite non-stop and twisted criticism of his views on diplomacy, Obama’s clearly stated willingness to talk to friends and foes alike shows a maturity that American diplomacy could use in rebuilding its central role in geopolitics.
Both candidates seem likely to look at India as a counterweight to China, with which America has a love-hate relationship, but Obama also seems to understand better the importance of stability in Pakistan and the ramifications of that for overall stability in the region.
On the trade front, however, in order to beat Hillary, Obama caved in to typical Democratic demagoguery and, if he follows that rhetoric up by acting on it as president, it will be a major problem for America and India alike.
For America, rather than just talk about change, Obama has offered concrete plans for comprehensive health care reforms, an ambitiously sensible plan on energy that includes a clear path to reduce America’s carbon emissions by 80% through 2050, raising fuel efficiency standards and producing 10% of the US electricity from renewable sources by the end of his first term. And he has pointed to ways that could help find billions for green-energy initiatives and technologies that will be vital to addressing the world’s climate problems.
Finally, as the global financial turmoil unveiled itself in the past few weeks, Obama stayed calm and was measured in his responses, perhaps because as early as March he had already zeroed in on what he described as a short-term profit focus stemming from a “scornful attitude towards oversight and enforcement”. It doesn’t hurt that he has turned to Robert Rubin, Lawrence Summers and Paul Volcker for advice on economic issues. Meanwhile, if it is really possible, McCain has been more out of his depth than the MBA president in responding to the mortgage and Wall Street crisis—melodramatic, tangential and hollow.
Obama, the first black man to get a major party nomination to run for US president, hasn’t made race an overt issue in this campaign other than to send out a pragmatic message of inclusiveness. So, we won’t dwell on race either. But an America that can freely elect a black man as its president is a clear sign of that nation’s ability to overcome divisive behaviour, show deep racial tolerance, and reinforce the audacity of hope that has drawn millions to America, literally and intellectually.
On the day of his party nomination, Obama also said, “It’s time for us to change America.”
We believe President Obama has the potential to do just that.
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