“Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power,” said Abraham Lincoln, the 16th president of the United States, almost a hundred-and-fifty years ago.
Today, the presidency of George W. Bush is in its twilight months. The season of presidential debates of 2008 has begun. America is in the midst of Palin-mania. Opinion polls predict a tight race between John McCain and Barack Obama. And I am reminded of the eternal truth spoken by Lincoln all those years ago.
The conduct of the Bush administration has affected the lives of countless people in America and around the world. As American voters approach polling day on November 4 to elect his successor, the outside world ponders with them. What have the last eight years been like? Where is America headed and what would it mean? More
As George W. Bush limps towards the finish line of his turbulent presidency, two recent events on the other side of the globe, in the region that has been the main battleground in his ‘war on terror’, are of particular interest. One, the ascendency of Asif Ali Zardari, the widower of Benazir Bhutto, to the presidency of Pakistan. The other, the decision by the 45-member Nuclear Suppliers’ Group to grant a ‘waiver’ to India, after intense lobbying by the White House. The ‘waiver’ clears the way for India, a nuclear weapons state, to buy nuclear components and fuel for use in its civilian power plants. The interest of the Bush administration in this whole process has been strong and is indicative of America’s changing policy in South Asia – be tougher with Pakistan and court India. More
The gloom of Hurricane Gustav was promptly blown away by the arrival of Sarah Palin, the running mate of John McCain, at the Republican Convention in St. Paul. The partisan delegates seemed genuinely thrilled by her acceptance speech. But developments of the past week across the country remind me of an historic truth of politics. Almost fifty years ago, Harold Macmillan, then British prime minister, was asked what he thought was the greatest obstacle to political achievement. “Events, dear boy, events,” came the reply from Macmillan. His words seem to have a powerful resonance in the US presidential campaign today.
The historic nature of Palin’s nomination and her galvanizing effect on the Republican faithful cannot be dismissed. But new revelations about herself and her family almost every day are impossible to ignore either. Some of these are acknowledged. Others are contested. Complaints of exaggeration and distortion abound and threats of legal action fly. Republican advisors are irritated at the questions raised about Palin’s selection by McCain, her qualifications and her views. In the face of persistent questioning by Justine Webb, the BBC Washington correspondent, a senior McCain advisor, Carly Fiorina, seemed angry, calling Palin’s treatment by the media ‘sexist’. With a Democratic presidential candidate of mixed white-African lineage and a female candidate for the vice presidency on the Republican side, race and gender cannot be far from the debate. More
The season of party conventions will soon be over and America is poised for two months of hard campaigning to elect the next president. There will be debates between Barack Obama and John McCain and between their running mates. The media blitz will get more fierce. Personal attacks will entertain and appall. For the first time in American history, there is serious contender of mixed race for the White House. It makes the issue of race an integral part of the political debate. Some Americans are going to continue to raise it openly. More could well make their choice, after a long period of reflection, one way or the other, as late as the moment of casting their vote.
In the past, I have seen the American democracy at work from close. As I follow the campaign in 2008 from across the Atlantic in Britain, the distance gives me the opportunity of detachment. I hope it allows me a panoramic view of the political tides that are to sweep across America before polling day on November 4. And it makes it possible to look at the democracy in America alongside the leading democracies in Europe and the place citizens of different races and creeds have in them. My interest in America is abiding – a country where I first arrived as a twenty-two-year-old to work as far back as 1974. My young grandchildren are Americans and live there.
Already, I have seen opposite currents in the campaign. On the one hand, a desperate desire for change after eight years of war, economic hemorrhaging and damage to America’s image under the Bush presidency. On the other, the tentative allegiance of sections of potential Democrat voters, despite powerful pledges of support for Barack Obama from Senator Hillary Clinton and the former President, Bill Clinton. More