The burning question, "Will it be Obama or McCain in the White House?" has returned once again as the official selections of the Democratic and Republican nominees for the presidency draw near. In reality, a definitive answer to this question has been pursued for months, both in America and internationally, and the question has come back to the forefront for more reasons than the mere fact that the Republican candidate launched a smear campaign against his opponent that was effective in quickly changing the results of public opinion polls.
Obama was originally portrayed as a symbol of such things as youth, the promise of change, moral renewal and economic expansion. On the other hand there was the tired and aging McCain, who would only prolong the era of George W. Bush, especially its failures. But now the dominant image of Obama has become one of inexperience and the fear of his inability to deal with crisis, whereas McCain has become associated with images of experience and wisdom, courage and strength.
It is clear that this campaign has become more than merely a contest between two people. It has become a campaign of principles and values which draws people to their respective candidates based merely on how they fall on these particular issues. We can generally say that those Americans who give a priority to economic considerations will vote for Obama. They are also those who think less about America's position in the World and its role in international affairs. As for those who give priority to geopolitical and strategic considerations, and by extension America's power and prestige, it is expected that they will vote for McCain.
We must remember that it is Democratic presidents who have tied their names to economic prosperity and to finding ways out of crises that plague the country. It was Franklin Roosevelt who brought his country out of the Great Depression by relying on Keynesian economics. It was John F. Kennedy who represented the new face of the country in the post-WWII world. And immediately after him was Lyndon B. Johnson and his "Great Society" with its great social, racial, and economic successes. And the last example is of course Bill Clinton, who based his first election campaign on the slogan, "It's the economy, stupid!" and who in his second term presided over a period of prosperity as well as the great financial surplus, which his successor, George Bush, squandered.
On the other hand, we have the case of Republican presidents who resisted enemies abroad, or at least imagined enemies. Presidents who achieved victories in the spirit of Dwight Eisenhower, the leader of the armies in WWII before arriving to the White House, or in the spirit of Ronald Reagan who led his country to victory in the Cold War against the Soviet "Evil Empire," or George Bush (the father) who drove Saddam Hussein from Kuwait at the head of a huge international coalition.
And proof of this is that the two candidates greatly resemble the archetypes that have been assigned to them by their supporters and opponents. McCain was a prisoner in the Vietnam War and was one of its "heroes" who took a hawkish position on the Iraq War and in his support of keeping American troops within Iraq. On the other hand, Obama comes from a mixed background. He is less hawkish on international matters, not to mention his dovish position on Iraq. He is the candidate who personifies racial, social, and cultural change without threatening an upheaval of the national social fabric--that which led Jesse Jackson, a friend of Martin Luther King, to accuse him of being 'too white'.
This does not mean that both candidates will not try to make up for their shortcomings by their choice of running mates. Thus Obama chose the chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee in Congress, Joseph Biden, based on his knowledge of the world. It is also expected that McCain will choose a running mate to bolster him in domestic and reform matters.
Although the foundation of the United States and its political system is vested in the president of the republic and not in the vice-president, the role of the second in command has been greatly strengthened during the presidency of George W. Bush because of Dick Cheney, whose experience surpassed that of the President, and who was far more ideological and recalcitrant.
In this sense we can say that the winds have begun to blow in McCain's favor. Before the storm had a chance to calm with regards to the Iranian threat all of a sudden Russia troops were advancing on Georgia. There was a consensus among policy makers and Western intellectuals that this signaled the reawakening of Russian imperial ambitions. And while many declared the beginning of a "new Cold War", Barack Obama was vacationing in the Bahamas. This situation brings to mind the Korean war of the late forties and early fifties which not only changed American public opinion and delivered a Republican president to the White House, but paved for the establishment of McCarthyism in the context of "countering the communist threat." We have not had the same intensity and polarization brought about by international affairs in the economic and social matters upon which Obama depends. It may just be Iran and especially Russia that will now be in the forefront of voters' minds, much to the chagrin of Obama.