In Denver, the delegates fear was almost palpable. After eight disastrous years of George W. Bush, one would have expected self-confidence and aggressiveness from them. Instead, their souls were consumed by fear. The Democrats were deeply divided by the endless primary fight between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. In addition, surveys and polls were not running in their favor. John McCain had closed the gap and in some surveys even taken the lead. On top of it all, the Georgian crisis threatened to favor a Republican chance for election victory.
But then Obamas acceptance speech exceeded all expectations. At the end of those 45 minutes, even conservative observers were deeply impressed by the strength of the black Senators personality and his extraordinary speech. The visionary had become a politician without sacrificing one iota of his charisma. With this brilliant appearance, he was successful in unifying the party behind him and in removing any lingering doubts about his ability to govern as President of the United States.
Despite that, there are many indications the election will be close, perhaps even very close. The candidates are running even in the polls, a situation where any chance happening can become the determining factor.
The war in Georgia: a definite advantage for McCain because he and his party support a strong military policy. But the question remains open to what extent voters see the Georgian crisis and the disagreement with Moscow as important. Many voters are focused on the economic crisis.
In addition, Democrats wont miss using the long-term intimacy between President Bush and Vladimir Putin to their advantage. Obama, like McCain, will preach a hard line against Moscow until election day. What American policy will look like from then on, considering the absence of options from either candidate, is another question entirely.
Hurricane Gustav: possible advantage for Obama. Memories of Bush administration failures during the Katrina catastrophe will be refreshed. But this time, the Bush administration will react more decisively and Obama will have to take care to make sure what his own role is. When government acts, the opposition has visibility problems, as shown by the Elbe floods during the 2002 German elections.
Iraq: a draw. Obama was against the war, McCain in favor. McCain was in favor of the troop surge, Obama against it. Obama favors a 2010 withdrawal plan, McCain opposes it. But if Obama can argue as effectively for a realistic withdrawal plan as he did during his acceptance speech in Denver, things could get tight for McCain, especially in the core area of McCains expertise on security policy.
McCains choice of Sarah Palin for Vice-President: A shoot-the-works gamble, thus a big risk for McCain. It was a good counterpunch after Obamas Denver triumph but hardly of lasting consequence. The young Governor of Alaska has virtually no national or international experience. Her selection targets frustrated Hillary voters, thereby further defining Hillarys role in the coming campaign.
Beyond that, it remains to be seen how Sarah Palin survives the media which will now begin closely examining every aspect of her life. McCains goal is to return the United States to its position as the worlds number one. To nominate a rookie as vice-president, someone who will be one heartbeat away from the presidency, is clearly motivated by election tactics.
More unpredictable surprises will certainly follow in the remaining weeks. Mistakes during a neck-and-neck race are usually not forgiven and may well be the determining factor.
Despite all this, I believe Obama can and will pull it off. The fact that he, as an African-American was even able to get the nomination of one of the two major American political parties is practically a miracle. Barack Obama was up to the task and has since demonstrated the class and perseverance that make him a serious contender for election victory.
The bottom line for both candidates wont be the national surveys and polls but the majority within each individual state. If Obama is successful in getting a few of the states which have previously gone Republican like Colorado, Virginia and some of the southern states then he will reach his goal. And the polls and surveys at that level look more promising for him.
Somewhere beyond the uncertainties of the coming weeks Americans will have to decide between young and old or change and staying the course.
That decision will also determine the future of the West because without a change in American policies, the downfall of the West is unavoidable. Under John McCain there will be no such change.
And it goes without saying that the answer to a question never asked in Denver will also play a decisive role, a question unasked but nonetheless on everyones mind: will skin color be the decisive factor in who will be the 44th President of the United States?