Bill Emmott - International Author & Adviser


Hopes for America´s election
Corriere della Sera - January 2nd 2008

With voting due to begin in the Iowa caucus on January 3rd, followed swiftly by the New Hampshire primary five days later, events in America’s presidential elections will suddenly start to move quickly. That will be good news: in 2007, the campaign has been so long and boring as to send the rest of the world to sleep, but probably many Americans too. Nevertheless we are all about to wake up. Which makes this the last chance to say what would be the happiest outcome of the elections, from the point of view of an observer sitting in Europe.

            What Europeans should hope for in this election in the world’s most powerful country is a clear sense of change, after the (so far) seven dismal years of George W. Bush, but also the sort of change that can make us optimistic that America will soon again be a country of high ideals, dedicated to making the world safer and better. Perhaps the United States has never really met that test; perhaps no country ever could. But the world feels safer and better when America at least has a president who aspires to such goals.

            On that test, in my view the best contest to emerge from the two parties’ primaries would be one between Barack Obama and John McCain. Neither is currently leading in their party’s polls but both have been gaining ground recently. Both do stand a good chance, especially in the early primaries in Iowa and New Hampshire that have often provided candidates with essential momentum in the past.

            A contest between these two men in the November election would be one between people who are very different, and yet who also share some common traits. They are both senators—Obama from Illinois, McCain from Arizona—even if one is young (Obama is just 46 years old) and the other old (McCain is 71, though that is the same age as the ever-young Silvio Berlusconi). Normally, senators do badly in presidential elections because they are considered too bound up in Washington politics to really be able to appeal to a national electorate.

            These too men, however, are not thought of as Washington insiders. Both are outsiders. Barack Obama is an outsider because he is new, having been elected to the Senate only in 2004, but also because he is black and talks constantly about change. John McCain is an outsider because he has made a career out of taking radical, maverick stances, opposing the mainstream of his own Republican party on issues such as campaign finance, immigration and now even Iraq.

            Both, in their different ways, would symbolise a new beginning for America, one which is badly needed. Hillary Clinton, another senator, would be new in the sense of being the first female candidate and the first wife of a former president to run, but she would represent a return to the 1990s. It would also be seriously strange for the world’s leading democracy to have presidents from just two families—Bush and Clinton—in office for 24 consecutive years.

            Rudy Giuliani, the former New York mayor who leads the national opinion polls on the Republican side, would also be a new face in some respects, but as the very tough-talking symbol of the 9/11 attacks, like Hillary Clinton he would feel like a return to the past.

            True, there are other intriguing candidates. But to this observer, a contest between a young Democrat who could, like John F. Kennedy, bring forth the optimism of youth and a sense of a new era, and a highly principled former Vietnamese prisoner of war, who could show America’s bravest face, would be the most inspiring one.

            We will start to see whether this hope can be fulfilled when Iowans vote on January 3rd.


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