In a little more than two weeks, the world will be a different place. After eight years of misguided Republican rulership, the United States of America will have the opportunity to begin rectifying the serious mistakes of the past. Whichever candidate is chosen by the American public this November, the elections will mark a turning point in how America is seen by the world. America will either embrace its gradual metamorphosis into a fundamentalist, conservative, war-mongering state or it will reject these principles and begin to rehabilitate its damaged image and crippled identity under the leadership of Barack Obama.
Recent weeks have witnessed a panic raised by both American and international news sources claiming that the next Great Depression is nigh. While this may be alarmist and possibly a ploy for selling more papers, it is clear that economically all is not well. President Bush’s enthusiastic plans to stimulate the economy using famed Republican trickle-down logic have not met with overwhelming success. A Republican presided over the start of the Depression of the Thirties with similar reasoning, and it didn’t work then either. It was a Democrat who lifted it, and Roosevelt’s primary concerns were not tax cuts and moralising. Without informed and intelligent government intervention, the United States (and with it, the rest of the world) faces the rather alarming prospect of a global recession.
The actions of the next executive branch will change the economic situation. Federal government exists for this reason, and America can’t afford to elect someone who places the ideal of self-reliance and rugged individualism over the basic fact that executive action and legislation, not cowboys on the ranch, keep the global economy stable. We can’t confuse questions of identity with government policy. McCain seems to think that being a “maverick” is a political qualification, and not simply a descriptive term for an American archetype. Obama doesn’t try to adhere to a personality model. He recognises the need for policy that addresses a crisis. What America doesn’t need is a president who will shy away from the federal responsibility of maintaining a secure and balanced economy, in favour of an idealistic notion of identity.
Aside from the urgent and concrete issue of fiscal stability, there are more ideological subjects at risk in this election. One subject which was addressed at the end of the final Presidential debate was that the next President will almost definitely appoint at least one new member to the Supreme Court. Currently, the court operates through a tenuous and delicate balance; though it is technically considered apolitical, there are four “conservative” judges, four “liberal” and one swing voter. John Paul Stevens, a “liberal” judge, is eighty-eight years old.
Of course, with the balance of the judges at stake, the historic decision of Roe v.Wade in 1973 stands to be revoked. In this historic case, the Supreme Court overturned all state and federal laws outlawing or restricting abortion, as it ruled that most laws against abortion in the United States violated a constitutional right to privacy under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. During the debate, both candidates claimed that no litmus test should ever be imposed on potential judicial appointees. However, McCain rather cryptically concluded that no justice capable of voting to preserve the controversial 1973 case could ever be deemed competent to rule on the Supreme Court. Obama, on the other hand, tended to view the decision as the exertion of individual rights and clearly stated that while he supported the decision, there were other qualifications for an acceptable Supreme Court Justice.
To ignore the ruling that was made would alter a principle of American society. It would be a symbol of conservative regeneration, an acceptance of the moral value judgements of the Christian right, and a clear indication that judicial restraint is defunct, to be replaced by judicial activism where judges rule according to their moral beliefs and not their interpretation of the law. With this precedent established, the Supreme Court could become what its founders feared most, an instrument of legislation, rather than judicial review.
In the civil rights arena, it would be a glaring indication of the prejudices which still exist in our society if were we to fail in electing Obama. McCain declared during the debates that the race issue had been resolved, and that we’d achieved racial equality, but will that statement hold up on November 4? We’ve relegated “race issues” to secondary status since accomplishing this putative complete equality, but this election is necessary proof that we do live in a multi-ethnic, integrated society. If we once again fall short of demonstrating that our country is not run by white, upper-middle class men, this statement will be exposed as the ludicrous exaggeration it is. We have not achieved equality – racism is alive and well in the USA – but we can change that by continuing to work for a truly colour-blind nation.
This is America’s opportunity to express to the world its contrition for the events of the past eight years, and the repeated, unmitigated error of electing George W. Bush as our Commander-in-Chief. To elect McCain would be to accept the reigning paradigm, to once more align ourselves with evangelical values and combative foreign policies. In electing Obama, we would acknowledge our double blunder, reject war as an acceptable means of diplomacy and give legitimacy to a new voice in the international arena, a voice which doesn’t deny the need for communication and multi-lateral decision making and doesn’t embrace violence as the best solution to effect regime change. This opportunity is as inspiring as it is terrifying; could it be possible to once more admit to my nationality with something other than reluctance and chagrin? Will I someday stop feeling tempted to respond “I’m from Toronto” when asked about my citizenship?
Perhaps that sounds flippant; the reality is that I am anything other than dismissive at the thought of reclaiming a sense of self-respect for my nation. It is a tragedy that there has been such a departure from the basic tenets of American democracy. We have a chance to repossess this project, and salvage it from a deplorable misuse of its principles. We have a responsibility, to our fellow citizens and the international community, to do our best to repair the wrongdoings of the past. We can’t retract our involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan, we can’t brush over the myriad muddles, misunderestimations, oversights and lapses in judgement of the past two terms, but we are obligated to make the initial, symbolic and incredibly basic gesture of electing new leadership. We have to change. Obama is the only candidate to have the courage to say that our way of life is untenable, that every American will need to make a change. This is a daring thing to say to a culture saturated with its attachment to excess and self-indulgence. The fact that he recognises the fundamental importance of adjusting our lifestyles and ideas about consumption to creating a sustainable future reveals his essential responsibility and clear-sightedness. America must change, and this is the first measure.