Poder360 Endorses Obama

Leadership for a new age An endorsement of Barack Obama for U.S. President

-Throughout his long career in the U.S. Senate, John McCain has been a friend and supporter of Latin America and the Hispanic community in the United States. Despite strong opposition from his party, he co-authored with Ted Kennedy a groundbreaking bill for comprehensive immigration reform that sought compromise, pragmatic solutions to this very complex and emotional issue.

McCain has been a staunch free-trader and a consistent champion of deepening commerce and investment links in our hemisphere even as these notions became increasingly unpopular amongst the American electorate. Moreover, he has been a firm ally of democratic governments in the region in the fight against drug-traffickers and terrorist groups that threaten the very fiber of their institutions and societies. However, despite his admirable personal history and distinguished political service, this magazine believes that Barack Obama is the better choice for U.S. president on November 4th; for Latin America, for the Hispanic community, for the United States and for the world.

For one thing, the McCain of today seems to have strayed widely from the McCain of old. Of course, electoral pressures have abetted this transformation. But his reversals and hard veers to the right on issues of crucial importance (and that seemed so close to his heart) as immigration and tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans are disquieting. The hustle and bustle of the campaign has also exposed facets of his character and temper that, while useful for, and even becoming of, a maverick senator, appear ill-suited for a commander-in-chief in a time of war, economic crisis and political polarization. What is more, his claim to the moral high-ground in campaign tactics (he was on the receiving end of a vile hatchet job by the Bush political machine in the 2000 primaries), has fallen by the wayside. But this magazine’s endorsement of Obama is not predicated on McCain’s shortcomings. Rather, it rests on three arguments: Obama’s virtues for leadership, the symbolism of his presidency, and the benefits it could yield for the U.S. Hispanic community and our hemisphere.

That Obama’s intellect is first-class, no one can doubt. Few presidents in U.S. history can boast of being Editor of the Harvard Law Review and Professor of Law at the University of Chicago. His outlook is thoughtful, nuanced and open-minded, befitting of fast-paced, uncertain times and a reality that deals in shades of gray. The management of his campaign has been creative, nimble, forward-looking, and as close to flawless (despite its extraordinary length) as any in recent American political history. But what has shone through most in the last few months and the debates is that Obama appears to possess a first-class temperament as well. Obama’s demeanor is collected and poised, and he reacts to even the most vitriolic criticism with a smile. In an age of rising fanaticism, his instinctive moderation is a breath of fresh air.

The symbolic power of an Obama presidency cannot be underestimated. His election would provide, in a fashion, final closure on some of the darkest chapters in American history, the civil rights movement, and it would also open new horizons of aspiration and possibility for millions. The child of an African father and a white American mother, who spent a formative part of his life in Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim nation, Obama is a product of our post-Cold War, interdependent age. His immense popularity abroad (a recent poll by the Economist of 30,000 international readers reveals that 84% of them prefer him over McCain) is a testament to the fact that he is, in a sense, the world’s candidate for U.S. president. The boost from his election to America’s international stature and its dwindling reserve of soft-power, and thus to its ability to shape global affairs, could prove staggering.

The last nationwide survey of Hispanic registered voters conducted by the Pew Center in June and July of this year, showed Obama beating McCain by a 66% to 23% margin. His stands on universal health-care, immigration reform and tax relief for households earning under $200,000 a year, as well as his condition as a minority American, have struck a chord among a group that, despite great strides, remains under-privileged. Today, with the financial crisis in full-force, his support is likely much higher. The countries where these people originally hail from also stand to benefit from an Obama presidency. On the one hand, a dark-skinned, half-African U.S. President would be profoundly unsettling, if not thoroughly destabilizing, for those regimes in the region which, to one extent or another, have reaped political capital from fomenting hatred of “an arrogant, supremacist Empire”. One would hope this would help tilt them from irresponsible demagoguery and bluster, to more reasoned policies and action. Furthermore, few have realized that in a context of economic slowdown and even larger Democratic majorities in Congress, which now seems all but certain, only the prestige of a Democratic president can move U.S. policy in the direction of freer trade and greater engagement with Latin America.

Admittedly, Obama’s greatest drawback is his limited political experience. As the New Yorker’s recent endorsement of the Senator from Illinois put it, “We, too, wish he had more of it”. But, not to downplay his trackrecord as a lawyer and law-maker, experience can sometimes be a handicap, especially when tainted by a mindset that harks back to a different era. Besides, leadership in a wired, multi-polar era is much more about vision, judgment and the capacity to inspire, than about accumulated knowledge or bureaucratic ability. After all, the latter traits can be outsourced, the former can’t. This fall, words from J.F.K.’s presidential nomination acceptance speech ring truer than ever, “It is a time … for a new generation of leadership – new men to cope with new problems and new opportunities.”

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