Thu, Jan 03, 2008 - Page 8 News List

What an Obama presidency means

By Chong-Pin Lin 林中斌

WILL THE US have a black president? What once required a stretch of the imagination has emerged as a distinct possibility. If this possibility comes to pass in the presidential election in November, the US will enter a new age. So will the world.

Today and next Tuesday, the Democratic Party will have its first two primaries in Iowa and New Hampshire respectively. For the past three decades, no Democrat could win the presidential nomination of the party after losing these two contests.

Illinois Senator Barack Obama's popularity has risen dramatically in polls since November. He is now challenging front-runner Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York. She had harnessed a sizable war chest, has 35 years' experience and has on her team perhaps the best campaign strategist in the country, her husband, former president Bill Clinton.

Initially, Obama was not able to match these resources, and in late September he was trailing Clinton 53 percent to 20 percent, according to an ABC News/Washington Post poll.

Now, things are different.

In Iowa, an ABC News poll conducted last month showed that Obama had gained a 4 percent lead over Clinton (33 percent to 29 percent). In New Hampshire, Obama had 32 percent against Clinton's 30 percent, according to a Los Angeles Times survey late last month. In a similar survey in September, Clinton was 19 points ahead of Obama.

If Obama wins in Iowa, his chances for victory in New Hampshire will be greatly enhanced because other Democratic competitors with less than 15 percent support in Iowa will drop out of the race, allowing Democratic voters in New Hampshire to "bandwagon" Obama because of his greater electability nationwide.

According to polling guru Frank Newport, 86 percent of Republicans have an unfavorable opinion of Clinton, compared with 42 percent for Obama. Even some strong Clinton supporters have acknowledged that "she is such a divisive personality," while "Obama fits the year in terms of aspirations and hope," according to Albert Hunt of Bloomberg News.

Are Americans, once notorious for racial discrimination, ready to accept a black president? The US had to fight a bloody civil war before liberating blacks who did not enjoy substantive equality until the 1960s.

But times have changed. When Gallup last August asked voters to rank undesirable qualities in the next president, only 13 percent chose being black (or a member of a racial or ethnic minority group), 14 percent chose being female, 22 percent chose being Mormon (referring to Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney), 45 percent chose having "strained relationships" with one's children (referring to president Ronald Reagan) and 52 percent chose being 70 years of age or older (Reagan was elected three months before turning 70).

In short, being black is no longer a hindrance to entering the White House.

It is also the case, therefore, that being a woman has no negative consequences for Hillary Clinton. However, voters may find their democratic ethos objecting to 28 consecutive years of a family presidency: four years of Bush senior, eight of Bush junior, eight of Bill Clinton and another eight of Hillary.

For Democrats who yearn for a change, Obama offers an attractive option. He has been described as "inspirational, motivating, charismatic and compassionate," in stark contrast to a number of negative images -- fair or unfair -- of Hillary Clinton: "devious, calculating" and combative, according to Hunt, along with her positive traits.

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