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.
Could Obama defeat the Republican candidate? Head-to-head comparisons in December between Democratic and Republican presidential competitors by an assemblage of polling services (Rasmussen, NBC/Wall Street Journal, USA Today/Gallup, Zogby, Battleground, CNN and Fox News) indicated the following: Clinton beat all the Republicans except John McCain, who clobbered her. Obama, however, won convincingly in the former comparisons and tied with McCain. Besides confirming that Obama is more electable nationally than Clinton, the exercise suggested that Democrats have a better chance of winning the presidency.
Last April, a retired official (and a Republican) in the current Bush administration told me that he had met Obama privately and found no fault with him despite having a natural inclination to find fault with Democrats.
Within a week, a Princeton University professor (probably a Democrat), an expert on health insurance policy, told me her impressions of a meeting with Obama. She marveled at his magnetic personality and his vision as a potential statesman. She was so impressed with Obama that she gave me his bestselling publication, The Audacity of Hope.
Obama's record on opposing the Iraq War has perhaps become his greatest campaign asset in contrast to not only Hillary Clinton, who voted for the war, but also most Republican hopefuls who have supported the war at some stage. In November, Bill Clinton's remark on TV that he opposed the Iraq War "from the beginning" brought endless headaches to Hillary's team.
The war is costing some US$300 million per day for US taxpayers, many of whom are feeling the pinch of a weakening economy. Although by some measures the situation in Iraq has improved as the Iraqi people turn against terrorists, the condition remains untenable. The war, already the top issue in the presidential campaign, will loom even larger in November. It will be heavy baggage for any candidate, Republican or Democrat, who has not consistently opposed it.
That would provide an unmatched advantage for Obama if he secures the Democratic Party's presidential nomination.
What would an Obama presidency augur?
First, US withdrawal from Iraq. That will start a noticeable, though gradual, decline of US influence first in the Middle East, and then in the rest of the world. China, still far behind the US in economic and military terms, will become more formidable in the eyes of other countries.
Second, the US will turn inward. Washington will place domestic economics and social agendas before military expansion and intervention abroad.
Third, there will be an end to unilateralism. Washington will consult more with other powers and converse with even the "rogue states." Relations with the Muslim world will improve.
Fourth, environmental concerns will be taken more seriously. Washington will no longer boycott international efforts to face global warming.
Fifth, there will be a renaissance of spiritualism and humanism. The US under Obama may become a world leader in the promotion of spiritual and humanistic values.
Chong-Pin Lin is a former deputy defense minister and president of the Foundation on International and Cross-Strait Studies in Taipei.
An article on the Nature magazine Web site reports that 22 scientists last month wrote to the daily Dagens Nyheter criticizing Sweden’s no-lockdown response to COVID-19. However, evidence-based analysis shows that a lockdown is not a one-size-fits-all strategy and Sweden is showing the world a sustainable way for everybody to fearlessly live with the virus, which is an inevitable situation that everyone must face and accept for a while. The biggest myth about lockdowns is that they are the only solution when an epidemic worsens. A lockdown is a measure to cordon off a seriously affected area so that people in
US President Donald Trump’s administration is carrying out a new US campaign to support Taiwan’s inclusion in the WHO, but this diplomatic effort lacks a critical counter to China’s “Big Lie” about its representation of Taiwan at the UN. As the US Congress has urged for many years, strong US leadership to support Taiwan in international organizations is long overdue. The US and other countries are praising the democratic “Taiwan model” in fighting the COVID-19 pandemic in the global interests of truth and transparency. The campaign is commendable. Even US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo publicly called for Taiwan’s inclusion in
On Monday, Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) spoke during the opening ceremony of this year’s World Health Assembly (WHA). For the first time in the assembly’s history, attendees, including Xi, had to dial in virtually. Xi made no acknowledgement of the Chinese government’s role in causing the COVID-19 pandemic, nor was there any meaningful apology. Instead, he painted China as a benign force for good and a friend to all nations. Except Taiwan, of course. The address was a reheated version of the speech Xi gave at the 2017 World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Xi again attempted to step into the