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Leader: Wisdom needed in the White House

22 October 2008

ELECTIONS for the 44th President of the United States are to be held on 4 November, alongside elections for the House of Representatives and one third of the seats in the Senate. President George W. Bush is ineligible to stand again, but he will not leave office until 20 January. The American process seems leisurely by British standards, since we are used to a healthy, even brutal, briskness in the announcement of a general-election result, the kissing of hands at the Palace, and — when the country demands a change — the departure of the previous occupant of No. 10. Familiar now to us in the UK, however, is the emphasis on personality rather than policy which has long been characteristic of American electioneering. Billions of dollars are expended on political advertising and the kind of trite and often subliminal messages that it conveys — which have little to do with rational argumentation. And yet the process seems to have been going on for ever. The first primaries and caucuses were held in January.

The mood of the American nation is more sombre than it has been for many years. President Bush could scarcely be leaving under a darker cloud. His nation is entangled in wars in Afghanistan and Iraq which have dragged on far beyond the timetable expected for them, and have been costly in both treasure and young American lives (to leave aside the effect on the populations of those countries, and on other nationals serving alongside the US forces). Not unconnected is the slump in moral authority represented by the United States’ treatment of foreign detainees. Its response to the events of 9/11 seems increasingly ill-judged. The other slump, on Wall Street, may have originated in changes to credit arrangements brought in under President Clinton, but the festival of irresponsible lending stretched on under the present administration, and has now left ordinary Americans across the country fearful for their futures. Welfare provision for these hard-working people is minimal. Apart from these problems, there remains the laggard response to the challenges of climate change and trade justice.

In our features and comment this week, Steve Lawler and Harriet Baber look at the choice being offered to the people of the United States. Conventionally, east- and west-coast states tend to be Democrat, and others Republican, with a number of swing states such as Florida. There, under the complicated system of indirect elections, the Bush campaign won its victory in 2000 by a handful of votes in the electoral college, amid allegations of rigging. Let us pray for a very clear constitutional result this time, and the election of a national leader able to rise to the moral and intellectual challenges facing the United States at home and abroad.

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