There are all sorts of reasons for hoping that Barack Hussein Obama will be the next president of the United States. He seems highly intelligent. He has an air of courtesy and sincerity. Unlike the current occupant of the White House, he has no difficulty in orally extemporising a series of grammatical English sentences, each containing a main verb.
Unlike his opponent, he visibly incarnates change and hope, at a time when America desperately needs both.
It is no disrespect to John McCain – a brave and principled man – to observe that he has chosen a difficult time to stand on the Republican ticket.
An Obama win could signify the end of race-based politics
The legacy of George Bush may take years, if not decades, to determine.
But at present he seems to have pulled off an astonishing double whammy.
However well-intentioned it was, the catastrophic and unpopular intervention in Iraq has served in some parts of the world to discredit the very idea of western democracy.
The recent collapse of the banking system, and the humiliating resort to semi-socialist solutions, has done a great deal to discredit – in some people’s eyes – the idea of free-market capitalism.
Democracy and capitalism are the two great pillars of the American idea.
To have rocked one of those pillars may be regarded as a misfortune.
To have damaged the reputation of both, at home and abroad, is a pretty stunning achievement for an American president.
It would be tough for any candidate to receive the Republican baton from Dubya, and McCain can be proud of doing as well as he is.
His chief problem is that he does not seem to offer any hope of repair to those American ideals.
Or, to put it another way, it is not clear how America under McCain would recover her standing in the eyes of the world.
His chief selling-point is his grasp of foreign affairs, and his staunch belligerence in the pursuit of American interests.
He is certainly owed the respect due to a man who fought for his country, was captured and tortured.
But is this bellicosity really what the world is crying out for today?
When asked what his policy was towards Iran, Mr McCain sang – to the tune of the Beach Boys – “Bomb bomb bomb, bomb bomb Iran”.
No doubt he was joking, but if I were an Iranian politician, those words would make me want a nuclear deterrent all the more.
McCain seems to stand for perpetual sabre-rattling against the terrors of abroad, and Obama wins because he seems to stand for hope, not fear.
Not that the Democratic candidate is a pushover.
He has shown terrific steel, beating off the Clintons, and defeating McCain in all three televised debates.
If elections were decided on the ruthless efficiency of campaigns, then Obama would already have it in the bag.
The defining image of the battle so far is of the two candidates leaving the stage after the last TV debate – Obama moving confidently off, after another grave and measured performance, and McCain gagging like a gargoyle, tongue out, as he realised he was about to walk over the edge.
I am not suggesting that McCain is a buffoon, or that Obama is quite as Messianic as some of his supporters seem to believe.
He gave a speech of unrivalled torpor in Germany, for instance. He needs to stick up more vigorously for free trade, and we must hope that any ill-considered new taxes will be thwarted by Congress.
But then again, he is patently not the Marxist subversive loony Lefty that some of his detractors allege.
I revere Melanie Phillips, and I have carefully studied her blog entries about Obama and the vote-stealers, or Obama and his association with a quondam terrorist called Ayers.
In the end I gave up, goggle-eyed and exhausted, having trolled the wilds of the Neocon internet without finding anything remotely approaching a smoking gun.
Obama’s terrorist chum is now a professor, and his last act of terrorism took place when the candidate was eight, and it is not really clear that he and Obama are chums at all.
The entire set of allegations seem to be an attempt to smear him by association, and are about as damaging as pointing out that some of Tony Blair’s colleagues used to be Stalinists, or that Tory party conferences used to feature people who advocated the hanging of Nelson Mandela.
Obama deserves to win because he seems talented, compassionate, and because he offers the hope of rejuvenating the greatest country on earth in the eyes of the rest of us. All those are sufficient reasons for desiring his victory.
And then there is the final, additional reason, the glaring reason, and that is race. Huge numbers of voters, whether they admit it to themselves or not, will hesitate to choose Barack Obama for President because he is black. And then there are millions of white Americans who will undoubtedly vote Obama precisely because he is black, and because he stands for the change and the progress they want to see in their society.
After centuries of friction, prejudice, tension, hatred – you name it, they’ve had it – America is teetering on the brink of a triumph. If Obama wins, then the United States will have at last come a huge and maybe decisive step closer to achieving the dream of Martin Luther King, of a land where people are judged not on the colour of their skin but by the content of their character.
If Obama wins, then black people the world over will be able to see how a gifted man has been able to smash through the ultimate glass ceiling.
If Obama wins, then it will be simply fatuous to claim that there are no black role models in politics or government, because there is no higher role model than the President of the United States.
If Barack Hussein Obama is successful next month, then we could even see the beginning of the end of race-based politics, with all the grievance-culture and special interest groups and political correctness that come with it.
If Obama wins, he will have established that being black is as relevant to your ability to do a hard job as being left-handed or ginger-haired, and he will have re-established America’s claim to be the last, best hope of Earth.
[This article was first published in the Daily Telegraph on 21 October 2008 under the heading, “Barack Obama: Why I believe he should be the next President”]