Opposite the young, eloquent democrat Barack Obama, the republican presidential candidate represents everything Europeans abhor about the United States: an ultraliberal, conservative country that is voluntarily interventionist when its own interests are at stake. But important nuances seem to disappear during the atlantic crossing, leaving a simplified black and white version of the reality.
McCain and Bush – the same fight
Despite both being from the republican party, the two men have some very different ideas. ‘McCain was the outgoing president’s ‘arch enemy’ in the senate,’ explains Marie Bolton, an American civilisation specialist. They have often had contradictory viewpoints and their relationship is described as one of ‘love and hate’. ‘It’s important to make the difference between McCain the senator and McCain the election candidate.’ As a senator, he was a very independent politician, often challenging his own party. He’s never been one to mince words and on several occasions has sided with the democrats. His priority has always been to achieve the best for his country. His integrity is a quality that even his adversaries recognise. The elections have shifted McCain's image to that of a republican flag-holder, an inevitable consequence of an electoral campaign.
McCain, reactive when it comes to social issues
An argument that is difficult to challenge but is largely due to his running mate Sarah Palin. Despite the American people’s perception that she would struggle to replace the president in case of need, she represents the most conservative fringe of the USA. Sarah Palin was imposed on McCain by his party with the aim of winning the support of those Americans ‘who feel overwhelmed by the war and the financial crisis but for who refusing abortion is an absolute viewpoint they share with republicans.’ On the flip side of the coin, it would be a mistake to perceive Obama as having a very liberal moral position. He agrees that abortion should remain legal. He is however against homosexual marriage, although he rejects including this in the constitution. And the last thing to mention: unusually for a democrat, God is as present in Obama’s rhetoric as in McCain’s.
McCain is pro-war
As the campaign has progressed Obama appears to have taken on the image of the domestic specialist (the economy, social issues) and McCain that of foreign policy specialist. McCain’s proposal to maintain troops in Iraq in the long-term has labelled him as a partisan of force. For McCain however, war is not a solve-all solution: the former soldier has a deep respect for the armed forces and his wish is to protect them as much as possible. He was one of the first to oppose the practice of torture which he personally experienced in Vietnam. The chamber of representatives (in reality democratic), the Iraqi government and the development of the international situation must also be considered: ‘McCain might not have the choice!’ In the other camp, although Obama is proposing a rapid withdrawal of troops from Iraq (in sixteen months), his focus on Afghanistan (sending 7, 000 more men) proves that position on this issue is not all that different.
McCain, one foot in the grave
Controversy over his age and his medical condition has hounded McCain. His 71 years and health issues resulting from after-effects of the war and cancer led to calls for his medical file to be made public, which were refused becoming the subject of a CNN documentary, Fit to Lead. In May, his file was finally examined by a doctor named Victor Trastek from the Mayo Clinic in Arizona who concluded that statistically, there was every likelihood that McCain would finish his mandate in good health. And the American people feel confident in a man who has survived five years in Vietnamese prisoner of war camps(Image: sloomis08/ Flickr). On the other hand let’s suppose that Obama wins the election; hypotheses of an assassination along the lines of John F. Kennedy or Martin Luther King are frightening, but not unfathomable.
McCain is going to lose
‘How could they choose McCain?’ cry us Europeans, convinced that Obama is going to win. The specialists are less convinced. ‘It wouldn’t be all that surprising to see a McCain victory,’ concludes Maris Bolton. Although Bush's lack of popularity has discredited him somewhat republican ideals remain very present in American society. But what about Obama’s lead in the surveys? It looks like it might be another case of the 'Bradley effect' (so-named after the black candidate for California who was wrongly predicted as the winner by all the surveys) – a large part of the electorate may show support for a black candidate, but when push comes to shove this is not how they vote.
It’s not our election after all: some candidates might seem better to us than others, but in the end it is the American people who will decide.