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America has a way of surprising itself, and it could yet be that this fascinating year of campaign will end in a result that hangs by a hanging chad, that loosely perforated voting slip that took the Bush-Gore battle all the way to the Supreme Court eight years ago. But it's unlikely. Mid-day Wednesday, we should know who will be the president-designate in what is still the world's only superpower. This has not been a good year for the United States. It is looking at the worst financial crisis in generations, one that's wiped out individual savings and one that may not have found its bottom yet. And while American anxiety over the costs of the Iraq war has stabilised, its campaign in Afghanistan, its original war of this century that was to have made the US and its interests worldwide more secure, is going more wrong. Both these issues — the financial crisis and a sense of diminished legitimacy overseas — could have grave consequences for America's place in the world, and indeed the state of the world.
Interesting, then, how the US has surprised us by its capacity to rethink every given in the course of the presidential campaign. Ten months after the primaries began, the election campaign has not been a distraction, but a way to create spaces for every shade of opinion to find utterance, even outside the US. The way the world has been enthralled by the contest is a message that the dominant sentiment, after the Bush presidency, is not so much anti-Americanism, but exasperation with the uses of American power and a concurrent belief that with adequate political will the superpower can repair its agenda for the greater global good.
So, the past 10 months have been a mix of voyeurism and hope as candidates have made a case for themselves through personal biography. Barack Obama, with the map of the world in his personal history, and a contention that his country is more accommodating of meaningful ambition than anywhere else. John McCain, with a record of dissent with his discredited party, and the idea that political parties must periodically hit the refresh key. These are two vastly different men, and the vote will speak as much about America as for the political agenda in Washington for the next four years.
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