2008 Presidential Elections - Mccain v. Obama Thesis

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2008 Presidential Elections - McCain v. Obama

Repeated referral to the recently concluded U.S. Presidential elections as 'historic' seems to be a well-worn cliche, but there is no getting away from the fact that the event was indeed historic. A nation, which was founded on the lofty principles of liberty and equality just over two centuries and a half ago, had hypocritically continued to practice apartheid and discriminatory policies against its black population until as recently as the mid-sixties. Hence, even an idealist 'dreamer' like Martin Luther King Jr. could not possibly have imagined that the an African-American would be elected into the White House within such a relatively short period of the start of his struggle against the Jim Crow laws. But this is exactly what the American public did on November 4, 2008: created history by voting in Barack Hussein Obama as the 44th President of the United States. This paper looks at the issue of 'race' and 'change' during the 2008 U.S. elections. It specifically discusses questions such as: Did the media play down the race issue in favor of Obama? Was race an important issue during the campaign? What was the difference between Obama and other previous black Presidential candidates of the past? Was the U.S. ready for a change? Was the U.S. In need for a change?

Role of the Media in the Election Campaign

The role of the media in the information age plays a vital role in any elections; more so in the U.S. Presidential elections. Several studies conducted during the recent elections have suggested that media coverage of Obama was markedly more positive than for his rival, John McCain. For example, a study carried out by the Pew Research Center's "Project for Excellence in Journalism" found that in the six weeks following the Party conventions through to the final debate, over a third of the stories about Obama (36%) were decidedly positive while only 26% were negative -- the rest being neutral. On the other hand, nearly six in ten stories about McCain (57%) were clearly negative in nature (57%), while fewer than two in ten (14%) were positive ("Winning the Media Campaign, " pp. 1-2).

No specific studies are available on whether the media played down the race issue in favor of Obama but the above-mentioned media 'tilt' in favor of Obama suggests that he was not portrayed as just a 'black' candidate by a majority of the media. Needless to add, such depiction would have severely restricted his appeal among the majority white community as a serious Presidential candidate. Obama, himself, played a major role in successfully avoiding the label of being a 'black' candidate as he consciously implemented a campaign strategy in which he downplayed the issue of his race, unequivocally condemning the use of incendiary language by his former pastor, Reverend Jeremiah Wright, and successfully distanced himself from the 'angry' politics of black leaders such as Jesse Jackson Sr.

Was Race an Important Issue During the Elections?

Despite the downplaying of the race issue by the media and Obama's campaign team, race always lurked in the background of the 2008 election campaign like the proverbial "elephant in the room." (Grunwald). The question about Mr. Obama's race and his 'electability' was raised throughout the long and arduous campaign for the Oval office right from the time of his announcement of his candidacy in February 2007 down to the election result night of November 4, 2008. As early as January 2008, during his campaign for the Democratic Party presidential nomination against Hillary Clinton, a woman in the audience in Nevada got up and asked Senator Obama the question that had been lurking in the mind of many, "We have never elected a black man in our country...How can you address that issue or overcome that issue?" (Zeleny) the measured and calm response by Senator Obama reassured many white voters who were searching for an 'electable' Democratic candidate." While recognizing that there would always be some folks who will not vote for because he was black, he was convinced that a majority of the American people would give him a fair hearing and his race would not diminish his chances of getting elected as the President of the United States (Ibid).

Nevertheless, the race issue never remained far away from the surface during the entire 2008 elections despite a conscious effort by the Obama camp to steer clear of the race issue. It hit the headlines when the media focused on the controversial sermons of his former minister, Reverend Jeremiah Wright in which he had condemned the U.S. government in very harsh terms for mistreating its black population. The Wright controversy prompted Obama to deliver a speech titled, "A More Perfect Union" in which he denounced the controversial remarks of his former pastor but did not disown him, stating that such an act would be akin to disowning the black community or his own white grandmother ("Obama Race Speech"). He also asserted his "firm conviction" in the speech that "working together we can move beyond some of our old racial wounds, and that in fact we have no choice if we are to continue on the path of a more perfect union." (Ibid.) When the controversy refused to die down, Obama and his wife, Michelle, resigned their membership in Chicago's Trinity United Church of Christ, where Reverend Wright had served as a senior pastor (Powell).

The question of race also came to the fore as a result of remarks made by Obama's rivals during the elections. However, such 'racial' remarks often backfired and hurt his rivals more than it hurt him. For example, when, during the primaries, Hillary Clinton said she more than Obama appealed to "hard-working Americans, white Americans," she was pilloried for exploiting the racial divide (Whitaker). Similarly, when Sarah Palin stated in her speeches to her supporters that "Obama doesn't see America like they do," she may have elicited enthusiastic response from her hard-core supporters, but most analysts saw shades of unacceptable racism in her remarks.

All conscious effort by the Obama and McCain camps as well as the media at large to downplay the race issue could not allay the fears of the so-called "Bradley effect" right down to the day when the polling results of the 2008 elections were finally announced. The Bradley effect is a phenomenon named after the former Los Angeles Mayor, Tom Bradley who ran for governor of California in 1982. Pre-election polls showed him to be in a clear lead of about 10 points, but he still lost a close race in a shocking result. Similar phenomena occurred in several elections involving black candidates in the 1980s and 1990s (Koppleman). Hence, when Hillary Clinton won the New Hampshire primary in January 2008, despite trailing badly in the polls leading to the election, the apprehension about the "Bradley Effect" became more pronounced and the debate in the media did not die down until the final Obama victory.

The Difference between Obama and other Black Presidential Candidates of the Past

Barack Obama was not the first black candidate to have contested for the U.S. Presidency. Several others, including Shirley Chisholm (who was the first African-American to make a bid for the Democratic Party's presidential nomination in 1972), Al Sharpton (an American Baptist minister and a civil rights activist), Alan Keyes, and most notably Jesse Jackson have run for the U.S. Presidency before (Jakes). However, none of them were serious Presidential candidates or ever expected to actually win the elections. Most of the previous 'black' candidates, including Jesse Jackson, were principally trying to appeal to poor people, black people and disenfranchised people and were perceived to be "angry black" candidates due to their activist background and radicalized politics. Obama, on the other hand, is an Ivy-educated African-American who had a diverse career before entering politics. He took pains to present himself as a moderate, centrist candidate who could not be easily pigeonholed into a niche, or be dubbed 'ultra-liberal' or an 'angry black' candidate. Moreover, we must remember that Obama, despite the fact that he identifies himself as an African-American, is bi-racial (his mother was white) and was brought up in his formative years by his white grandmother. As a result, Obama was different than all previous black candidates and appealed to a greater cross-section of American voters.

Was the U.S. Ready for Change?

One of the main themes of the Obama campaign was the need for change and that his election would represent change. Although the rhetoric of 'change' was at times not fully explained, what Obama has stood for in the 2008 elections, is a change in course from the 'Conservative' politics of the last three decades ushered in by the Reagan presidency to a more 'progressive' agenda. The change that Obama promised during the elections is likely to transform into an end to the occupation of Iraq; using the money being wasted in fighting an 'un-winable' war for more pressing internal requirements… [END OF PREVIEW]

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2008 Presidential Elections - Mccain v. Obama.  (2008, November 17).  Retrieved December 12, 2019, from https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/2008-presidential-elections-mccain/13586

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