By Judith Hellebronth
America is voting in the most important election in its history, and voters will have a number of big issues to weigh before casting their ballot, said a prominent American studies scholar at The American University in Cairo.
Speaking at the Semiramis InterContinental Hotel on Saturday, former US diplomat Jerry W. Leach predicted Americans would see dramatic political changes because of dissatisfaction with the George W. Bush administration.
Already, voters will have historic choices: Barack Obama, the Democratic presidential candidate, could be the first African-American in the Oval Office, or Republican candidate John McCain, the oldest candidate for the White House, and his running mate, who would be the first female Vice President, Sarah Palin.
Though not an election issue, race will be a factor inside the voting booths, said Leach, director of the Prince Alwaleed bin Talal bin Abdulaziz Alsaud Center for American Studies and Research at AUC.
According to Leach, a number of people will base their vote on the fact that Obama is a black, which will work for and against him. Almost 14 percent of the country’s population are African-American, Leach said, quoting polls that show nearly 98 percent of Blacks would be voting “This is their moment in American history to make a change and to enter the White House,” Leach said.
But the issue altering the election campaign entirely has been the financial crisis, Leach said, which has plunged the US into a near-recession.
It has shaken people’s confidence about which candidate to vote for, Leach said, adding both McCain and Obama have not been able to provide profound solutions yet. “It really tipped the harmony of the country,” Leach said.
Tied into concerns about the financial health of the country is the issue of taxes, Leach said. Obama plans to raise taxes by 5 percent for the top earners, and lower them for the remaining 95 percent of Americans, while McCain would not raise anyone’s taxes.
As 17 percent of Americans lack health insurance, both candidates have plans to tackle the problem, Leach reported. Obama plans to finance an obligatory insurance for every American, financed by taxes and credits, while McCain calls for insurances as part of the private sector. “Anyways, it is time to solve it,” Leach said.
Foreign affairs are also of concern to American voters, but both candidates have refrained from speaking in detail about the current frontlines in Afghanistan and Pakistan, Leach said. McCain sticks to the Bush administration’s line, whereas Obama wants to narrow the conflict down to a war on Al Qaeda as the only way to defeat terrorism.
Iraq remains an issue, though not as pressing, he said. The focus is on withdrawal of American troops, Leach explained. Obama is enforcing a pull-out in 2010, while McCain calls for the military to stay until democracy has arrived.
Leach closed his lecture speaking about the impact of a candidate’s temperament on voters. Leach estimated that half of votes are cast just because of the perception of a candidate. The only way to ensure the president will make decisions conforming to the wishes of voters is if he represents a certain stable character, Leach explained.
Leach concluded with a prediction on who would win tonight.
“Barack Obama is going to win the election on Tuesday!” he said.