History Unfolding: the U.S. Presidential Election

Oct 82008

By Ali Barada

Yes, Barack Obama made history in the 2008 U.S. Presidential Election. While the lessons of his historic victory are yet to be learned, I have already gained insights into the unfolding story of America’s democracy.

As one of 50 journalists who were invited by the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ) and the U.S. State Department’s Foreign Press Center (FPC), I had the opportunity to cover the democratic process in which Obama made his way to the White House. Coming from Lebanon, a small, fragile, but rare democracy in the Arab World, I found myself witnessing a new phase in America’s already well-established democratic tradition during my stay in Washington, D.C. and Denver, Colorado.

During the orientation program in Washington, D.C., ten days before Election Day, it was already quite obvious that many Americans, not only Democrat affiliates but also some Republicans, were leaning towards Obama. More interestingly, the majority of the 50 visiting journalists, from Russia and Vietnam to France and Zimbabwe, and from Mexico and Jordan to India and China, were readying themselves to rejoice and celebrate Obama’s victory. A few others were showing sympathy for John McCain. Those among journalists and Americans who were gambling on a Bradley Effect [with pre-election surveys distorted because of race] were disappointed; the voting outcome was identical to the frequent polling results – a lesson in the potential of the democratic process when people are voting for change.

Liang (Jeff) Jianfeng, a colleague from China, told me, when we were covering this momentous event from the Rocky Mountain News in Denver, that he was experiencing something poles apart from what he had learned in his homeland. I too considered how in my country, Lebanon, the electoral system looks different. There have always been calls for free and fair elections, yet the Lebanese electoral practice lacks transparency and efficacy in terms of change. An American journalist in Denver explained to me that expectations for change in the U.S. were very high, particularly for breaking barriers in American society, but, he added, that this would not be a revolution by an unprecedented majority.

Jeff and I went to several events in Colorado – remarkable rallies in Pueblo for Obama and in Colorado Springs for Palin; and special interviews with people from all walks of life, including politicians, university professors, students, and everyday citizens. With this, we, and our international colleagues in states elsewhere, savored the exhilaration of anticipation shared by so many across the nation and the world, the expectation of monumental change – a feeling not associated with elections in our home countries.

Obama’s charisma, intelligence, and powerful speeches have made him extremely popular with not only Americans, but also many around the world. He never strayed from his core message. He has shown the world what can be accomplished with joint forces, bringing a message of hope over fear, forged with professional competence. The expectations for change and hope were, and amazingly are, very high in the United States and elsewhere. There is no better testimony to the enduring promise of democracy than the election to the presidency of Obama.

The world will be watching and learning.

The writer is Executive Editor and Beirut Correspondent of Al-Bayan newspaper, and Associate Editor of An-Nahar daily newspaper