CAMBRIDGE – On November 4, Americans will elect their 44th president amidst the worst financial turmoil the country has known since the onset of the Great Depression in 1929. Both candidates are United States senators with little experience as executives, so their ability to manage the crisis has become a central issue in the election.
At the beginning of the campaign, many observers predicted that Iraq would be the major issue in 2008. Instead, it is the financial crisis. In principle, this should help Barack Obama and the Democrats, because polls show them stronger on economic issues, whereas Republicans and John McCain do better on security issues. After the Republican convention, polls showed McCain ahead in early September, but after the financial meltdown, Obama took the lead.
Although both men have warily embraced the $700 billion bailout of the financial sector, the contrasts between the two men are sharp. Obama is not only the first African-American nominee of a major party, but also one of the youngest candidates ever. McCain has experience as a naval aviator and more than two decades in the Senate. If elected, he would be the oldest incoming president.
The two men differ in temperament as well as experience. McCain is a man of strong traditional values who prides himself on his willingness to act quickly and decisively, which he sought to do during the negotiations on the bailout by suspending his campaign to return to Washington. That effort appears to have backfired, because the Republicans that he leads initially balked at passing the legislation.