Having served two terms, Presi- dent George W . Bush was constitu- tionally prohibited from being elected again to the presidency . After a spir- ited preconvention campaign, the Republicans chose as their candi- date Senator John McCain of Ari- zona . A Vietnam veteran respected for his heroic resistance as a prison- er of war, McCain possessed strong foreign policy credentials and was a relatively moderate conservative on domestic issues . He chose as his running mate Governor Sarah Palin of Alaska . Much admired by Chris- tian evangelicals and cultural conser- vatives, she drew almost as much attention as McCain himself .

In late 2007, it seemed nearly cer- tain that the Democratic nomination would go to Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York . The wife of former president Bill Clinton, she had quickly established herself as a leading member of Congress and possessed a strong national con- stituency among women and liberal Democrats . However, she faced a phe- nomenon not unusual in democratic societies—a relatively unknown, but charismatic, challenger whose ap- peal rested not on ideological or pro- grammatic differences but on style and personal background .

Barack Hussein Obama was only in his second year as a U .S . senator from Illinois, but his comparative youth and freshness were assets in a year when the electorate was weary of politics as usual . So was his multi-



cultural background . His father was from Kenya; his mother was a white American sociologist . Born in Ha- waii, he had spent his early years in Indonesia, where he attended a Mus- lim school . After his father left the family and his mother died at an ear- ly age, he had been raised by his grandmother . These family crises notwithstanding, he became a suc- cessful student at two of the best universities in the United States— Columbia and Harvard . His person- al style mixed a rare speaking talent with a hip informality that had great appeal to younger voters . Americans of all ages could consider him an emblematic representative of their society’s tradition of providing oppor- tunity for all .

After a close, hard-fought six months of party caucuses and pri- mary elections, Obama eked out a narrow victory over Clinton . He made Senator Joseph Biden of Dela- ware his vice-presidential selection . Most measures of popular sentiment indicated that the public wanted a change . The two candidates were ahead in many public opinion polls as the fall campaign season began .

Any chance that McCain and Palin could pull ahead was ended by the sharp financial crisis that be- gan in the last half of September and sent the economy crashing . Caused by excessive speculation in risky mortgage-backed securities and other unstable investment vehicles, the crash led to the bankruptcy of the venerable Lehman Brothers in- vestment house and momentarily

imperiled the entire financial super- structure of the nation . The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), created during the New Deal, shut down numerous banks without loss to depositors, but had no jurisdiction over the giant finan- cial investment companies that did not engage in commercial banking . Moreover, it had only limited capa- bilities to deal with those corpora- tions that did both .

Fearing a general financial melt- down reminiscent of the darkest days of the Great Depression, the U .S . Treasury and the Federal Re- serve engineered a Troubled Assets Relief Program (TARP) that was funded by a $700 billion congres- sional appropriation . The TARP program kept the endangered invest- ment banks afloat . What it could not do was stave off a sharp economic collapse in which millions of Ameri- cans lost their jobs .

That November, the voters elect- ed Obama president of the United States, with approximately 53 per- cent of the vote to McCain’s 46 .


Obama was inaugurated president of the United States on January 20, 2009, in an atmosphere of hope and high expectations . In his inaugural address, he declared: “The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spir- it; to choose our better history; to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea, passed on from genera- tion to generation: the God-given

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