As a baby-boomer the first American presidential election of which I was really aware was in 1960. In my early teens the contest between the young (43) and charismatic John F Kennedy and the older (47) and much less fresh Richard Nixon seemed more than just a personality clash. Kennedy stood unequivocally for change whereas Nixon, who seemed to have been around for ever, stood for continuity with the Eisenhower years. It was the classic American political battle between conservatism and caution on the one side and a new dawn on the other. Shades of Roosevelt v Hoover in 1932. But Kennedy’s win was no FDR landslide – 1960 was a very close run thing indeed with the final margin being only 0.1% of the popular vote. America came pretty close to failing to elect the most charismatic and radical candidate for many years – but in the end JFK just scraped in.

Roll forward eight years to 1968 and America has been plunged by a deeply unpopular foreign war into turmoil. JFK is long gone and his successor is so embroiled in the Vietnam disaster that he stands down – another new dawn beckons if the needs of the hour lead to the rise of the right man. And Bobby Kennedy hears the call and mounts a campaign for the Democratic Party nomination that seems certain to lead to his choice as the candidate. But that too was not to be and America has no radical option on Election Day and, despite their misgivings, they go for the rejuvenated Nixon over the war tarnished Humphrey.

Now roll forward to today and, as in 1932 and 1960, but not in 1968, America has a clear choice. One candidate is young (47), articulate and fresh – in so many ways an inheritor of the mantle of the Kennedys. The other is old (72) and, like Nixon in 1960, unavoidably linked with the outgoing administration. But unlike Nixon, who benefited from his association with Eisenhower, there is no advantage at all for McCain to be linked with the terrible Bush years. On the contrary he has to distance himself from America’s worst ever President. But as Barack Obama  rightly points out McCain may not be a Bush insider but he is still a mainstream Republican and linked directly with the twin disasters of the failed Middle East wars and the failed American economy based, as it is, on McCain’s disastrous credo of loose regulation.

But, of course, this election is also about personalities and this is why I entreat that America holds its nerve and goes for the man who is in every conceivable respect symbolic of real change.  That Obama is smart and articulate is important. That he is young and energetic is significant. But the fact that he is an African-American is potentially ground-breaking in every way. A President Obama could and should use his race to hugely positive effect – just think of the esteem that will accrue to him if he wins and becomes the first President in history who is from an ethnic minority. If ever anyone can unite your so divided country it is Barack Obama.

And so my American friends please hold your nerve. As in 1932 and 1960 please vote for genuine change – and, at the same time, make a choice that will instantly boost America’s reputation around the world. Please have the courage to be different!

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