What If McCain Were President?
Issue   |   Wed, 09/28/2011 - 02:20

What if John McCain had won the last presidential election? An infrequently considered point is not so much what this would have meant for the United States, but rather what it would have meant for the world at large. What would the people of the world have thought about the new Commander-in-Chief, and how would they have reacted?

McCain represented a great deal of what the international community didn’t appreciate about America. McCain was a Republican. Under Republican leadership, two U.S. wars were set in motion — the second of which was not sanctioned by the United Nations. Already present was the widespread opinion that America would always police the world, whether it needed to or not. Ignoring a U.N. vote and going to war with Iraq added validity to this claim. Even further, it added fear.

What was the purpose of the UN, if not to give voice to the people of the world? The people said “no,” but all that mattered was that the United States said “yes.” America gets what America wants, the international community learned. At the head of it all was George W. Bush, leader of the Republican Party. Justly or unjustly, some of the blame and the fear he generated was associated with his party.

Secondly, the financial crisis that enveloped the global economy came under Republican leadership. Anti-Republican resentment, as you may recall, was steadily building at this time. Americans saw family members get laid off, and they weren’t the only ones. Everyone around the world had less in his or her pocket. It may not have been the Republicans’ fault, but the people in power usually take the blame. This lack of responsibility appeared to be a central theme in a government that many saw as a government for the rich.

McCain was the candidate presented to the American public and to a world bearing this legacy. How could the people of the United States not have elected President Obama?

Let us consider one more crucial dynamic: McCain is white, ghostly white. Controversial? Definitely. True? Definitely. It puts him in stark contrast with the rest of the world. That a candidate coming from a “failed” party could even compete in any sense whatsoever with a smooth, friendly, confident, non-Caucasian Democrat like President Obama was inexplicable.

We feared racism. Many did not even wait for debate before making their decision on race-based terms. Can you imagine John McCain —white as a sheet, representing the party “responsible” for the economic crash and the difficult wars in Afghanistan and Iraq — being elected?

President Obama is a great orator. Moreover, he is simply likeable. Why would he not be elected? The focus should not be so much that the President was elected, but that McCain was not elected. The opposite would, perhaps, have sent a signal to the world that the United States was still a racist country.

I watched each of the presidential debates closely. Part of the character of our President is that he, at the very least, appears to believe everything he says. This is not to say that the same is not true of the other candidates. It is merely to note the effectiveness of the President’s style. In spontaneous questioning he seemed genuine. We believed that this was a good man who had not been involved in politics long enough to become tainted in any way.

The spell that the President weaved in the United States was transmitted to the entire world by a massive technology campaign. Here was someone we could relate to racially, emotionally and politically. Imagine, for a moment, the contrast that he generated internationally with the opposing candidate.

It is thus that John McCain’s election would have affected the world: politically, emotionally and racially. Politically, the international community would have feared that under the guise of more Republican leadership the United States would perpetuate its “police the world” policies, with no meaningful resistance from the U.N. Emotionally, we would have been angry that the party “responsible” for the financial crisis was re-elected. Racially, we would have judged American society and been deeply disappointed that progress in race matters was only an image, never a reality.

Nevertheless, McCain didn’t win the presidential election. Though these seeds of negativity were planted, fear, anger and disappointment were rebuffed. Our faith, in that instant, was revived. Once again, the rest of the world believed in the good of the greatest country on our planet.