America’s dominance in the ‘global bazaar’ is past. The next president needs to reassure the international community that the U.S. can relate to it more sensitively

Four years ago, almost to this day, I flew to my home in New York from my base in Dubai in order to vote for Barack Obama.

I could have cast an absentee ballot in Dubai, of course, but this was history in the making — the first African-American president of the United States was about to be elected — and I wanted to be able to say that I was there when it happened.

So I voted in New York. On the evening of Election Day 2008, I went to the home of Ted Sorensen, who was President John F. Kennedy’s closest aide, and his speech-writer. Ted and his wife Gillian traditionally hosted an election-night dinner, and on this occasion there were a number of high-profile guests such as the economist Jeffrey Sachs.

When CNN announced that Mr. Obama had defeated the Republican candidate Sen. John McCain and would become the 44th president of the United States, there wasn’t a dry eye in the Sorensens living room. I still recall how Professor Sachs kept saying, “Oh my, oh my.”

And now it is four years later. Ted Sorensen is gone. I’m not sure that the Sorensen dinner has been continued by Gillian. President Obama is about to be re-elected to a second term, if polls are right, and I’m in New Delhi, not New York.

Supporting the campaign

I decided not to fly across to vote in person. I decided to stick to my schedule of research and interviews in India for a forthcoming book. The excitement of 2008 had diminished. After all, you can only vote once to elect the first black president for the first time. The second time around, he’d already become what he became.

I kept rooting for Barack Obama, to be sure. As a professional journalist for nearly five decades, however, I should have kept my political views to myself; the rules of the game suggested that I should have been even-handed about the two candidates — Mr. Obama, the Democrat, and Willard Mitt Romney, the Republican.

But in my reckoning, there was such a chasm between the two men, such a difference in their respective visions for governance, and such contrary views about America’s role in dealing with the developing world — including India, my native country, and the Gulf, my adopted region — that it fetched no hesitation whatsoever to signal my political preference. The rules be damned.

And so I gave money to the Obama campaign — not a huge amount, but a figure that nevertheless made a dent in my pocketbook. I posted articles endlessly on Facebook about the presidential campaign. I diligently — even obsessively — followed the polls. I was even tempted to place a bet on InTrade.Com, the global betting site with a record for accuracy.

Most of all, I kept hoping that decency and fair play would triumph. It wasn’t that Mr. Romney was an ogre; it was simply that his candidacy offered little comfort that he would look sympathetically at a wider world constituency consisting of more have-nots than haves.

Barack Obama possessed the sensibility that an American president — arguably the single most powerful political leader in the world — needed for the United States to relate better, to relate more sensitively to that constituency. The days are long gone when America can dominate the global bazaar; it may be the world’s only military superpower, but now it has to contend with upcoming economic players such as China, India, and Brazil. Mr. Romney never really told us how he would deal with this rapidly changing scene; indeed, did he have any thoughts to relay beyond American triumphalism?

In my mind there was little doubt that, although the man elected on November 6, would initially have to make America’s troubled economy a priority, he would need to reassure the bigger international community that the United States cared — that it cared enough to help uplift vast cohorts of people from poverty and ensure that they had a fair chance for a secure and prosperous life.

I felt Mr. Romney wasn’t that man. Mr. Obama was — in his thoughts, in his general foreign policies, in his temperament. His background was one of personal familiarity with the larger world — the Third World — nestling outside the shrinking elitist confines of America’s rich and privileged.

This is not to say that the next American president would significantly alter the dynamics of that world in the short run. There are simply too many fissures, too many problems of maldistribution of wealth, malfeasance and malgovernance in the Third World. But I felt that President Obama grasped those realities far better than his opponent; after all, he’d already had four years in the White House.

Four more years, and he would refine his sensibilities about the Third World whose peoples constitute the overwhelming majority of the global population of nearly seven billion.

We will see. As with all things political, the promise doesn’t always play out. But I know that Barack Obama has his heart in the right place — just as I do in supporting him.

(Pranay Gupte is a veteran journalist. E-mail: pranaygupte@gmail.com)

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