It is highly probable that by Wednesday morning (Indian Standard Time), Senator Barack Obama will be declared elected as the 44th President of the United States. One commentator has said that if Mr. Obama does not win, the election will have been stolen or rigged. Be that as it may, and irrespective of the enormous challenges facing the new President, the remarkable thing about the contest itself is that a member of the biggest single ethnic minority and the single most downtrodden group in the U.S. is the hot favourite for the most powerful political office in the world. In a society savagely divided by wealth, by ethnicity, and above all by the hideous legacy of slavery, all the battles for rights, all the oppression and suffering, have culminated in a triumph for the rights enshrined in the Constitution, confirmed by the Supreme Court, and given substance by Presidents such as John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson through major legislation and policy such as the Great Society, Headstart, and affirmative action programmes.

In this respect, the U.S. stands in striking contrast to the integrated societies of western Europe. Those societies, usually considered models of social democracy, have adopted extensive anti-discrimination legislation as well as the European Convention on Human Rights. They have also taken a typically European approach in implementing inclusive and anti-discriminatory practice in the public services, especially health and education, which are used by the overwhelming majority of western Europeans. Nevertheless, their record of electing members of their ethnic minorities to representative assemblies and appointing them to high office is far worse than that of the U.S.; some of the governmental appointments have also had tokenistic undertones, as the appointees have not always been the best available. The political parties are largely responsible for this; they often nominate ethnic-minority candidates to the same constituencies, so that the candidacies cancel one another out and the parties can look non-discriminatory but maintain white dominance in elected assemblies. Such conduct also constitutes a gross racial insult to ethnic-minority voters, as it assumes they only vote for ethnic-minority candidates. In addition, several western European political parties have relied on vote-banks controlled by so-called ethnic-minority leaders, and have been slow to confront major questions like the oppression of women in some of the communities concerned. In comparison, Barack Obama’s position as the leading candidate for the presidency is a mighty achievement for the American republic.