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Transformative presidents have been leaders who rose to greatness in moments of extreme crisis, said Allan Goodman, president and chief executive of the Institute of International Education in New York. They took themselves and a nation to places that seemed impossible, Goodman said during his lecture at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy on the U.S. presidential elections. He cited past presidents such as Abraham Lincoln and Franklin D. Roosevelt as examples.
U.S. President-Elect Barack Obama will face the biggest global financial crisis since the Great Depression of the 1930s when he takes office January 20, Goodman said. He will also have to deal with a host of domestic economic ills such as the $2 trillion drop in the value of retirement funds, rising unemployment, falling home values and deeply shaken consumer confidence.
However, it was the crisis that also presented Obama with opportunity to win, Goodman said. The “October surprise,” as he named the financial crisis, gave Obama the chance to unite and move the country closer to embodying its core ideals.
Goodman brought up various interesting facts about this years election. For example, almost 40% of Americans voted prior to the election date through various systems of absentee ballot. But even in a much contested election, about 40% choose not to vote at all, he said.
This year’s election had the second-highest number of youth votes in the history of the US. Obama won the under-30 crowd by 34 percentage points, even better than Democrat Bill Clinton’s 19-point advantage when he defeated Bob Dole in 1996.
The use and impact of new technologies and advertising was also unprecedented. The Democrats’ campaign advertisements played more than 140 thousand times prior to the election and overall expenditure amounted to $2 billion.
Americans were prepared to elect a president from a minority group. Issues of race, gender, and age did not act as a disadvantage, he said. About 4% of the U.S. population is Asian-American, 13% is African-American and 15% is Hispanic.
“Our whole society is changing in this respect and we are beginning to understand what that means for us,” Goodman said. “Obama has proven through his campaign and as a candidate that he knows us. Not us as America, but us as the world.”
Our whole society is changing in this respect and we are beginning to understand what that means for us
|Dr Allan Goodman|
President and CEO, Institute of International Education, New York.
Dr. Goodman was also special assistant to the director of the National Foreign Assessment Center in the Carter administration and has received awards from Georgetown, Johns Hopkins, and Tufts universities, as well as the French Légion d’honneur.