Politics, Business & Culture in the Americas

Dispatches: Observing the U.S. Elections

A Chilean journalist follows U.S. voters to the polls and finds history being made.

It is difficult to find an American over 50 who does not remember what he or she was doing the day John F. Kennedy or Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. Those moments are as vivid as photographs. For a new generation of Americans (not to mention millions of people worldwide), Barack Obama’s election and inauguration will be a similarly unforgettable—but much happier—snapshot in its collective memory.

Being a foreigner in the U.S. at this historic moment in American politics provided a unique comparative—and conflicted—perspective. As a Chilean journalist assigned to cover the elections for the Santiago-based newspaper El Mercurio, I was an objective observer, a detailer of facts and a supposedly unbiased collector of stories from the front line. However, the election of the first African American president, in the midst of the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, a result that many believed impossible only a year ago, and that many now hope will open up a new chapter of racial tolerance and integration, is an event that makes objectivity difficult. The sense of being eyewitness to history swept me and many of my colleagues up in the enthusiasm and evoked comparisons with similarly iconic moments. Talking to my mother in Chile the day after the election, I wondered aloud if this paralleled the celebrations that followed the “No” vote in 1989 that ended the rule of Augusto Pinochet.

My colleagues drew similar historical comparisons with their own national experiences. But they were also taken aback by some of the campaign’s rhetoric. A Russian journalist covering John McCain’s failed presidential run was amused by that campaign’s attempt to gain traction by insinuating that Obama’s economic platform was akin to socialism or even communism. “Would they [U.S. voters] even know what a communist is?” he wondered…


Tags: Antonieta Cadiz, Chile, El Mercurio, U.S. Elections
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