Welcome to THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English. I'm Steve Ember. Our subject this week is the election of two thousand eight.
this is Shep O’Neal. On January twentieth, Barack Obama will be
inaugurated as the forty-fourth president of the United States.
He won fifty-three percent of the popular vote and far more of the
electoral votes than he needed to become president. His decisive
victory over John McCain brought down the last racial barrier in
American politics. It also followed two presidential elections that
were narrowly decided.
Yet until a few years ago, almost no one
outside of Illinois had ever heard of Barack Hussein Obama. The son of
a black father from Kenya and a white mother from Kansas had a simple
theme for his campaign for the White House. It was about change. And he
came back to it in his acceptance speech Tuesday night.
BARACK OBAMA: "Because of what we did on this day, in this election, at this defining moment, change has come to America."
Barack Obama is forty-seven years old. He was elected a United States senator from Illinois four years ago.
campaign for the White House lasted twenty-one months. Unlike John
McCain, he decided against public campaign financing. More than three
million people donated to the Obama campaign, often in small amounts
over the Internet. He raised more than six hundred million dollars,
more money than any presidential candidate ever has.
was built on an aggressive campaign in states that for many years have
voted Republican for president. He won Virginia and Indiana -- two
states that last voted for a Democrat in nineteen sixty-four.
changes have helped the Democrats make gains in some states, including
Virginia, in recent years. Still, many political observers say the
Obama campaign organized the best operation they have ever seen.
the first and possibly most important victory came in the Iowa caucuses
in January. That was where he first defeated Senator Hillary Clinton
and proved that a black candidate could appeal to white voters. More
than ninety percent of Iowa’s population is white. He carried Iowa
again in the general election on Tuesday, with fifty-four percent of
An estimated one hundred thirty-five
million Americans voted in the election. Final totals may not be known
for several weeks, but experts said this year's turnout rate could be
the highest since nineteen sixty. Almost sixty-three percent of the
voting age population voted that year.
Two out of three voters
under the age of thirty chose Barack Obama and Joe Biden. John McCain
and his running mate, Sarah Palin, won the majority of Americans age
sixty-five and older.
And they won the support of fifty-five
percent of white voters. No Democrat has won a majority of the white
vote since at least nineteen seventy-two. That was the year public
opinion researchers started asking such questions on Election Day.
Obama carried the support of African-Americans, Latinos and Asians. He
also won independent voters and about one-fifth of people who voted for
George Bush four years ago. And he captured almost all of the so-called
swing states, where the election was most competitive. These included
Ohio, Florida, Virginia and Iowa.
Elections are always emotional events, but this one was especially so.
VOTER: "I’m speechless. I’m trying not to cry right now. I’m thinking
of my great-grandfather, my grandmother. Man, this is amazing."
was a voter in California. In Chicago, where Mister Obama and his
family live, more than one hundred thousand people gathered in Grant
Park. They came to await the election results, and then celebrated his
OBAMA: "If there is anyone out there who still doubts that Americais a
place where all things are possible, who still wonders if the dream of
our founders is alive in our time, who still questions the power of our
democracy, tonight is your answer."
is generally a difficult subject for Americans to talk about. Political
observers point out that Barack Obama never campaigned as a black
candidate so much as a candidate who is black. He talked mostly about
issues affecting all Americans -- especially the most important issue,
His victory comes fifty years
after the start of the civil rights movement. And it was just one
hundred forty-five years ago when Abraham Lincoln freed blacks from
But African-Americans could not freely exercise their
right to vote in the South until nineteen sixty-five. That was when
Congress passed the Voting Rights Act. Blacks had gained the right to
vote in eighteen seventy but violence and state laws kept many from
One man who took part in the civil rights struggle, and was almost killed, is Representative John Lewis of Georgia.
LEWIS: "It does not matter whether you are black or white or Latino or
Asian American or Native American, you can grow up in America and be
anything you want to be. People will be saying for years to come, ‘If
Barack Obama can do it, you can do it too.’”
John McCain accepted defeat shortly after voting ended Tuesday night. The Arizona Senator promised to support Barack Obama.
McCAIN: "I urge all Americans who supported me to join me in not just
congratulating him, but offering our next president our good will and
earnest effort to find ways to come together, to find the necessary
compromises to bridge our differences, and help restore our prosperity,
defend our security in a dangerous world, and leave our children and
grandchildren a stronger, better country than we inherited.”
Barack Obama must work to deliver on his promises. These include middle
class tax cuts, new energy programs and a withdrawal from Iraq.
Expectations are extra high. He will lead a nation fighting two wars
and experiencing what he calls the "greatest economic challenge of our
Another big issue in the election
was health care. An estimated forty-six million Americans, or fifteen
percent, did not have health insurance coverage last year. Barack Obama
wants to require large employers to either offer insurance or pay into
a government plan to cover uninsured people. He also proposes a health
tax credit for small businesses. And he wants to require insurance
companies to offer coverage even to people who already have health
In his victory speech, President-elect Obama said solving America’s problems will not be easy.
OBAMA: "The road ahead will be long. Our climb will be steep. We may
not get there in one year or even in one term. But America, I have
never been more hopeful than I am tonight that we will get there.”
Tuesday's elections, the Democrats not only won the presidency but also
expanded their majorities in both houses of Congress. Alan Lichtman is
a political science professor at American University in Washington. He
says there is evidence that much can get done when one party controls
the Congress and White House. He says this is true especially if a
president has big plans. For example, Franklin Roosevelt, a Democrat,
was elected in nineteen thirty-two, also at a time of economic crisis.
He got a Democratic Congress to pass fifteen major bills in his first
one hundred days.
Still, experts say congressional Democrats
will not approve everything Mister Obama proposes just because he
proposes it. Also, they say that even with increased majorities in
Congress, the Democrats may at times have to look to Republicans for
The Democrats will also have to see
whether last week's results were a sign of a big change in American
politics or just a rejection of George Bush. The first big test will
come with the midterm congressional elections in two years.
losses in two thousand six and again now have led to internal criticism
and calls for fresh leadership. Thomas Mann at the Brookings
Institution says the Republicans could have a third or fourth rough
election before -- in his words -- "they get themselves straightened
Americans also voted on
ballot measures in thirty-six states. In California, the most populous
state, voters approved an amendment to the state constitution to ban
same-sex marriage. Opponents immediately filed legal action. They say
the passage of Proposition Eight will deny equal rights for all
Californians. In May the California Supreme Court ruled that the state
constitution protected marriage between homosexuals.
measure passed with strong support among blacks and Latinos. Similar
ballot measures restricting marriage to a man and a woman also passed
in Florida and Arizona.
But proposals that would have limited the right to abortion failed in California, South Dakota and Colorado.
program was written by Brianna Blake, Nancy Steinbach and Caty Weaver.
For the latest news, go to voaspecialenglish.com. I'm Steve Ember.
And this is Shep O’Neal. Join us again next week for THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English.
story said John McCain conceded defeat on election night after
voting had ended. Voting stations were still open in Alaska.