Americans head to polls dreaming of change: can Obama deliver if he wins?

SMU Political Scientist Cal Jillson talks about whether the winner of Tuesday's presidential election can deliver on promises.

 WASHINGTON — Some compare the soaring emotions to those surrounding Robert F. Kennedy's tragic run for the U.S. presidency in 1968.

Others say it's reminiscent of the Richard Nixon-John F. Kennedy race of 1960, when a young, relatively exotic candidate made a daring and successful challenge to the political status quo. For the first time in a generation, Americans head to the polls on Tuesday amid an atmosphere of hope, possibility and promise, anxious to put one era behind them and begin another.

They're casting their ballots in a historic election that could see the first black man in U.S. history win the White House some 232 years after the nation was founded under the ideal that all men are created equal.

Some suggest, however, that the hopes and dreams surrounding a potential Barack Obama presidency are a seriously tall order as the economy remains in crisis and there's little money in the coffers for him to immediately fulfil many of his campaign promises.

"Hope and expectations are running at high tide among Obama supporters," Cal Jillson, author of "Pursuing the American Dream: Opportunity and Exclusion Over Four Centuries," said Monday.

"If he's elected, his problem is going to be to manage those expectations and be sure that people understand that his administration is working hard, they know the seriousness of the situation and that they're going to keep trying until it begins to improve."

Jillson says Obama could easily position himself as a modern-day Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the beloved commander-in-chief of the 1930s and '40s who was elected during the Great Depression and ruled with calm reassurance throughout the turmoil.

"We are not there yet, but we are in the depths of a very serious economic recession, and people are worried that this could be the closest thing to a depression since FDR," said Jillson, who teaches political science at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.

"FDR's response back then was that he was working hard and he would not quit until things improved, even if it took a few years, which it did. FDR had a can-do, it-will-get-better sort of attitude, and that's how Obama has to be as well. He certainly has the demeanour for it - he stays calm in the face of crisis - and because of that, people seem willing to trust him."

Beyond economic issues, however, others are buoyed by the cultural implications of an Obama presidency and what it might suggest to the world about a new era of racial harmony in the United States.

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