Thabo Leshilo

The spotlight is firmly on Americans as they go to the polls today to elect a new president.

The choices have never been so stark and the burden so onerous on every man and woman, young or old, as they make that all-important cross on the ballot paper.

It's no ordinary election. It is the defining moment in the history of the most powerful nation on earth, one that fancies itself the moral leader of the world and a model for true democracy.

But this election finds the US in no position to justify such an extravagant claim. As Barack Obama, the man tipped to win the historic election, correctly says, Uncle Sam America has lost his standing in the world, thanks to eight years of misrule by George Bush.

Bush's contempt for international affairs has diminished the country's standing in the world. His jingoistic policies have seen the country abuse her power to invade Iraq, without cause.

Bush and his cronies have brought the US economy to its knees.

Contrary to their infamous caricature, Americans are not stupid. They are tired of the Republicans' plutocracy and cronyism. They are fed up and they want change. Given the country's problems, that change would have to be much more fundamental than just choosing between a Republican and a Democrat - something akin to a revolution.

Malcom X said 44 years ago: "America today is at a time or in a day or at an hour where she is the first country on this earth that can actually have a bloodless revolution. In the past, revolutions have been bloody. Historically, you just don't have a bloodless revolution.

"Revolutions are bloody, revolutions are violent, they cause bloodshed and death follows in their paths. America is the only country in history in a position to bring about a revolution without violence and bloodshed. But America is not morally equipped to do so."

Today, its democracy is on trial again. The American Dream remains an illusion to millions. It has become a nightmare for millions more who continue to lose their homes and jobs. The US is feared and despised by many nations because of its unilateralism in world affairs and disregard for the UN. It is blinded by obsession with advancing its national interest, even to the detriment of humanity, as in Bush's refusal to commit to targets for reducing gas house emissions as climate change wreaks havoc around the world.

Today, America can change all that by making Obama leader. It has a golden opportunity to make peace with the world. Given Obama's opposition to the illegal and immoral war in Iraq, he offers Americans a chance to atone for thumping their collective nose at the world in 2004 when they extended Bush's mandate to continue his bloody foreign policy.

Voting for John McCain means electing to continue Bush's failed foreign policy. A vote for McCain means a vote to continue the Republicans' plutocracy, a preference for Wall Street fat cats over ordinary people, as shown by the $700 billion bailout of financial institutions that has caused Americans misery. The national debt is a whopping $10 trillion.

According to civil rights leader the Reverend Al Shapton, Obama is a unifier. He will be a "president who is black (but) represents all of America".

The fact that Obama has come this far, against the most formidable obstacles, is credit to his tenacity.

He has been called anti-American and there's even the bizarre claim that he is a Marxist who wants to redistribute wealth, merely because he opposes lofty tax cuts for the super-rich and believes every American should have a descent life cover. He is also called a Muslim, which equates him to Prime Evil in Republican speak.

But, Americans have seen through all this and Obama looks set to win and make history as the first black president of the US.

For him to have come so far shows an increasing determination among decent white Americans to make a clean break with America's racist past. Obama as president would be a significant psychological boost for people of colour in the US and all over the world.

Surely, if a black man can become US president, they too can become anything they want, if they are willing to work for it.

For blacks and Latinos, Obama as president would restore faith in the American Dream.

Does America have it within her to make a clean break with its racist past and near-pariah status in the world? Is she morally equipped to bring about a bloodless revolution? Yes, if the scores of young white people I see so enthusiastically campaign for him are anything to go by. Still, Boston, Massachusetts, is Obamaland.

The only thing that can stop that happening would be an outright rigging of the polls. That would be devastating for the millions of young people, black and white, many of whom have been spurred to vote for the first time by the prospect of helping change their country for the better.

It would be devastating for them if Obama loses. The consequences of which could be even more dire.

l The writer is on a Nieman Fellowship at Harvard University in Massachusetts, US.