The year has already started off with a surprise, and for many, carries with it the promise of profound change. In our annual year-end review, we predicted that Americans may not be quite as eager as some have thought to place a cartouche around the Clinton dynastic name. Last night, the Democratic voters of Iowa showed their independence and an appetite to embrace something entirely different: a young African American who may be light on experience but stands tall in his ability to see and articulate a vision for a different America. So new is he to the political scene that the name Barack Obama has yet to make it into the spell check of most word processing systems. Yet he voiced a view of the future that resonated in the most powerful way of all: one that gives people hope.
There are two issues of governance also worth noting. Large numbers of young people cast off their masks of indifference and turned out to vote. This is an encouraging sign for a democracy, especially one that has seen just barely half of eligible voters actually cast a ballot in recent presidential elections. Secondly, one can safely predict that if there is a tide that will sweep Barack Obama into the White House next November, its change producing effects will not end there. The field of corporate governance, too, and how corporate power is exercised, will also undergo major transformation. The past years have highlighted an unsettling imbalance between power and accountability in the governance of political and business institutions. The result has been an unpopular and costly war, swelling deficits, an American reputation that has declined to a low point in the world and a middle class that is following the same course. To this litany a crisis in credit markets and probable recession are now added thanks to the greed-driven misjudgments of Wall Street and the excesses of overpaid CEOs who remain immune from the carnage they create.
Whether or not any or all of these issues will be addressed in a meaningful way, whether or not ordinary people will begin again to feel a part of the government process in America and in control of the institutions that shape their lives, including the institution of capitalism, is, of course, too soon to tell with certainty. But if the change that many seem to long for does come, it will have started on a cold January night in Iowa, with the spark of a new accord of hope struck between the people of America and a lanky young man with the improbably presidential name of Barack Obama.