Thursday, November 06, 2008

He won – but can Obama heal America?

The Independent sum up I think a little of what all of us are at this moment feeling:

This outcome had been predicted (this time, mercifully, the polls were pretty much spot-on). But when the epochal event finally came to pass, it was still hard yesterday for most people to come to grips with it. The implications for the foreign and domestic policy of the US, for how America sees itself and how the world sees America, are too vast. The one person who appeared to grasp exactly what had happened, and what it might mean, was... Mr Obama himself.

I said before the election that he appeared to be the only person who was supremely confident that enough had been done to ensure victory. Indeed, by the time he came to make his acceptance speech he was the only one holding it together as everyone else seemed to be completely overtaken by the emotion of it all with Jesse Jackson and other political big hitters openly crying as we witnessed the last dam being breached.

And, this morning on CNN, we heard the hope of leaders from all over the world that an Obama presidency represented a new way for America to deal with other nations, from South America to the Middle East, with even the Russians making clear that their problem is not with Americans as much as with the attitude of Bush and the neo-cons.

And Paul Krugman expressed a hope that I think represents a view which we all share. That this will be the end of the Monster years.

Last night wasn’t just a victory for tolerance; it wasn’t just a mandate for progressive change; it was also, I hope, the end of the monster years.

What I mean by that is that for the past 14 years America’s political life has been largely dominated by, well, monsters. Monsters like Tom DeLay, who suggested that the shootings at Columbine happened because schools teach students the theory of evolution. Monsters like Karl Rove, who declared that liberals wanted to offer “therapy and understanding” to terrorists. Monsters like Dick Cheney, who saw 9/11 as an opportunity to start torturing people.

And in our national discourse, we pretended that these monsters were reasonable, respectable people. To point out that the monsters were, in fact, monsters, was “shrill.”

Four years ago it seemed as if the monsters would dominate American politics for a long time to come. But for now, at least, they’ve been banished to the wilderness.

Obama starts off with a wealth of goodwill heaped towards him because we recognise in him a good, intelligent and balanced human being.

For far too long in American politics we have had to pretend that thugs were reasonable people and that anyone who opposed them was somehow "radical". Obama has transcended all of that. When the Republican attack dog machine threw their worst at him he simply laughed at them and ended up looking like the only adult in the room.

Now we have to wonder if he can possibly pull off the grand plan on which he was elected, to make what is essentially "not a red America or a blue America but a United States of America."

At this point in time, as when he made his historic speech and the rest of us wept, we have to have faith that the guy that keeps his composure when the rest of us lose ours, knows where he's heading.

He's shown throughout the rigorous election process that he could remain an adult and that we could conduct our discourse in an adult manner. It will be fascinating to see that philosophy applied to international and domestic politics.

As he begins his epic task he does so with the world on his side. We want the old America back, we want a partner on the international stage who works with us rather than seeking to impose ideology on to others.

Obama, as the outpouring of gratitude around the planet proves, is exactly what we have all been waiting for. Now he's just got to do it. And that's no small task. But we all wish him well.

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