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So it’s Obama!

5 Nov 08

The US presidential election delivered a true moment of history. But what lies in store for the President-elect?

Last night we saw history being made across the Atlantic. Barack Obama’s convincing election victory shows that the US public are crying out for change, not just “Anyone but Dubya” but a genuinely dramatic change that has reshaped the political landscape of America.

Less than half a century ago, black Americans fought for the right to vote. Now a black man is President and it seems there is still some strength in the belief that in America, anything is possible.

If the rest of the world had a say in it, Obama would surely have won by an even bigger margin. His election gives the US a chance to repair its damaged relationships with other nations after two terms marked by war, confrontation, trade disputes and arguments over climate change.

But how much difference – other than the hugely symbolic fact of who he is - will Obama be able to make? Last month I was at a debate on the US elections hosted by lobby firm Fleishman-Hillard, with former Clinton adviser Bill Black and Sir Christopher Meyer, ex-ambassador to Washington.

Sir Christopher pointed out that we should not allow a common language to fool us into believing that US politics is anything like our own. For example, to European eyes the choice of Sarah Palin as the republican vice-presidential candidate seems extraordinary, but as the former ambassador pointed out: “In the US, small town populism is a very powerful force and is manifest in every election.”

In the States “red” is the colour of the right-wing party. That alone should be a warning that we cannot view US politics as if it was an extension of our own party system. John McCain, the Republican candidate, tried to portray Obama as some kind of socialist because he wants to increase taxes for those on $200,000 and more. In fact, compared with Obama and the mainstream Democrats our own Conservative party is a Communist cell.

Obama will be all too aware that he is taking office at a very challenging time, with mounting national debt, a troubled economy and an overstretched military. Sir Christopher Meyer described it as “the legacy from hell”. At least the new President will have a degree of goodwill around the world that the US has not enjoyed for years. Let’s hope he uses it wisely!

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US | election | Barack Obama
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