It’s happened, and it’s happened emphatically. Victory for Barack Obama, Joe Biden and the Democrats has been not just a landslide, but an avalanche. He needed 270 Electoral College votes, and he’s currently sitting at 349, with some results still left to come in. He took an unprecedented victory in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia, and Florida. It’s a huge overturning of the Republican majority that has decimated the United States in the last eight years. It’s been a victory for clean, forthright policies over a party willing to smear and be negative. It’s more than simply a victory though. America has elected its first African-American president, something I didn’t think I’d see in the first 50 years of my life.
So, what does it mean? Of course, the sometimes almost messianic feeling that followed the Illinois Senator around is overblown. It can’t be assumed that he will heal his country in four years. He’s inherited a seemingly endless conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan, and a crippling economic crisis which will seriously stymie his ability to push through reforms in healthcare, education, and spend as he’d have wanted when he started the race twelve months ago. But we cannot underestimate the energising of the United States electorate that’s swept him to victory.
On the ground, he had huge financial resources, but also an unwavering support at grass roots level, whose unstinting work ensured a record turnout, and an unprecedented number of votes from young, black, immigrant, working class people that wanted change. And his unwavering belief that change could occur, that the USA could leave its hawkish, warmongering, isolationist agenda behind and reach out to the world in a new era for politics. This marks the end of the old conservative era, that began with Reagan’s terms in the 1980s and culminated in the Neocon-riddled administration of the ‘W’ era. There is fresh and real hope that this is a time for change and one that can be carried through.
Make no mistake, this will be a hugely tough term. And with the Senate looking like it’ll fall just short of the 60 super-majority that would’ve made his ability to change even more strong, Obama’s Democrats will find the road hard fought and trying, but the belief and willingness to change. And like other reformers before him, he’ll need to stamp his authority on the country in his first 100 days, looking to pass some of his most important bills when the momentum is still with him.
What will happen with Iraq? Will 16 months really be realistic to withdraw? I feel that some of his policies will need to be diluted, both to get them voted through, and also in light of the economic downturn that will blight his four years (and hopefully longer) in the Oval Office. And how will he turn round the economy? Will he be able to force more regulation on a Wall Street that has supported him in his presidential reign? If he can count on one thing though, it should be that he’ll have support from the public like no president has seen since the JFK years.
And what of the elephant in the room… will there be an attempt on his life? There are many in the USA that have expressed enough ire to suggest that it may happen. If we are to believe stories in recent weeks, some have already tried. We can only pray that he sees out his term, and will seek and succeed in a second in 2012.
But there is no escaping the resonance of Nov 4th 2008. The day that the USA voted its first black President into office, and the day that, for once, optimism, hope and change became something tangible and realistic in a decision that should change not just the States, but ripple to the rest of the world. We can be hope.