Friday, November 07, 2008

The Obama Presidency

At last. America seems to have elected a leader of vision, intelligence, honesty and morality; a leader whose personal history can serve to unite, rather than divide, communities within America and across the world; a leader whose very name is a symbol of what the 21st century has to be about, a symbol of Truth and Reconciliation – Barack Hussein Obama.

Of course, the election of this man is only a beginning. An astonishing pioneering first is not the same thing as a paradigm shift, and the election of a black President will not overturn American racism overnight. He may (perish the thought) be assassinated – there have already been two foiled conspiracies to do this, and it was striking that, on election night itself, the world saw the poignant image of this lean man standing alone between two panes of bullet-proof glass. I know all about the deadly intents of the radical right in the USA, having myself been the subject of death threats for casting a black performer as Juliet. I imagine that the racists would rate that capital crime as less serious than that of being the first black President.

Obama’s campaign against Hillary Clinton was largely focussed on foreign policy, and on his opposition to the Iraq war. I’m sure that this, together with his great charisma and oratorical abilities, was what won him the nomination within a Democratic party, and also won him so much worldwide support. But it’s worth noting that in the campaign against John McCain, Obama shifted his battle-ground significantly, and made comparatively few references to the war or the Middle East. Some of what he did say, particularly about Afghanistan and Pakistan, sounded distinctly hawkish. It may be that the shift in constituency from the Democratic Party to a wider American public led him to alter the emphasis of this policy – so we’ll have to see what actually happens once he takes office.

America, after all, is complex in terms of the role of government. In many ways, it distrusts government, or “state interference”. Bill Clinton, who also had the potential to be a great reforming President, was stymied by the power of the corporations, particularly the vested interests of the drug companies with regard to health policy. On the other hand, Obama arrives at the moment in history when global capitalism is at its weakest point, when the banks have gone cap in hand to the Federal Reserve, and in now in thrall to the state, in what amounts to a socialist model. So perhaps he really can push through a reforming agenda against the might of these amoral giants.

Here’s hoping.

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