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The 2008 US Election

November 30, 2008
Obama’s challenge

Patrick Guntensperger
Jakarta, Indonesia

There are two sides to the legacy Barack Hussein Obama has inherited from George Walker Bush. On the one hand, Obama owes his presidency to Bush; on the other hand that gift may be an exploding cigar.

It may be a somewhat cynical view that the sheer, blind ineptness of George W. Bush was Obama’s greatest asset in his march toward the presidency, but it took the most thoroughly despised president in United States history to create a political atmosphere in which it was possible for Obama to be elected. Even a century and a half after the country fought a civil war to rid itself of slavery, it took a paradigm shift of epic proportions before most Americans could actually envision themselves led by a person of color. That paradigm shift was only made thanks to the staggeringly awful leadership of Bush the Lesser.

That it was about time that the land of the free and the home of the brave made that paradigm shift is obvious; but it should never be forgotten just how challenging that alteration in national mindset was. Right up until the votes were being counted and it was looking like a landslide victory for Obama, pundits, me included, were asking whether, in the privacy of the voting booth, Americans would be capable of casting their vote for a relatively young, relatively liberal African American with a suspicious name. It is a tribute to the Democrats and to Obama himself that Americans finally put aside their suspicions and their fears of the very characteristics that set Obama apart from previous presidential nominees. It is also a tribute to the intense loathing and contempt that the country felt for Bush.

That loathing brought out a segment of the electorate that had never felt its own power before. Voters who had pretty much given up on the efficacy of their single vote were so enraged at their president that they cast their ballots from deep, seething anger. And that segment is now recognizing its power, so long latent; a power that comes from unified opposition to the status quo.

It is possible that this election might herald a resurgence of American interest in politics, in liberal causes, in doing the right thing. There is a chance that the world will once again see a grassroots movement of the previously disenfranchised to seize control of the West’s political agenda. If this comes about, it will be stronger, more coordinated, and more mature than the 1960’s version of political involvement by one-time underdogs. This time the revolution won’t be divided along generational lines; this time everyone, of any age, who is sick to death of politics for the few will be active. They will expect, no, they will demand a responsive government; they will not tolerate a royal White House, run for the privileged few on the backs of the majority.

Obama may indeed have reaped the whirlwind. The populace is wound up, revelling in its newfound power, spoiling for a fight. Obama will have to deliver.

Whatever its current degraded condition and reputation, there was a time when the United States of America was great; it was self-consciously created to be a ‘city on the hill’, a shining example of intellectually and morally mature civilization. Its constitution was founded on the intellectual liberal tradition of the Enlightenment and drafted as a monument to rational, non-traditional thinking. If this political resurgence holds, and here’s hoping it does, the people of America are going to demand no less from their leader. And they will hold his feet to the fire.

Can Obama deliver? We shall see. The people gave him their trust, they placed what’s left of their hope and their optimism in his hands, and they expect a lot. And they are in no mood for betrayal or for a president who says the right things but carries on business as usual. The people of the United States have been roused from the cynical apathy that was a legacy years of imperial presidencies, culminating in the worst, most venal one imaginable.

But Obama isn’t alone.

A new, more mature, politically active voting public will hold the President and Congress accountable. The people will demand responsiveness and simply not permit the abuses of power that characterized the Bush years. The people will scrutinize every act of President Obama and rise up if they scent betrayal of trust. The government of the United States, led by its chief administrator, will work for the good of the people, all the people, or the people will have something to say about it.

Barak Obama’s four year mandate will be spent making up for the last decade. It will be a time of healing the rift between the US and the rest of the world. It will be a time during which Obama will be forced at every step to earn the right to keep his job. If he can keep the people’s trust, he will be returned to office in four years to move the country forward.

If pulls that off, he will go down in history as the president who saved the country from itself. But the credit will not be his alone; it will belong to the people of the United States of America.


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