Thursday, November 06, 2008

serna’s Thoughts on Obama

All around the world—quite literally—people are writing about the new president-elect of the U.S., Barack Obama. And why should I be left out? I’ll add my voice to the noise.

First of all, I’m pleasantly surprised that he won. Up until a few days before the election, I was hoping that he’d win, but expecting McCain to pull it off. (This was very much driven by my reaction to the 2004 election; I was very surprised when Bush got reelected, and it made me cynical, so I was expecting the same to happen in 2008. In retrospect, I can see all of the reasons why Barack won, but at the time, I wasn’t expecting it to happen.) It was only in the last few days of the campaign that I started to believe that Obama could pull it off, and even then I was amazed to see the margin by which he won. 349 electoral votes vs. 163 is a landslide victory, in my mind.

Speaking of his margin, Bush claimed to have a “mandate” from the American people when he got reelected, even though he was elected by a tiny margin, but Obama cleaned up. This my friends, was a mandate from the American people. They’ve clearly spoken, and I’m hoping that they’ll be heard by their representatives.

And let’s celebrate the fact that the Americans have their first black president. (Andrea and I are cynical about this ever happening in Canada.) This is no small thing, and it’s not just a symbolic thing either. It really is important, especially for black youth. There aren’t enough role models for them to follow; they’ve been told for years that you can be anything you want to be, but reality has not seemed to back that sentiment up. Now that a black man has been elected president, they have a very concrete role model that they can follow. (A video I linked to in my previous post touches on this.) I suppose you could say that this is still symbolic, even if it is important; I won’t argue the point.

There’s another piece of good news, and Andrea and I were discussing this morning: Obama’s win will send a message to people that change is possible. Maybe—and this is probably wishful thinking here—maybe this election will get people to start thinking about the possibility of a third party candidate. Americans really have a two-party system (and Canada essentially has a two and a half party system), but that’s not inherent to the process, it’s just because people don’t want to vote for any other parties for fear of throwing their votes away. But going forward, maybe they’ll start thinking about someone new—someone who actually will want change. I mean, despite all of the rhetoric, Obama will probably be a fairly centrist president. (For example, he’s not going to push for universal health care, even though a huge portion of the American people want it.)

So this is all good news. Is there bad news? Yep.

Further to my previous point, People have been talking about Republicans vs. Democrats as if it’s a battle between good and evil, without stopping to consider that both parties are extremely similar in their viewpoints, on almost all issues. Whether they know it or not, the American people would probably have been better of with Ralph Nader as president, instead of Obama. (Although obviously they wouldn’t have gotten the black role model that I discussed above.) I’m definitely glad that he was elected, instead of McCain, but in many ways, an Obama presidency won’t be much different than a McCain presidency would have been. (People have already been saying to Andrea that “imperialism now has a black face”—the point being that American foreign policy isn’t going to drastically change under Obama’s leadership—which isn’t much to be proud of.)

That being said, I also feel sorry for Obama, because it won’t be long before he’ll be getting blamed for the issues he’s inheriting. People sometimes have short memories, and it won’t surprise me if people are claiming, a couple of years from now, that everything was fine before Barack took over. It’s almost guaranteed that the Republicans will start blaming him for America’s economic problems, and claiming that he’s making America less safe—especially when we get a bit closer to the 2012 election—but that’s to be expected; what will be sad is if the general population starts to agree with them.

Also, get ready for Americans to start patting themselves on the back, and getting self-righteous about the fact that they’ve elected a black man president. Race was obviously a huge deal in this election—and I’m impressed with Obama’s handling of it—but it won’t be long before people will start saying that it didn’t matter that he was black, and that Americans—to quote Stephen Colbert—don’t see race. Colbert is calling this one early (in his own inimitable way), and I think he’s right: it won’t be too long before pundits will be saying that this proves racism doesn’t exist anymore in America.

But negatives aside, like most other people in the world, I’m happy Barack was elected president. And who knows? Maybe he really is more progressive then he’s let us believe, and just kept it hidden, since he had to play the game. That would be nice, but there’s no reason to assume it’s the case, other than wishful thinking.