Between now and January 20th, there will be sufficient time for analysis. Analysis of the path that brought us here, and analysis of where this will lead. Yet, for all the implications that this election might have, such issues need to wait.
Now is the time for symbolism and dreams, and there seems no more powerful symbolic dream than Barack Obama’s two young black children playing on the green grass of the White House in 2009. Black, green and white: three colours that could stand for change, growth and opportunity.
Change: both long term- a black man leading a country that has been racially so divided for most of its history- as well short term- a highly intelligent and decent man replacing George W. Bush and Dick Cheney.
Growth: after eight years of rapid decline, the United States still has an incredible thirst to develop and improve, however difficult its structural weaknesses may be. In an era of such mediocre politicians ruling Capitol Hill, the rise of Barack Obama is clear evidence of this strength of US society.
Opportunity: the White House and Washington still represent a tremendous economic, political and cultural reservoir that can be tapped to be a positive influence on the world. America’s choice for Obama is a choice for possibility and ambition.
It seems impossible not to feel the historic significance of seeing Obama, standing in front of a huge Chicago crowd, accepting the burden of the American presidency that he began fighting for two years ago. Not only does it represent the end of eight years of arguably the worst president that has ever disgraced Pennsylvania Avenue, but there is no doubt that Barack Obama is one of the few modern US presidents-elect that combines impressive intellect, superior intelligence, natural charisma, and deep integrity. It is as if he embodies the best of each of the past presidents Nixon, Clinton, Reagan and Carter without any of their apparent weaknesses.
Unfortunately, in many ways the promise of Obama’s impressive character is not being equalled by the state of his country. The United States is not living up to the chance that their new leader deserves. The country is in decline, and this is likely to constrain the greatness of its 44th Presidency. The multitude of problems and challenges (Iraq, the economy, paralysing budget deficits, the environment, the surreal war on terror, Washington corruption, domestic income inequality, faltering healthcare just to name a few) is so great and dark that Obama will need to be a crisis manger first and foremost.
If he manages to push forward only a few positive- rather than reactive- major policy initiatives during the next four years, that in itself would already be a huge accomplishment. Roosevelt’s New Deal or Johnson’s Great Society would seem tiny in comparison.
If Obama indeed can live up to his own character and overcome the situation that he faces, it will be because of the hope and symbolism that he represents. The world is desperate for true American leadership, and perhaps the psychological earthquake that a transition from Bush to Obama represents will be the new president’s greatest weapon.
Usually it is important not to make politicians greater than life, not to overrate them, not to exaggerate expectations. Today, however, we should. Obama needs it, America needs it, and the world needs it. There will be plenty of time to come back to reality tomorrow.
The limitations possibly constraining Barack Obama’s legacy are all worthy of consideration, but such analysis needs to wait. Now is the time to dream. The incredible symbolism of the present should be celebrated and cultivated. It is the least we can do to support the most promising world leader witnessed by my generation.
At this moment, around 6am CET on November the 5th, watching Barack Obama and his family stand in front of history after his acceptance speech, it is not difficult to dream.
Yes, America still can.