Tonight marks the conclusion of the most important election cycle since 1979-80, which saw both Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan brought to power. America not only elected its first black president, historic in itself, it looked at the crises that are engulfing it and decided it was time for a change.
And Americans made that decision in huge voter turn-outs, many enthused by the sense of hope and optimism Obama promoted throughout his campaign. There were some who reacted negatively to his 'Yes We Can!' message. It just ran smack into their natural sense of skepticism. Most of those who voted against him did so, however, not because they bought into the scare tactics of the late campaign, but simply because they were Republicans and conservatives who would never have voted for the Democratic candidate anyway. I myself didn't vote for him. I couldn't. I'm not an American.
I know a lot of Americans have been mystified by the international outpouring of support Obama has received, but at the root of it is a very simple fact: we like America. Okay, not all the time, perhaps, but certainly a lot more than the alternatives. In the months following 9-11 everyone was America's friend, but the current Administration abused that trust and set America's international standing on the path to the ruinously low levels it is now. I know there are Americans who don't think that is important. America is the most powerful country in the world, they argue, and is rightfully the leader. But there is an old truism that says you can't lead if no one will follow. By the end of George W's final term America's leadership rested on one thing. Not on America's legacy as an advocate of democracy and civil rights. Bush's support of torture, Guantanamo, and Abu Ghraib have done far more damage to that than many would like to acknowledge. It wasn't military might. With its forces tied up in Iraq and Afghanistan, America's military is stretched further than it has the personnel to carry it. No, America's last trump is its economy. America, the richest country in the world! Or, rather, it was its economy. In the last few weeks that has imploded. Perversely, America is very lucky that it has dragged everyone down with it. If it hadn't, the rest of the world would be pulling its stakes out of the US as quickly as possible.
Couldn't McCain have done as good a job? Better? Maybe the McCain who ran in 2000. The one who was first called a maverick due to his willingness to stand up to the Republican base when it came to matters he believed in. This time, to ensure the nomination, he put that man aside and became exactly the candidate his party wanted him to be. It worked, but it left everyone else unsure as to who McCain really was. Would a President McCain be McCain 2000 or McCain 2008? His choice of Palin as a running mate settled the matter for many. At his age there is a serious chance that he wouldn't have completed his term. A running mate with no experience, and seemingly no understanding of the role she was campaigning for, was not the kind of Leader of the Free World anyone could get behind.
The funny thing is, while Democrats and Republicans often speak of each other in the most heated rhetoric, earnestly believing the success of the other would spell the ruin of the country, there really isn't a huge amount of difference between the two. Ideologically, American politics stretched across the political spectrum from right of center to a little further right of center. The chief difference now is that one group views government as a necessary evil and the other as a positive representation of the community its elected to serve. The last time the US, and the world, faced a crisis like the one we face now, America threw out the Republicans who had overseen the disaster and elected a government of Democrats which brought it out of the Depression, defeated fascism in the Pacific and Europe, and committed itself to defending the free world against the Soviet empire and its adventurism. Its was a generation of Democrats who made America the world leader it has been for the last sixty years.
The problems Obama will face cannot be solved through sheer force of his popularity, but the West needs a leader it can rally around. One that inspires. Obama has a lot to hard problems to solve. The economy. Pulling America out of Iraq. Dismantling Bush's extra-judicial network of prisons and setting the War On Terrorism on a moral course. He has to bring Washington's budget under control and set forth a health care system that can bear the weight of an increasingly aged population. When the Great Depression hit Canada, the government of W.L.M. King was thrown out and R.B. Bennett was made Prime Minister. It was Bennett who had to deal with the worst of the depression here and its often been said in hindsight, when speaking of King, that it was a good time not to be in office. The times will not be good to Obama, but if we are to come to grips with these problems we need leadership we can look up to, that inspires hope and vision. Not just in America, but throughout the world. And if Obama succeeds, he will be remembered as a great president.