America creates history
AMERICA has spoken. It has opted for change and dared to vote and elect to the office of the US president a person who, not very long ago, was an unknown quantity in US politics, not to speak of the world, and who, just a century and a half ago, could have been bought and sold as property. History has been created.
Almost 250 years after the Declaration of Independence, nearly 150 years after the abolition of slavery, and nearly 40 years after a black preacher from Atlanta proclaimed to his countrymen his dream to be free, a black American has been elected to the country's highest office. It was a resounding victory with a landslide as far as the Electoral College is concerned, not so though as far as the popular vote, which was quite close.
This was an election, the 56th consecutive US election to elect the 44th US president, of many firsts. It is the first time since Jack Kennedy that two sitting senators ran for the post of the US president. This is the first time that neither of the candidates was born in the mainland US. This is the first time that there was a good chance for America getting the oldest president since Ronald Regan. And, of course, this is the first time a black American vied for the post of the most powerful office in the worldand won.
The world had been waiting eagerly to see how the 22-month campaign would be capped. There was one thing that the world wanted to see America prove, in the same way perhaps that America wanted to prove to the rest of the worldthat the choice of the American people for the Oval Office was motivated not by the colour of a candidate's skin or the religious conviction he chose to follow or the family background he was brought up withbut by the merit of the policies that he enunciated.
It was really as if the world was daring the American nation to prove that the White House was ready for a black president. America did not fail the world. A nation that voted for a person like G. W. Bush changed 180 degrees in a matter of four years, to vote for a man that was, till the Democratic convention day in 2004, an unknown state senator from Chicago, and who happened to be the main speaker at that convention.
This has been a campaign dominated by dollars, where the Democrats had the luxury, or the benefit, if you like, of close to 700 million dollars to support their campaign far in excess of what McCain's campaign was able to muster. The contest as one can recall has been the most closely fought with both the candidates running their campaign well into the night before the day of election.
This was an election that had also evinced a very keen interest all across the world, primarily because many outside America saw it as a race of the race, with only Africa preferring McCain over Obama (except in Kenya) mainly because of the Bush administration's policy of providing huge monetary aid to the African countries to revamp their economy.
This is perhaps the time when the pundits from both the camps will start internalising the results of the election, particularly the McCain camp, for the reason why many red states went over to the Democrats, not to speak of the several swing states that went blue.
The incumbent administration record of failed policies, both at home and abroad, disadvantaged the McCain campaign. No president since Richard Nixon had so poor a rating as George W. Bush. It is little wonder that McCain chose to keep both Bush and Cheney away from his rallies. In the end, it was a botched Iraq war and the economy that decided the matter in favour of Obama. This is the fifth consecutive time that a war veteran failed to get elected to the presidency.
But pundits also ascribe to Obama's victory the efficient and clinical way that the Democratic campaign was run. It was focused on the need to change, no personal attacks but the emphasis was on policies. McCain had flip-flopped, and not security but economy was the main issue that mattered to the American voters. His attempt to paint Obama as greenunaccomplished and without experiencefloundered seriously when McCain chose Sarah Palin as his running mate.
Obama's real test has only just started. He will inherit an economy which is under serious strain. He will inherit two wars being run simultaneously which has been funded so far by borrowing huge sums of money and relying on allies. And these two wars remain open-ended. John McCain had said that he would choose to lose an election rather than lose a war. What we wait to see is how the new Democratic government goes about "winning" the war, and indeed how a win will be defined by the new administration.
While there is very little difference in the policies of the parties so far as security and foreign policy issues are concerned, the way those are applied are perhaps different. The world therefore waits eagerly to see how the new administration will address the Palestinian-Israel issue, the Middle East conundrum, and whether it purges the mindset that had plagued the Bush administration regarding the so-called "axis of evil."
It will be interesting to see whether the Democratic government will be able to withstand the Israeli lobby pressure in formulating the Middle East policy. How the Iraq quagmire, in spite of the improved situation after the "surge," is addressed, as well as Afghanistan, without appearing to "lose" the war is a significant challenge facing the new US president.
It will be very important for the new administration to convince the Muslim world that the war on terror is not a fight against Islam. It will do well for Obama to realise that the anti-terror efforts cannot be conducted by antagonising the people of the Muslim countries. People's support is as important as that of the governments.
But nothing in the US election has left a deeper imprint on me than the grace and magnanimity with which McCain conceded defeat. His was a demeanour that all political leaders should try to emulate. His was an attitudethat asserted that victory was not the be-all and end-all of politics. Respect for the people's verdict, and of unstinted support to the next US presidentthese are lessons for those that pass themselves off as politicians in our country, particularly our leaders.
The US election has many lessons for all of us. But while one cannot end without putting the question whether race really had a role in the election and whether America has breached the racial divide at last, what can be said without any fear of contradiction is that it is only in America that "a skinny kid with a funny name," the colour of whose skin would have made him a second-class citizen only a generation ago, has not only a place in the country, but can go on to hold its highest office.