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Wednesday, November 05, 2008 

Barack knew.

For all that has already been written, is currently being written, and will be written, for all of it that will come to be seen as the over-enthusiastic euphoria-influenced dementia that it was, for all of the similarly deluded denunciations of how America has in effect just signed away its freedom, it's still too easy to play down just how honestly transformational Barack Obama's election is and will be. Not because of the scale of the victory: whilst winning a more convincing victory than either of Bush's, it was not the landslide that some claim it was, broadly in line with the more successful Democratic victories; not because Obama won the popular vote; not because Obama overcame the GOP smear machine despite the filth that was consistently thrown at him; not because of the turnout, however unprecedented it was; but because of the one thing that never should have mattered: the colour of his skin.

Despite all of the hope and the expectation, we weren't willing to believe that he really could win, or really had won until McCain conceded. If McCain had ran his campaign with the same magnaminity, respect, grace, heartfeltness and humility with which he delivered his concession speech, the result could surely have been different. McCain always was a fundamentally decent, honourable man, undone on this occasion by his volatility, both in his choice of Sarah Palin as running mate, even if she did help to deliver the base, and then his behaviour over the crash, first claiming the economy was fundamentally sound, next cancelling his campaign to go back to Washington to attempt to fix things single-handed. He cannot be blamed for how the campaign was run; the smears were always going to happen, regardless of the candidate. In an ideal world, he would surely be offered some sort of job by Obama; thanks to those smears, that seems highly unlikely.

Before that speech, the paranoia was still overwhelming. We feared the polls had been wrong; we feared that the exit polls, like in 2004, were wrong; we feared the Bradley effect; we feared, that somehow, the Republicans would manage to steal a second election, if not a third. As it was, we need not have worried. Pennsylvania should have tipped us off, but it took Fox News, of all stations, to call Ohio for Obama, for it to finally begin to sink in. Florida followed, and before we knew it, the game, such as it was, was over. That was the point when I went to bed, and unlike the others, my tears waited until this morning. Not at McCain's dignity; not at Obama's beautifully worded, measured and delivered victory speech, with a crowd more befitting of Glastonbury than a political rally; but instead at the tears on the face of Jesse Jackson, the old warrior, the man who only a few months ago had wanted to cut the president-elect's nuts out, who had never believed that he would see an African-American win the presidency in his life-time, now overwhelmed by the emotion of seeing the reality before his eyes. For those of us who have been critical of the fatuity of the American dream when so many in that nation remain downtrodden without any real hope, this was the shattering of our cynicism happening in front of our noses. This doesn't just show the American child of whatever skin colour, gender or sexuality that anything is possible; it shows the world's children that anything is possible.

We should not give in to wilful exaggeration, or not confront the sad fact that from here the only way is inexorably down. Barack Obama becomes the 44th president of the United States of America at a time when few would want the job. His first task is to tame the recession which is coming, to rebuild an economy which like ours has for too long relied on the financial sector for its profits and growth. He faces two wars, one which appears to be winding down, with another which seems to coming up to boil. He faces a world which thanks to his predecessor has turned against America, no longer willing to listen to the chutzpah and bullying which has so often been the tone and content of diplomacy over the last 8 years. The amount of expectation on one man's shoulders would be enough to crush a lesser person's will. He will inevitably, especially to the European left, and maybe even the American anti-war left, be a disappointment, as the pragmatism which he will need to display will take precedence over populist measures. A swift withdrawal from Iraq, however welcome, cannot be countenanced whilst there is still the possibility that the former Sunni insurgents who now form the Awakening councils or what remains of them could go back to war, especially against a Shia administration that may yet abandon them. Likewise, in Afghanistan, where Obama seems to favour something resembling a "surge", we cannot expect him to come to the realisation that others have that Afghanistan cannot possibly exist as a democratic sovereign state in its current form. Deals with the Taliban, or what is described as it, will have to be considered. There is unlikely to be any significant difference between Obama's policy on Russia's re-emergence than that of the current administration.

The biggest problem Obama will face though is keeping together the incredibly fragile coalition that has brought him to power. America is still frighteningly polarised between the two parties, especially considering how little they often disagree over, even with Obama securing 52% of the vote to McCain's 46%. Overwhelmingly, the reason why he won that share of the vote is the economy, and those that voted for him will not be instant returns next time round. While some may have decided to be colour-blind this year, with voters directly in some cases saying to canvassers that they were "voting for the nigger", that will not last. While the Republican machine may be temporarily broken and bowed today, what Hillary Clinton long ago described as the "vast right-wing conspiracy" will shortly be doing everything in its power to make Obama a one-term president. The young that turned out yesterday, empowered by belief in this one man, will be the apathetic of the years to come. Whilst Obama is not Tony Blair, we should not dismiss the possibility that we don't yet know what we've let ourselves in for.

Tonight though such things are for another day. Today we should just enjoy the fact that after 8 years of seemingly endless war, abuses of power, contempt, arrogance, ignorance and imperial hubris, the underdog who almost became the establishment candidate has triumphed. Another world is possible. We need to hope, once again, that Barack Obama can begin to deliver on his and that exceptional promise.

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My humble musical letter to president Obama:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f4bZw9FmXZ4

Best,
Hannah Friedman

One of my favourite films is Rod Steiger/Sidney Poitier 'In the Heat of the Night' so I admit to a lump in my throat over the one issue that ought never to be an issue and which was overcome with such conviction. I agree, in that respect there is justified cause for celebration. But, old cynic that I am, that I'm afraid is where it ends.

In terms of what Obama must do (and knows he must do) to retain the 'Deep State' support necessary to avoid a JFK type fate, I am far less sanguine. In a far more perilous domestic and international environment and with orders of magnitude times the real power, I fear we are likely to have another Blair on our hands. I sincerely hope I am wrong.

Dennis Perrinis the man to read on the matter

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