I must say that I never thought I would live to see the day — the day that someone who is not a white male gets elected as the President of the United States of America. Not that it was impossible, as recent events have obviously shown, but until a few months ago it seemed highly improbable. History was against it. The divisions within this country seemed to have increased if anything over the last couple of decades and for someone to transcend a contentious issue like race seemed like an impossibility. Yet, here Barack Obama stands, the 44th President-elect of the United States of America! And winning with a landslide (338-156) at that!
While this election (both the lead-up and the actual result) includes many firsts it also marks a change for the Democrats — winning the presidency and gaining a significant majority in Congress. This hasn’t happened since the first term of Bill Clinton’s presidency and that lasted for only a short two years. So, this could be either an incredible opportunity to bring about positive “change,” or one to lose your way in partisanship. This is a fine line the new President will have to walk.
In my opinion, some of the best decisions for a country (and society in general) have happened when the legislature and the executive are perhaps from opposite sides of the aisle. When you can put aside your pet projects rooted in ideology to meet with, and gain consensus from, the other side then that process maintains a critical balance in society. Traditionally when both sides are aligned to the same ideology and level heads give way to emotion then it is possible for the government to push through legislation that could alienate a significant portion of the populace and perhaps cause long term harm. Any doubts and one should look back to 2000-2004 period to study the reasons why this country is stuck in what seems like a never-ending war in Iraq.
Enough has been said about the challenges that the President-elect will face in office. Many campaign promises and pet projects may have to be put aside on account of the bailout, the two seemingly endless wars, etc. Perhaps the comforting thought that his party holds close to an absolute choke hold in the Congress might help in dealing with these problems. But, he must be careful to see that power is not abused.
Obama’s ascendancy to the White House can also help silence many critics of the US. People who complain that the Americans play the role of a big bully and pick on the little guy may have to hold their tongues, at least for a while. This election shows that the little guy, an outsider, an African-American, the son of an immigrant, can rise to the highest office in the land. Perhaps this might mean that the new President starts with some grudging respect and goodwill from his peers around the world – something that he should milk to the fullest extent to improve the approval ratings for the US in the eyes of the world.
But the bottom line is that we live in historic times and one expects that Obama goes down in history for his presidential term(s) and governance rather than for his election!