Thursday, November 6, 2008

Obama: The World Cheers

On Wednesday night Lara and I got up at 3:00 AM South Africa time to watch history being made. From the country where Nelson Mandela was elected the first black president less than 20 years ago we got to see the United States experience its own Mandela moment. I could not have imagined what a big deal it was to see him win the presidency. It was electrifying.

It is hard for most North Americans to understand just how much impact this election will have on the rest of the world. In Central Asia we saw the enthusiasm the Muslim world has for Obama. In the 'stans there is a nearly universal belief that the war in Iraq is a war against Islam. I don't think any but the most naive Muslims believe that Obama will end the war overnight. But because of his color, and his background, they do believe that he will understand them better. And perhaps he will. After six months of travelling in the Muslim world we have an appreciation and understanding of Islam that we could never have gotten in North America. Obama's background gives us every reason to hope that he will have a wider world view than is typical of his countrymen.

In Africa the effect of his win has probably been even greater. Among white and black South Africans alike we found almost universal enthusiasm for Obama. In Kenya, birthplace of Obama's father, they have declared a national holiday to celebrate his election. In one stroke the American dream has been awoken again. Minorities the world over can look the America and see a land where somebody's abilities can transcend their skin color. America is once again the land where anything is possible. A billion disenfranchized people woke up yesterday with the knowledge that they live in a world where there is a hope for a better future for their children.

Pages of ink have been spilled describing the challenges that lie ahead and I won't go into them again. As the world has become more connected our problems have become more global. The housing crisis in America is putting blacks on the street in South Africa. A terrorist network in Afghanistan kills people in New York. The trees we cut down in Brazil will create a desert in China. The decisions we make in the next ten years will determine the future of our species.

The world needs a strong leader to pull us all together to fight these problems.

In Obama, for one magic moment, we have somebody who has that potential. Obama's miracle is that he represents the hopes and dreams not just of American's, but of everyone. To moderate Muslims he is somebody who will understand them. To the oppressed he represents hope. To the young he has brought an enthusiam for politics that we last saw in the 1960s.

The expectations are so high that Obama cannot possibly meet them all. Many of the things people believe Obama to be are contradictory. Yet two years ago, nobody would have thought it was possible for an unknown black senator from Illinois to defeat both the Clintons and the Republicans to become president of the United States. There is no doubt that Obama is a remarkable man. If he governs with the same intelligence and imagination that he has run his campaign we have every reason to be optimistic.

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