Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Barack Obama, President-Elect of the United States

How extra-ordinary, how surprisingly moving it’s been to watch footage of events in the United States yesterday, when Barack Obama became President elect of the United States. It’s been a long time since An Spailpín could afford to be an idealist and as such proved resistant to Obama-mania as it swept through the summer and autumn months. I even remember being in Phil Ryan’s bar on the North Circular Road and remarking to a veteran Midwestern Democrat who had been out on the stump for Hubert H. Humphrey that I feared the Democrats had selected themselves another Adlai Stevenson – a lovely man but utterly unelectable. I can only hope if that proud American reads this he can deliver your Spailpín the fool’s pardon.

There’s a very good article in this morning’s Washington Post about the election, and how the economic collapse delivered the White House to the Democrats. McCain was riding high in the polls after trumping Obama’s convention speech with his selection of Sarah Palin as his running mate, but the economic crisis changed all the rules.

McCain went to Washington to sort it out, but when he returned with one hand as long as the other McCain suddenly looked like a busted flush. And An Spailpín can’t help but get the feeling that McCain himself knew it – one of the significant moments of the election was footage from one of McCain’s town hall meetings when a lady who may not take the New York Times every morning remarked that Barack Obama was an Arab; McCain took the mike off her and paid an eloquent tribute to his opponent, something that you can’t really afford to do when you’re the underdog in a two horse race.

John McCain was unfortunate – not for the first time in his life – in being in the wrong place at the wrong time as the wheel of history turned. He is a patriot, a man that took one for his Uncle Sam and who was smeared shamefully in the North Carolina primary by the Bush campaign in 2000. Interestingly, his greatest contribution to his country, now in the autumn of a life of service to the flag, may be in how nobly he conducted his campaign, never resorting to cheap shots or dirty campaigning. In everything he has done, he has put his country first.

The entire campaign was run by both candidates with such nobility, dignity and patriotism that it’s hard not to think that the shade of Pericles himself may have allowed himself a smile. One of the highlights, one of the great moments of hope, in the campaign was the Al Smith dinner, when the candidates ribbed each other in their speeches with such dignity, such wit and good humour, and such a tremendous level of respect for each other, that you couldn’t help but think that there may be hope for us all yet. And even the most dedicated hater of Sarah Palin had to admire Palin’s moxie – such an American word! – for sharing a stage with her arch-tormentrix, Tina Fey, on Saturday Night Live.

Tina Fey herself came up with one of the great lines of the campaign when she remarked, in character, that listening to Obama was like “listening to angel whisper in your ear.” Watching the President elect in Chicago’s Grant Park address his faithful and attempt to sum up his journey – with a possibly even more arduous one ahead of him – it was hard not to think that Fey, as ever, was exactly on the money. He really is a beautiful, beautiful public speaker.

An Spailpín is not himself a black American and has been spared a Bono complex by a merciful God but it has been extraordinary to see the reaction among major figures in that community, not least Condoleeza Rice, who gave a press conference today in which she nearly broke down in tears of joy. And Condi is on the other side entirely.

And that’s what makes all this so thrilling. The thrilling thing is that democracy does work. That anybody can be President. That there are no barriers to talent. That if you work hard, you can get there. That everybody has a shot.

It always fashionable to deride America, to say the United States was just as bad as her enemies, ignoring the fact that every four years America elects who she wants, and nothing comes in the way of that process. Lincoln was right when he said that freedom was of the people, by the people and for the people and every four years America underlines this. Nothing comes in the way of that. She has made her decision how, and all the world must hope that the road rises for the 44th President of the United States, Barack Obama.

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