This has been the week that Obamamania reached fever pitch, and let me say first off, I’m very glad that he won. Barack Obama will make a much better president of the USA than John McCain, and with his powerful majority in congress, he is in a position to bring about big changes in American foreign, economic and environmental policy.
But let’s not get carried away. A great number of reports marked this as an historic event, a momentous occasion, a new dawn (if you would believe the words of the great man himself). This seems a bit sensationalist to me. Of course having a black man in the white house is a landmark victory for the civil rights movement, but from here on in the rhetoric from Team Barack will change. Let’s not forget just how serious the global economic problems are, or the fact that the Middle East is as unstable as it’s ever been. Obama’s rhetoric in his campaign was fantastically well-aimed at cultivating an aura of hope and excitement around his policies. Now he must force all of America to lower its expectations, or we will all be severely disappointed when we find out that he can’t actually walk on water.
This has all been said before this week, and much more cogently, by Martin Samuel and Matthew Parris at the Times. What I think I can bring to the table however, is the question of Obama making history.
It’s easy for us to look at this week and be pretty damn chuffed that the Americans have elected the first black man to run their country. But, as Orwell once put it, history is written by the winners, and this holds true even in these modern times. At my delightfully backward-thinking Private school where I toiled away for seven of my teenage years, we were taught that nothing can be considered history until 50 years have passed. We need this distance and perspective to accurately and objectively judge the actions of political leaders. Anything more recent, we were told, was just Politics. Whilst this may be a step too far, I think we need more than four days to judge an event to be historical. We need about four years.
The tenure of Barack Obama as President of the USA will be judged on results and not origins. The true measure of his success will be gauged in four years time. If he can bring about the changes he promises, then America stands to become a much better place. Furthermore if he can win a second term in office then he will have a great opportunity to shape the future of America. Until then it is important that we are cautiously optimistic. Piling any hyperbolic expectation on his shoulders will only make it even harder for him to really get a grip on his new job.