On the morning of Wednesday 5th November, we woke to learn that Barack Obama had indeed taken his place in history as the first black president of the United States of America.
His acceptance speech, like all the other speeches of his campaign, was stirring and inspirational, nothing less that what we have come to expect from a man who has branded himself a messenger of change and hope.
There can be no denying the enormous symbolic significance of this event. The widely broadcast footage of the Reverend Jesse Jackson, veteran figure of black activism, moved to tears at the Chicago rally was an equally symbolic way of conveying that the election of a black man to the Whitehouse is the crowning achievement of a civil rights struggle that has been hundreds of years in the making. Truly a triumph for a country still riddled with endemic racism.
In the midst of the euphoric cheers that greeted Obama’s words, one line of his speech seemed particularly apt. “Even as we celebrate tonight”, he intoned, “we know the challenges that tomorrow will bring are the greatest of our lifetime”. And this in many ways is the paradox that he faces. For though Obama’s election may be a great victory, it has also incontestably been made possible by the dire situation in which his predecessor has left the country.
Although whilst campaigning for office Senator Obama was able to champion the highest ideals, President Obama will not arrive in office with a clean start. He is inheriting two wars, massive national debt, and an international financial crisis, yet despite this he is still expected to pull the American people phoenix-like into a golden era. To think that he will be able to achieve all this without compromising any of his ideals, or disappointing at least some of those that supported him, is simply make-believe.
There are so many of us who would like to believe that the vision which President-Elect Obama offers for American politics both at home and abroad can become reality, but until we see his good intentions and matchless rhetoric subjected to the realities of office, our optimism must remain tempered with caution.
Impact’s Columnist, Corin Faife