Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Dangerously Heightened Expectations

With the election of Barack Obama, a international outpouring of support has increased the already immense pressure on the 44th President-Elect. Congratulations have come from the most unexpected places, including the President of Iran (who now feels spurned by the Obama camp's tepid response). Different groups around the world are placing expectations and ideas at the feet of Obama hoping that he will become involved and help solve problems. On one hand, this invitation to multilateralism is breathtaking. It is amazing to see that even the international community believes that America can and will be better under the leadership of Obama. However, together with the expectations domestically, it is hard to imagine how Obama can make all groups happy within the grace period of his early campaign. Obama stands on the cusp of being the most important president in America's history. The possibility of making the U.S. more accountable and multilateral is a dream that many have hoped for for decades, particularly during some of the recent dark years America has faced. People around the world have placed their hopes and dreams on his administration and it is difficult to imagine how it can meet expectations. 

A recent article by one of my favorite journalists, Ahmed Rashid, author of the recent book Descent into Chaos (which focuses on the war on terror in South Asia, primarily Afghanistan and Pakistan), sheds light on some of the massive expectations Obama faces. Reading through the article I was struck by just how much different factions in different conflicts are focusing on every word Obama says, in hopes of identifying what his presidential and international priorities will be. Particularly interesting was the quote by an unnamed European foreign minister that European countries will be unable to refuse anything Obama asks for in the first six months of his administration. There is such a massive amount of power in that statement. I cannot imagine any president in recent times being charged with such a great and also dangerous burden.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

An America I Can Believe In

In what has to be the most historic election in a generation, Barack Obama has become the president-elect of the United States. It is hard to imagine how such an unlikely candidate had such a meteoric rise to success. I will be the first to admit I questioned Obama in the primaries. Initially I was a Kucinich supporter (a long shot, but one of the only beacons of true progressivism in a party bogged down by greed and avarice). After his withdrawal I changed my loyalties to Clinton. Having met her personally and believing that she had the strength, experience, and political capital needed, I felt she would also be the best to face whatever Republican was chosen. Now, unlike many Clinton supporters, I never fell into the rancorous denouncements of Obama and genuinely felt that either would do a reasonable, centrist job as president. I felt safe with either of them but not particularly inspired. Sure they were both historic candidates in a year the Democrats stood a good chance of actually winning, but it is always hard for me to vote for centrism. This country has been governed by the fifty-one doctrine for too long (playing to the middle in an attempt to eek out the election with just enough votes). This doctrine has often meant proving who was the most centrist, the most moderate. As a leftist progressive, this placation often struck me as dumbing down the election, and also hindering a genuine vision of a better future. I began to see that Barack Obama was trying to transcend the old language of elections. He spoke to the youth in a way that didn't seem placating or insulting. He gave people the opportunity to inform themselves on complex issues and expected that they would respond. He called for national service, in a country that is facing hard times and an uncertain future. He made me believe.

It is hard to sum up how amazed I am looking at the electoral map in today's Washington Post. Seeing how many states ended up blue and how many of the red states are closer than anyone could have imagined even two years ago. I was amazed to see Obama do so well in my home state, Montana, a rural homogeneous state. It makes me question my own and many other cynics' interpretations of the possibilities for a sustained grassroots movement in America. Many first time voters must feel empowered by the success of their campaign of choice. It will be important to keep these citizens involved in the process as it moves forward and to get them to understand that democracy is not just voting. Only through a sustained national movement can real change be accomplished. I feel optimistic about politics for the first time in a long time, and I am really excited that I will be in the middle of it.  Heather and I are already making plans to be at the inauguration. It will be exciting to play an important role in the health care debate and to have the real likelihood of actual reform. It is a historic time, and a great time to be in Washington D.C.  As one person who always had a hard time believing in hope, I say this with complete conviction: Yes, We Can!