A Short Note on the United States of America

Photo courtesy of Atlanta-Journal Constitution

Last night, I had an unrelated essay about work all ready to go. It had nothing to do with the election, and since I figured everything else you’d read today would be about that, better to do something else.

But at 9:30 last night, I changed my mind. To post that other essay up this morning would be completely irrelevant. I’ll have to save it for next week, OK?

I’ve been in more than 20 countries this year, and almost without fail someone ends up talking to me about the U.S. election. Nine times out of ten, it’s not me who brings it up. I kid you not, nearly every conversation I’ve had follows the same storyline: we love America, but not your president. Why does America have to be so combative with the rest of the planet? So on and so forth, from Egypt to Mongolia to Latin America et al.

The next part of the conversation shifts to a young, first-term senator from Illinois, who the entire world has been fascinated with for the past 21 months. Almost everything I hear is favorable, but it usually comes out in a resigned way: “Of course, you’ll never elect him” is the most common way of putting it. From continent to content, I heard variations on that theme over and over this year — America could never elect Obama because he doesn’t look like all the other presidents.

Well, yes we can.

As soon as the A.P. declared that Obama was the winner, I started flipping around to a bunch of world news sites to see how the election was covered elswhere. I checked the BBC, the Guardian, the South China Morning Post, Frankfurter Allgemeine, the Globe and Mail, Le Monde, and Le Figaro.

At the last French site I saw a reader poll: “Are you ready to vote for a black president in France?”

35% of respondents, I was sorry to note, actually said no. I realize that web site polls aren’t very scientific, and I also know the domestic politics in France are much different than those in the U.S… but still. 35% of people will actually tell you they won’t vote for a president based on his race? I guess there was a time you could say that about America, but last night proved that those days are over.

Anyway, the point of this short commentary is that I’m not a partisan hack. I’ve never belonged to any party or given money to any candidate. In 2004 I didn’t even vote, feeling somewhat apathetic as I was living overseas and uninspired by both candidates. This time, I voted for Obama because I believed he was the right choice for America, and for the world at large.

I’m not a kool-aid drinker either. The economy is seriously messed up, we’re fighting two wars, and a lot of things are broken. I don’t believe that any one person, even a president, can undo all the damage that has been done. I have friends who are far more liberal than me, and I suspect they’ll be disappointed when Obama governs from the center-left as he has pledged, and not the far-left as some people believe.

If you’re still reading and you had a different preference in this election, I respect your opinion. This platform is not really about politics, and those of us who choose to be unconventional have to be willing to embrace ideas from different perspectives.

As I said, I’m no partisan hack. I watched Senator McCain’s concession speech and thought it was very gracious. Where was that guy during the campaign? The one I saw last night was like the old McCain, the one respected by moderates and even some progressives. Good for him.

I wish Senator McCain (and his supporters) the best. But I’m pleased that my country made the choice for Obama yesterday. As our new President-Elect said last night, “That is the true genius of America – that America can change.”

Yes we can!



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Image from Spelman College, Atlanta – Courtesy of Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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  • Kim Woodbridge says:

    I am happy that Obama won but am cautiously optimistic. And, of course, he will disappoint many left leaning people. He has to govern from the middle in order to have any chance again in four years. But, I am thrilled that he won. 🙂

    I was also very surprised by McCain’s concession speech – it was gracious and calm and I could see him working with Obama. Like you, I thought where was this man throughout the campaign.

    I wrote a post for today about how nervous and unfocused I was yesterday and included photos of election day in Philadelphia. It isn’t what I originally planned on posting either but my intended article seemed inappropriate.

  • Kathryn says:

    Hey Chris,

    What you said about change really struck home. The United States of America is all about the change and my hope and prayer is that the people of the United States will embrace the change and support the leaders as the work to do the right thing!

  • Janice Cartier says:

    Chris- We actually get both candidates and we get all of us. That was no empty offer of help from my guy Mc Cain. From the inside out….we can. Hey, it’s an easy aisle to cross. Bravo to everyone. Let’s roll up our sleeves and get it done. Thank you for this post. It was the right one.

  • Adrienne says:

    Well I am a partisan hack…and I’m so damn proud of this country! We’ve had enough far right policies and a president who shots from the hip and “doesn’t pay attention to polls” I could go on and on but I’ll stop…we should just celebrate this important shift in America as we know it. Both my parents had to live in the era before civil rights and I called both of them crying last night. So it’s also very emotionally historic. I never thought we’d be this progressive this soon.

  • Jess says:

    The thing that makes me sad though, is that the majority of people I’ve talked to have no idea why they want Obama, just that he’s, as one friend put it, “A hip young black guy.”

    Race, age, and gender shouldn’t be the issue; his policies should be. And frankly, no one could tell me what his policies are or why they’re the right choice.Comedy Central dictates what American youth think about candidates.

    I agree that we need a change, a real change, but we do not need a health care system based off of Canada’s failing one. America was the land of hard work and opportunity, and while I don’t think Obama will have too much of a real effect on anything substantial, I get worried when I think about what could happen.

    The mindset that we’re entitled to anything is creepy. I heard some economist say something along the lines of, “If you want an economic activity to continue, don’t penalize it.” (eh-hem, small business?)

    Just a thought.

  • Adrienne says:


    This is why I voted for him

    1) I wanted to keep the republicans out of office. I’m sick of the far right running things and McCain was proving himself to be no different than Bush…see Palin.

    2) I want universal healthcare. There, I said it…his plan leads us down that path better than McCain’s. Frankly, as a person with pre-existing conditions, McCain’s plan scarred the sh*t out of me. Millions of people in this country have no coverage and you people are just fine and dandy with that. NO system is perfect, but at least in “socialist” countries everyone gets covered.

    3) I believe in gay marriage. Civil unions are an adequate solution…for now. Eventually it will lead that way. Again, Obama is more in line with my views here.

    4) I’m pro choice. McCain and Palin ARE NOT.

    5) We have to clean up a huge deficit and financial mess. Someone’s got to pay for it. Better the haves than the have nots. And no, trickle down (supply side) economics does not work. Corporations have proven that.

    6) Environment. No it isn’t God hugging us closer. It’s global warming. Carter put solar panels in the white house. Reagan took them out. That shows the difference between left and right thinking. Drill baby Drill is not the answer. Alternative clean fuel is.

    7) We need the respect of the world once again. For protection, for financial benefit, for simple community relations. Republicans haven’t given us that. The world told us they wanted Obama. We gave him to them.

  • Shanna says:

    Thanks, Chris, for your always thoughtful and relevant posts. This is a time of great opportunity for everyone. No, I don’t expect the path to be smooth and easy, but I am thrilled to, for once, be living in this country.

    We need to fix many of our outdated models and put in place systems that work for the majority of people. Health care, the economy, human rights, and the way we are viewed by others throughout the world are all issues in need of attention. I look forward to being a part of this new groundswell of interest and action rather than being left on the sidelines by an administration that doesn’t care about the issues I mentioned above.

  • Jason Weaver says:

    I’ve been listening to UK radio all day and hear a whole new conversation happening in the US. It’s exciting, positive and sounds very much as if a line has been drawn between the past and the future. What strikes me is the clarity, understanding and the strength of purpose — as if America can’t wait to roll up its collective sleeves and get back to work. The rest of the world is proud of you and, I think, inspired by today.

  • Jessica says:

    Hi Chris,

    I just read your tweets about people unsubscribing, and am disappointed to hear that. I feel like your post was very eloquent to both sides. Obviously America is ready for a change, and I was ecstatic last night to learn that we got it!

    I think we have a long ways to go, and I’m certainly not under the misguided impression that Obama will fix everything, but I feel that it is certainly a step in the right direction in bringing about change for the economy, for health care, for equality, for choice, and for the environment, as well as the reputation of our country, among many other things.

    Thanks for the post. It was great to hear your perspective as a frequent world-traveler. I guess you can’t please everyone!

  • Chris says:

    Hello everyone! What a night, huh?


    Don’t worry about the unsubscribes. I think the article is fair too, but that always happens whenever you share a real opinion.

    Someone else said on Twitter that you can’t unsubscribe from life — I thought that was funny! (And true.)

  • Slinky says:

    I’ve seen a lot of blogs popping up with opinions on the election in the last month, and I have to say that your post was probably the most respectful of all sides concerned. Nice job.

    It’s true that America can change, but I really wish we could change the two party system. When you don’t agree with the Republicans or the Democrats, it leaves you with the choice of voting for the candidate that you like best who will never win, or voting for the candidate that you dislike the least, but might actually win. Third party interests are pretty much unrepresented above the local level, and I think that’s sad. There may not be as many of us, but don’t we deserve to be heard too?

  • Crystal says:

    Thinking on France’s survey response, do you think that a US poll would be that much different?

    Obama didn’t win any of the states in the deep south, getting only 35%. North Carolina and Virginia [the Northern south?] were very close races. There are lots of reasons why–one reason for each voter, really–but Obama’s race was surely among those reasons.

    You say there was a time to say that about America, and I believe there still is. Obama won–and I’m insane with joy that he did!–but that doesn’t mean the days of racism are over.

    It does mean they are on the run, though! Woohoo!

  • Chris says:


    I wouldn’t say the days of racism are over, no. The effects of that are much more economic. But I think the U.S. polls on the same question asked in France were less than 10% this year. Of course, we were all unsure about the Bradley effect, etc. but in the end it looks like if anything, more people voted for Obama than expected. Thomas Friedman said something about the “Buffet effect” where the exact opposite happened.

    I even read about a “Rednecks for Obama” group who used a confederate flag for their logo. Their slogan was “Even we’ve had enough.” So much irony there!

  • Crystal says:

    Ahh, ok. I can roll with that. Bradley effect could’ve/would’ve factored in, but like you said, in the end the overall win was more than expected.

    I would love to see the data, ya know? How the precincts and demographics cleave and intermingle? That “Rednecks for Obama” slogan is hilarious and I’d love to see the numbers that pair with it.

    More than anything, I want to see who the DC 7 is…the 7% of DC voters who voted for McCain. I wonder what their slogan is?

  • Steven says:

    The Poll on the French newspaper said:

    What’s the best signification of Obama’s Victory?

    The fact that Bush is Leaving – – 52%
    The First Election of Black person – – 44%
    No Opinion — 2%

    Google translator doesn’t always work.

    From what I know, I have spent 23 years in France, the majority of french wouldn’t mind voting for a black person , and they would vote for the idea not the colour, they don’t do community separation as in the US. And according to a poll in France 95% would have voted for Obama.

  • Licer says:

    Great piece, Chris.

    I’m also hoping that people don’t go off the deep-end with the ir expectations of him. None of this will change overnight, but I’m happy that it’s beginning to change.

  • Chris says:


    I think we’re looking at different polls. The one I read in Le Figaro last night was a different question, with different responses, than the one you cite. Yes, most French people like Obama, but when it comes to the idea of voting for a president (in their own country), that is when the differences come up.

    But anyway, as noted, web polls are not scientific – I was just surprised at what I noticed.

  • Laura says:

    As a non-partisan person myself, I truly appreciate the global perspective. The U.S. is once again showing its desire to be on the leading edge of the changing world. For awhile it was evident to everyone BUT us that we were losing that edge. Although there is a great deal of work to be done, we’ve shown the world that we continue to evolve and embrace change. And, as a young person, it’s heartening to see so many young people conscious of the problems that exist in today’s world and eager to solve them.

  • Steven C says:


    ah yes if it’s the Figaro no wonder then…
    but here in Europe we can feel that most of the people were happy with Obama being elected. When I woke up this morning at 6 am the first thing I did was checking the results, first good news of the day!

  • Rick says:

    Hey Chris,

    Another nice post.

    Don’t feel bad about the French not feeling comfortable with a black leader – I wouldn’t feel comfortable with a French leader : )

    Seriously – policy wise, there really isn’t that much difference between the two candidates. Given all the serious issues and limitations, it would be difficult for either guy to make things lots different than the other guy would have… but Mr. Obama brings new energy and the apparent ability to rally large numbers of people. It is my hope that this period ushers in a sense that WE can move forward again and make more positive contributions to the world.

    If in the 1960’s we could engineer a trip to the moon in less than 10 years then I believe in the 21st centry we ought to be able to build a fleet of vehicles that run on something other than gas. We should also be able to protect ourselves from terrorists instead of growing a new generation of American haters.

  • Daniel Edlen says:

    Here was my take. And being from Arizona, we were wondering what had happened to “that” McCain as well. His transparent flip and terrible campaigning left us scratching our heads. Thank goodness he was still in there.

    I’m glad to know your perspective from being a world traveler. That was what me wife and I hoped for, the idea that the world would begin to take us seriously again with Obama leading.

  • Eric Deeter says:

    I hope you are right about Obama. I really hope he can be a good president. And I hope you’re right that he’ll govern from the center. I don’t think any of our leaders are really going to stand up and really address the problems we have. If we don’t cut spending and all of us make severe sacrifices we’re going to be broke soon. None of our leaders wants to tell the American people “no”. Both candidates were still making promises to various groups. I think we’re in for rough times no matter what.

  • PizzaForADream says:

    Neither candidate even closely represented what our country needs now! We need a statesman. We need a leader. Unfortunately neither fit the bill. I fear we will not recognize our country in 4 years as the dems have an unhindered path for their socialist agenda. They have nationalizing our 401k(s) in their sights and a whole lot more.

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