A Short Note on the United States of America

Photo courtesy of Atlanta-Journal Constitution
Spelman College, Atlanta - 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 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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