For most Americans, Senator Barack Obama’s election victory signifies a powerful step forward in America’s never-ending quest to reach what Abraham Lincoln referred to as the Standard Maxim: the Declaration of Independence’s revolutionary statement that “all men are created equal”. From the rare tears of a friend’s war-hardened father to the bedtime conversation between a parent and a child that for the first time ends with the confident truth that “you can even be the president of the United States”, the moment carries much meaning. Americans from across the political spectrum should take time to acknowledge this important moment in history.
Europeans also found Obama and his message of hope and unity appealing. They see in him a return to a vibrant transatlantic alliance. We should celebrate that convergence of opinions. The strength of our relationship remains vital to global peace and prosperity.
There is Much Work to Do
Yet, given the unacceptably high level of illegitimate births, incarceration rates, and dropout rates among black Americans, we still have much work to do to strip away the remaining vestiges of slavery. It was only a short three years ago that we saw in graphic detail how America had failed to do right by those living in the shadows of the slave trade, mere blocks from where men, women, and children were once torn apart from each other and sold like livestock.
In Europe, millions of Muslims live on the edges of society where jobs are scarce and disillusionment is plentiful. From the banlieue of Paris to the Turkish neighbourhoods of Berlin, scores of sons and daughters of Muslim immigrants straddle two separate worlds – not quite European for Europeans, but too European for Muslims.
Yes, we have much to celebrate, but the moment of reflection and celebration will quickly pass – as it always does. Many problems remain.
In our rush to move beyond the presidency of George W. Bush, we have glossed over vital issues that confront us. We must move beyond the simplistic analyses of Obama’s victory. Yes, Americans, including many conservatives, are eager to turn the page on President Bush and his policies. Yes, Americans are hopeful that Obama will bring positive change to Washington. Yes, Americans are hopeful that Obama will reach across the aisle to solve America’s toughest challenges. Yes, Europeans are breathing a collective sigh of relief that the Bush presidency has come to an end. Yes, Europeans are excited that someone interested in Europe won the presidency.
Obama’s election triumph brings with it complex challenges. As many wise politicians have observed, winning is easy, but governing is hard.
While Obama can continue to blame President Bush and Republicans in 2009, by the mid-term elections in 2010, that dog won’t hunt anymore. He will have had two years to put in place his agenda. If the financial crisis worsens in 2009 and 2010, Obama will not be able to escape responsibility as President Franklin Roosevelt did when the Great Depression worsened under his policies. History is now firmly recorded by non-traditional media sources that can marshal the facts and figures, post them on the Internet, and watch the mainstream media play catch-up. Campaigns can withhold information from the blogosphere, avoid press conferences, and hide behind a complicit media. Presidents do not have that luxury.
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This article was written by Matt Mayer and originally appeared in The Atlantisch Perspectief. Mayer was an American Marshall Memorial Fellow with the German Marshall Fund of the United States.