The euphoria experienced around the world was not really about Barack Obama. It was not even about the historic significance of a black man being elected president of the United States. The weeping and rejoicing, shown in clips from metropolitan cities to primitive villages around the globe, was for America. For an end to the oppression and tyranny the Bush administration has come to represent. The world has no idea whether or not Barack Obama will, in fact, be a good president. And, internationally, Obama’s race is of much less concern than is his policies as America remains one of increasingly fewer places in the planet still struggling with issues of its own identity and grappling with its own childish immaturity concerning skin color. While our domestic reaction is certainly a mixed bag of emotions posited by our individual visceral responses to Obama’s race, the matter is of mostly peripheral concern to the international community, where the outsized reaction to a political contest in America is much less about race than it is about tyranny, justice and competence; about America’s soiled image and its place in the world. The tears and shouts of joy from Bangkok to Sydney to Paris to Milan have very little to do with the color of Barack Obama’s skin. It is, instead, a collective sigh of relief that America’s wrongheaded investment in the Bush Doctrine had come to an end. That America would once again become the shining beacon of moral integrity and the global standard bearer for human rights, a proud legacy the current administration cashed in during years of inept prosecution of uncertain goals.
This has been an administration which has behaved much more like a fascist regime, legislating against its own citizenry, stripping away our civil rights while exponentially increasing the powers of the presidency. A presidency with no accountability, a government which locks up anyone it wishes as an “enemy combatant.” A government that creates hateful places like the detainee center at Guantanamo Bay and the torture center at al Ghareeb. An arrogant presidency which naively and childishly calls other nations “evil” and whose inept pursuit of a man who took 3,000 American lives on 911 has now cost more than forty times as many innocent lives and created untold numbers of bin Ladens-to-come in orphans left crying amid the charred ruins of their lives.
We have no idea at all whether or not Barack Obama will be a good president.
But Obama has a quality George Bush (and, based on his campaign, John McCain) does not: the possibility of being good. Domestically, we are so starved for leadership, for uncorrupted, unselfish, mature vision, that even the possibility of Obama being good at the job is enough to earn our vote. Some of us voted for a black guy. Some of us cast a vote against Sarah Palin—whose vanity, intellectual bankruptcy and blind adherence to right-wing policies she herself has little understanding of made her likely and probable ascension to the presidency a significantly worse threat than even a literal third Bush term. Some of us voted for change, as the unprecedented, mean-spirited and unfocused nature of the McCain campaign mirrored the worst aspects of the current president. But, my guess, is, the vast majority of U.S. voters have simply tired of the childish, selfish, empty rhetoric and failed policies which perpetuate and exploit divisions between us. In the midst of serious threats to our very existence as a nation, our most experienced and, therefore, most trusted candidate chose to scare us instead of reassure us. Chose to divide us instead of unite us. Chose to play ridiculous blame games and place a completely incompetent person whose executive experience was dwarfed by her inability to grasp even basic policy next in line for the presidency. John McCain’s vision for America was him running it. He laid out no coherent plan for moving forward and presented no opportunity or incentive for us to come together as a people. He was not reassuring, he was scary—made all the more scarier by his advanced age, questionable health, and Sarah Palin waiting in the wings. McCain's sad stumbling through the trees did not allow him to see the forest: in the larger picture, he ran a campaign of hate and fear. At a time when America was desperate for leadership and reassurance, John McCain resonated the emotional viscera of the current administration. He felt like more of the same, despite claims to the contrary. And America had finally had enough of that.
In that sense, the election of Barack Hussein Obama as the 44th president of the United States of America represents globally what it has strived to represent domestically: hope. Hope is not a guarantee. Hope is about potential. And, yes, we’ll take that.