Barack Obama’s speech last Friday, accepting his historic nomination as the US’ first black presidential candidate, is a reminder to us all that leadership with vision and the right policies can get the world to dream again and set aside the global cynicism that is eroding politics.
Here is the first African American to address his nation as a major party nominee for the presidency of the US, in his bid to succeed one of the most unpopular and disastrous presidents in US history.
The balance sheet of George W. Bush’s casualties in America and the world will take decades to complete, as the repercussions of his irresponsible policies will keep haunting us in the years to come. It will take more than one presidential term to undo the harm, rekindle the old alliances, restore trust and get rid of the anti-American sentiment that the outgoing Texan president has instilled the world over.
But what Obama has managed to do so far is to get the common men and women – not just Americans – to dream, to believe and to hope again that politics can really bring about change.
Throughout the campaign trail, which observers compare to religious revival meetings, Obama has consistently reminded his supporters that all Americans, regardless of race, class or gender, can prosper.
Last Friday, he confirmed his ability to articulate the concerns of the common people: those dying of cancer who have to battle with insurance firms for their health services; the underprivileged children who have no access to education; the factory workers packaging their machines to be sent off to China; the parent who has to choose between keeping her job and tending to her sick child.
The adage that a nominee campaigns in poetry holds true for this Democrat, who outlined his programme in the tradition of the good old American liberalism that we subscribe to. Hopefully he will be as fluent in prose, if he sets foot in the Whitehouse.
On Friday he did give an answer to the stream of sceptical pundits saying Obama had to become more concrete and less lyrical.
“For the sake of our economy, our security, and the future of our planet, I will set a clear goal as President: in 10 years, we will finally end our dependence on oil from the Middle East,” he said among his list of pledges, going on to promise to invest $150 billion over the next decade in renewable energy sources.
That is a promise the world will take note of, coming from the biggest polluting country but also from the most powerful nation that has the legal and moral obligation to set the example.
Whatever the frontier America decides to cross, the world will follow, and Obama has shown he knows this, also by touring Europe as part of his campaign. One hopes it is also a signal that, in his foreign policy, multilateralism will be on his agenda; not as murderous as Bush’s, nor as crippling as Clinton’s, whose eight-year embargo on Iraq also killed a lot of innocent civilians. On the other hand, Obama needs to revisit his unwavering support for Israel. Stating that Jerusalem “must remain the undivided capital of Israel” takes him two steps back in America’s bid to heal the rift with the Arab world.
At the end of the day, the US needs to open up to the world as much as the despotic regimes, in ratifying international treaties such as the Kyoto Protocol and abiding by the International Criminal Court, in abolishing the death penalty, in reaffirming civil rights, in taking the lead on balancing global injustices and in redistributing wealth.