Difficult times bring us great men. Good times invite weak men to take over. Bush had the best of times and he ruined what he inherited. A solid budget, good international relations, progress. Bush could have been a quiet and unimportant follower of Clinton, instead 9/11 created a shockwave, that brought government out of control, reactions of fear, shock and cynism followed. These are difficult times.
It were difficult times when Abraham Lincoln became President. He saved the unity of the United States, he, despite his moderate intentions earlier, abolished slavery. This caused his assasination. Roosevelt was another president, that turned the economy around with the new deal and created middle class as we know it during the 2nd world war. And both presidents were victorious in war – during civil war and during World War II. Now Obama has all the opportunities to become a great president: Budget ruined, the economy in a crisis, international relations damaged, a war in Iraq and Afghanistan, both unwinable, a divided nation of progressive modernists and religious conservatives.
Germans are pessimists. We doubt that Obama can fulfill the expectations. Americans are luckily different, they share a common feeling, that helps them to be optimistic: Hope. They were victorious so often in history: 2 World Wars, the Man on the Moon, the strongest economy in the world, what is it this nation cannot achieve? What big project would it be, if America does not target Mars, but instead has a new project: A green economy? It is much more difficult and complex to handle than to bring a man on the moon – and it is not only a technological challenge. This project management would involve complex social solution methods and skills, economic research combined with all other fields – it’s a massive project. But it could make America the leading nation on this planet again also in moral terms of view.
It is no surprise that pessimism in Germany is prevalent, fear is ubiquitous in daily politics. It can be explained by all the failures Germans experienced in their history (1848, 1914, 1933, 1953). Germany could not build the nation upon a declaration of independence as the Americans did, it could not charter itself on the outcome of a succesful revolution as the english or the french nation can. Germany had a failed revolution 1848, founded it’s nation in a war against France in 1871 and lost it’s ability to politically maneuver due to the incompetence of a weak leader (Wilhelm II.), which ended in the disaster of the 3rd Reich. It was a present of the USA, France and England when Germany was not devastated but build up as a fully functional democracy as a battering ram of the free world against communism. The Americans identify the core of their nation rooted in the declaration of independence and it’s promise of the pursuit of happyness for everybody, no matter their origin and (later) race. Obama managed to unify a nation again already partly in the campaign, trying to overcome the restriction of race and reformulating the idea of the United States, land of the free that unites itself by the acceptance of every human being, that that was born there or legally imigrated.
Obama tries to overcome the idea of race. He claims it is not important any longer. He represents a person that is of mixed race, his mother being a caucasian american, his father an african from Kenia. Actually you quickly get the impression he is close to a Messiah since he is not declaring his race. Of course he agrees to the fact that he has black skin, but he always added that there is more than only just that. And that is his thinking, which is much closer to the liberal, performance oriented thoughts of the mainly white middle class. In his speeches, he avoids the topic of his race often, but he agrees to the fact that he now can understand his earlier life to be a lucky combination: Not black, not white – grey / in between, educated in the best schools, not inheriting the conscious of a slave descendant. This is a perfect role for a mediator and that is what America / the world needs. But it is a extremely difficult job for him. He will be very lonely as nobody else can mingle between the different groups of the society and still be not part of any of them. Bill Clinton did a good job, it was clear to everybody he was white, but he came across as a man with (black) soul and was very experienced handling gender issues when he left Arkansas. The black minority therefore supported him sincerely and it will be interesting to see how well it will work this time with Obama.It is not said that it is going to be easier this time, expectations are much higher by the minorities who guaranteed the majority for Obama.
But there should be no doubt, he was raised with the moral values and attitudes of the middle class, which is mainly white. The white middle class loves him for his habits, his rhethorical talent, for his attitude of high moral, of hard work, modesty, education and also good looks. He is not grown up in the attitude of a black minority, the movement of civil rights like Al Sharpton or Jesse Jackson. He is in fact closer to the America Clinton represented and could have been continued by his wife Hillary. It is unfortunate for her, but America may have been readier for a good looking, intelligent and promising Obama than for a woman, that exceeds him by intelligence and also political experience. Still a woman is more dividing a country than a man, that may be rooted in the dominance of men for such a long time. Also, it seems likely that Obama is not the support the black minority that they hope he is. He always avoided to give the impression that he would prefer a black community, he advocates equal rights instead. To avoid the impression of creating priviledges, he may be forced to do the opposite. That may be an easier job to do for his running mate, Joe Biden.
How lucky we can count ourselves that the charme and good looks of Governour Palin did not irritate too many men and distracted them about her competence for the job. She was not qualified for the job at all and it was a strategical mistake of McCain to nominate her. But maybe it was not his fault but the fault of the conservative, religious core of the Republican party that tried to install a parrot just like Bush Jr. again. Cheneys troops could not win that battle, they had done to many mistakes and failed too often, comedians actually did quite a good job at bringing transparency and awareness into that (thanks to Jon Stewart, Colbert, Letterman, Saturday Night Live).
Bush Jr. has failed, he may have impressed his dad a little but finally his father could see that Jr. will continue to be the black sheep of the family. Not a good role to start with for such an important job. We will see how he recovers from that, it’s not too important for Americas future. The Cheney, Rumsfeld & al connection is hopefully shocked and so destabilized, that they will not be heard off for quite some time.
Praise to the political opponents nevertheless, that are the reason why Obama became so strong: McCain was a noble and honest competitor, actually his ability to doubt and to question his own actions made him a credible maverick. But a maverick has not the support he needs to be elected president, the republican majority remained doubtful about his values and vision. Palin did not have these doubts and was dangerous because of her lack of maturity and intelligence, she was the most dangerous opponent nevertheless. Anyway, the Republicans did not provide the best sparring partners, Bush Jr. was the biggest failure you can have, you better hide him. No, the best sparring partners were Hillary and Bill Clinton. When Obama managed to win the votes of the democratic party, he finally had the support of the Clintons and that made him the presidential candidate he became and that added the idea of unifying America again to his campaign.
Obama will be busy with a clean up job the next years before he is really able to create the future. He will have to fix the financial crisis, find a reasonable way to pull troops out of Iraq and find a solution for Afghanistan. He will have to do appeasement with Russia again and find new access to Europe and China. America will be wise to use it’s alliance of free countries in the world: Western Europe, the young democracies in eastern Europe, India, Japan and others. It has to help Russia to stabilize and become more democratic and it should advocate human rights again in China and not concentrate only in the purchase of cheap labour. There is a price to pay for that and only fixing the economy and the budget will enable America to do all that. Cutting the defence budget, changing taxation in favour of the middle class, this all will be difficult to manage in the state the country is in. Bush did a fantastic job in ruining the heritage of Clinton, now it may take years for Obama to rebuild that. That will cost him many supporters and it would be wise to gather as many experienced and intelligent men to do the job. Eventually Hillary Clinton after not becoming his running mate could be just the right addition to his team and finally implement a health care reform? We will witness his first steps as a new president with the present he all gave us again: Hope. Hope for a better future. It is everybodies duty to collaborate and take responsiblity for that.
We as Germans and Europeans can be envious for the ability of the American nation to reinvent themselves based on their foundation. We have one ourselves: a quite stabile, social capitalism and a constitution that basical enables us ourselves to vote for representatives that are from a minority of our nation. And we have this big project called Europe to secure peace and economic prosperity. We can elect a woman to be chancellor in Germany, but would we have been able to vote for a president of turkish origin, our biggest minority? I believe, we have yet not managed that, we still can learn a lot about integration from the United States and they can learn from us in terms of gender issues (a little…). Not much can go so wrong as with Bush, when you have a President that understands Lincoln, Martin Luther King and Roosevelt.