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America electing a transformational president

  • 05 November 2008
'In just one week, you can give this country the change we need. You can do that ... all of us have to come together as one nation ... we must shed our fears and our doubts, we must choose hope over fear ... together we will change this country, and we will change the world.' –from Obama's 'closing arguments' speech in Ohio one week ago, 27 October 2008.

Retrospective wisdom is that the plummeting US economy has made an Obama victory inevitable. But his lead over McCain remained puzzlingly narrow until into the final month, when it solidified to 5–8 per cent nationally.

So much could have gone wrong: the unquantifiable Bradley race factor; suspicions of Obama's exotic background, his youth, his radicalism; the incompetence and bias of some vote-counting systems in key states; the presumed stupidity and selfishness of much of the US electorate.

Obama campaiged tirelessly to overcome his strangeness, to make himself known and trustworthy to voters. Hilary Clinton's formidable challenge in primaries steeled him.

Obama's likely win will radicalise the American national agenda. To listen to his magnificent half-hour closing oration in Ohio is to encounter a politician in the Lincoln, Roosevelt and Kennedy class. After America's worst president, Obama may prove its greatest.

He calls for nothing less than a change in the American ethos: from self-love to caring for one another; from divisiveness to unity; from short-term consumerism to taking responsibility for the world of one's children and grandchildren.

His campaign oratory takes Americans back to barely remembered communal values, to a gentler nation, to the America of Steinbeck and Arthur Miller. The question he posed: could the US citizenry — labelled by many foreign observers as the most greedy, self-satisfied people in the world — embrace this radically challenging new vision of themselves?

Today, under pressure of frightening economic recession, Americans seem certain to have the grace and wisdom to do so.

Obama offers policy solutions that the Republicans could not. His message is that a major Roosevelt-style rebuilding of America's decayed infrastructure and hollowed-out economy is needed, a federally-funded transformation to a self-reliant, renewable-energy based economy that will cut greenhouse gas emissions and end dependence on Middle East oil.

He promises to use the tax system and Keynesian deficit funding boldly to restore public health and education, to reward American entrepreneurship, to create new 'green' jobs in America, to penalise companies that export jobs, and thereby to rebuild public confidence and demand. He rejects the corporate-led globalisation model that has both taken too much of the world's wealth and also demoralised and impoverished the American working class.

This will be a presidency that