The most remarkable presidential race in American history is over and the United States has its first black president, President-Elect Barack Obama. His victory is of enormous significance not only because it shatters the racial barrier, once an unthinkable possibility, but also because it carries into the White House a political philosophy that even extreme optimists felt it would take many more generations before it could break surface at the pinnacle of power in America.
Mr. Obama's sweeping victory suggests a sea change in American politics and society. Only four years ago, the "war on terror" and the "politics of fear," coupled with a conservative juggernaut, dominated the presidential election landscape. In the past 21 months, however, a little known senator from Illinois, with the help of an army of volunteers and the quiet power of the Internet, changed the agenda in the most unprecedented and unexpected way: not only the Obama campaign energized tens of millions of people of all races and creeds with a palpable message of hope, it also triggered a critical surge of introspection among voters who would have sworn, only a short while ago, they would never, ever change their minds about NOT voting for an Afro-American candidate promoting a "liberal" political platform replete with "socialist" ideas. Winning such "hardcore" constituents is perhaps the best demonstration of Mr. Obama's healthy powers of persuasion.
"Only in America," jubilant "Obama-coms" will say in these hours of euphoria, but the sound bite does have a special relevance and meaning on 5 November 2008. "Only in America" a political system, under the most severe pressure from an economic collapse and twin foreign wars, would execute a change of tack breaking down some of the deepest constants of its society. "Only in America" a grass roots campaign, sustained by the overwhelming response of the online community, could force aside age-old barriers and deliver the goods. "Only in America" an unknown black politician would forego public campaign financing, gather an enormous war chest via people giving, and, in the process, change forever the presidential race finances.
To the world, the Obama election brings a sigh of relief. Friends and allies of the United States, many of them at the end of their tether over the collapse of meaningful consultation with Washington, feel already a fresh breath of air. Although it will take time to correct the wounds left behind by Mr. Bush and his team of neocons, the seemingly endless amount of good will that the Obama candidacy has raised in most countries is a secure foundation upon which the United States can build. President Obama will be eagerly received by allied governments against the backdrop of the new US president's almost universal popularity outside America as well.
There is abundant positive energy surrounding Senator Obama as he begins his transition to the White House. This is an ideal predicament, but not without its hidden pitfalls. Positive energy of such level tends to cultivate a sense of relative infallibility, a dangerous adviser under any circumstances. Mr. Obama has of course demonstrated he is a coolheaded man even under severe pressure. This is then his first test as president: choosing the right team for the job. It is strategically important he is not caught in the net of the Clinton legacy figures. It is vitally important that he reaches out, across the partisan divide, to enroll the support of respected individuals who do not necessarily meet the criteria of a narrow circle of Democratic party hacks.
Men like Republican Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana and, needless to say, Gen. Colin Powell can be immediately tapped for the State Department and the Department of Defense respectively.
The time is now -- at last.