We know he is a good public speaker.
He does not have much of a record of public service, or governing, or leadership.
His work resume is very short indeed.
Clearly, his political history, albeit very short, is founded on the left side of the liberal spectrum. He has a leftist voting record. He has almost exclusively voted the party line.
The list of his accomplishments, prior to becoming President-elect, is almost bereft of entries. He has written two autobiographies. He has won a couple of virtually uncontested election wins in Illinois. By all measures, winning this election is the largest accomplishment of his life, for which he deserves credit.
He is bi-racial. He was raised by a single mom and by his grandparents. He was abandoned by his birth father. He is married and has two daughters. He smokes, he works out and he plays hoops.
He was educated in the law, passed the bar and practiced a bit of law. He was a law professor for a short time. He served as a community organizer for a short time. He served in the Illinois State legislature for a short time.
But who did the voters just elect as the 44th President of the United States?
Everyone seems to have an opinion, but it appears that no one knows. Maybe not even Barack Obama himself.
He has the record of a leftist. He ran his campaign as a centrist. Most all of the positions he espoused one year ago, he abandoned for different positions by the time of this election.
It is simply guesswork to pretend to know his core values. His vision regularly changes direction and emphasis. Finding a clear, concise, easy to understand foundational philosophy is, so far, not possible. The same can be said as to a governing philosophy.
It is not clear that, as an early primary candidate, Obama was doing any more than getting his feet wet and learning the ropes. Not everyone is convinced that he initially intended or planned to be the Democrat nominee this time around, given his youth and inexperience.
As the candidate of his party, he used soaring rhetoric to speak in generality's and platitudes, selling "change" and "hope" at a time when both were on the minds and in the hearts of voters. But what kind of change was never well defined. And how hope will translate into a tangible reality has been and remains fully a mystery.
So beyond the great sounding appeals for unity and statements that now "is our time", what does the President-elect stand for? It doesn't seem there is much there, there. How will he govern? No one really knows and there is this lingering feeling that Obama himself may not yet know. Especially considering that he has never done anything even remotely related to the job he was hired to do just yesterday. And he takes charge in about 75 days. Hmm...
All of this makes a whole lot of people a bit uncomfortable. Large crowds chanting "yes we can" does not a government run. As of January 20th there will not even be time to warm up or ride with the training wheels on for a little while. It will be show time, on a global stage, with a hostile world watching and scheming. No wonder some folks have the jitters.
Let's all hope, practical hope in this instance, that there is some real substance hidden under all the smoke and mirrors.
World waits to see Barack's true colours
Greg Sheridan, Foreign editor
SO now we know for sure. The Noam Chomsky-John Pilger-Phillip Adams view of America is wrong. In George W. Bush's America, a land allegedly rife with militarism and racism, the white military hero lost and the black memoirist won a slashing election victory.
In a nation supposedly enthralled by fundamentalist religion, the presidential ticket with two mainstream, Protestant, capital-C Christians lost to the ticket with a vice-president of Catholic background who favours abortion on demand, and a presidential candidate who drifted into religion when he drifted into politics and who has one of the most pro-abortion records of any legislator.
In a sense all of this is beside the point. These were not the issues on which this election was fought.
Nor are they the dynamics of American society.
It is indeed a wonderful thing for the US to have its first black president. No African-American child need ever fear there is any limit to what they can achieve. Whatever you think of Obama's policies and capacity to govern well -- and I have my doubts -- his election is a powerful symbol of America's inclusiveness and opportunity. Which other big, rich, predominantly white society has elected a member of a racial minority to be its head of government? Not Australia.
So as we salute Obama, let's salute America as well.
The left liberal caricature of America was always nonsense. The militarism of American society is vastly overstated, just as its profound willingness to make sacrifice for other people's freedom is under-appreciated. This is the fifth presidential election in a row in which the candidate with the stronger military record lost to the candidate who didn't serve, or served only in the National Guard.
The last war hero to be elected president was George H. W. Bush in 1988. The same Bush lost to the draft-dodging Bill Clinton in 1992, as did another genuine war hero, Bob Dole, in 1996. Al Gore was no war hero but he had served in Vietnam, and John Kerry famously won the Purple Heart. And they both lost.
Similarly on race, the dynamic has been the opposite of the left liberal caricature of America for a long time. As Shelby Steele has argued, America has been ready for years to elect a black president. Of all the exit polls CNN conducted, perhaps the most revealing was the one that found only 20 per cent of Americans believed race was an important factor in how they voted. And a clear majority of those people voted for Obama.
Obama won nearly 100 per cent of a bigger-than-usual black vote, and it is clear his race was not a significant negative for the tens of millions of whites and Hispanics and Asian-Americans who also voted for him.
While it is historic to have an African-American president, in some ways it is almost equally historic that a northern liberal won the presidency for the Democrats. That has not happened since John F. Kennedy in 1960, and calling Kennedy a liberal is a bit of a stretch.
All of the other Democratic presidents since then -- Lyndon Johnson, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton -- came from the south and sold themselves as southern conservatives. The two parties have almost reversed identities: the Republicans to a southern working class party, with the Democrats becoming the home of the liberal elites.
John McCain surely did just about as well as any Republican could have. He certainly made mistakes. But at the time of writing the popular vote was about 52 per cent to 47 per cent. That means Obama got about 1per cent more than Bush did four years ago. This was no landslide comparable to Ronald Reagan's victory of 1980, Richard Nixon's in 1972 or Lyndon Johnson's in 1964.
The world had been waiting for an "October surprise", a late external event that would transform the election. It was thought this might be a security crisis that would emphasise McCain's national security gravitas and Obama's lack of experience.
Instead it was the Wall Street crisis, which forced Americans' attention back on the economy. It destroyed McCain's efforts to run as a de facto non-Republican. Before the Wall Street crisis, McCain was ahead. Given that he was outspent two to one, and the mainstream media was vigorously campaigning for Obama, McCain can hold his head high.
Nonetheless Obama showed himself to be superbly well organised and disciplined, and ran a smooth and professional campaign. Politically, he deserves his success. Now is the time for the Obama celebrations. Soon, however, reality will set in. Obama cannot govern by dint of his exotic identity or smooth talking. But these features will afford one advantage. At least temporarily, and perhaps for quite some time, the routine, stupid and dully uninformed anti-Americanism of many opinion makers around the world will be untenable. But all that will be less important than how Obama decides to govern. History here has plenty of cautionary lessons. The US political system works around checks and balances. History tells us that when one party controls the presidency, the Senate and the House of Representatives, it is often pretty ugly. There is overwhelming evidence that unified government in Washington spends and taxes more than a divided government, and that will be a temptation for Obama and congressional leaders.
After all, when Bush had a Republican Congress he got into a lot of political trouble.
The Republican commitment to small government gave way to big government conservatism. When Clinton was elected in 1992, his fellow Democrats controlled the Congress. These were disastrous years for Clinton and led to a massive backlash against Democrats in the 1994 mid-term congressional elections. Similarly, Carter had a Democrat-controlled Congress that helped make him a one-term president.
Obama has an ideological record on the left-liberal side of US politics. However, during the general election he ran hard to the centre. He presented himself as a tax cutter, a conservative on education. He supported Bush's domestic surveillance legislation and took a hard line on security issues, vowing Iran would not get a nuclear weapon, that he would increase the US troop commitment in Afghanistan, that he would bomb terrorists in Pakistan and only withdraw from Iraq over 16 months if, on the advice of his commanders, conditions permitted.
But at this stage we have no idea of how Obama will govern. The first real sign will come when he appoints his cabinet. Then perhaps we can answer the question this long campaign has so far not addressed: politically, who is Barack Obama?
Thursday, November 06, 2008
We know he is a good public speaker.