Thanks America, finally. America has a new president (and so does the world).
This election was certainly more exciting than the one in 2004. Even despite the accusations that Ohio’s voting procedures were tainted, the close results, the millions watching worldwide with bated breath — the 2004 election candidates somehow had less panache than this year’s. In fact, despite the electoral vote results, only three states changes allegiance in 2004, making the country appear to be around 75% Republican, perhaps thanks to the invasion of Afghanistan and the Iraq war.
Nonetheless, Bush and Kerry were harder to differentiate than Obama and McCain. Accusations regarding their respective ‘military’ services, talk of the secret Skull & Bones society that allegedly both Kerry and Bush belong to and their similar family backgrounds made it feel, to some, as though they belonged in the same kettle of fish.
The night of that election I was in San Antonio in a strange local burger bar that had a "middle-of-nowhere" feel, with a mixture of black and white locals, and me, accompanied by a collection of young Europeans traveling the USA. There was a freestyle open-mic event taking place next door, so as we watched the election and talked with the locals we heard prose creeping through the door every time it was opened. At first I thought that it was all anti-Bush — the rapping certainly was — but after a while I realised that the people in that joint had varying views and hopes for the outcome. I even had a very heated debate with a young English guy about why, in my opinion, Bush shouldn't be made president again. What I found with the locals was that I could talk to someone for about five minutes before fully understanding which side of the political fence they resided, because all the talking was wonderfully polite and euphemistic in that true American and ultimately patriotic, polite Texan way. I also found that nearly every American I met on that sojourn was surprised that a non-American would care about their election, because it had nothing to do with me — and when I tried to explain that America effects the whole of the western world, the response was always shock. So that was the bizarre atmosphere I found in a fairly warm burger bar in ol' "San Antone"…
On the plane home I had Americans come up to me and apologise, telling me they were ashamed of their country and how sore they were to admit that they were American, when in the past they could be proud and expect friendliness on their travels. I read an article in a British newspaper in which an author (I wish I could remember who) wrote about how the world (the western one at least) had always had respect and affection for America and its people, but that had changed, and if only the USA could go back to being the USA we all fell in love with… That he had met hundreds of Americans that echoed his sentiment.
On other travels after that I met Americans that had taken to sewing the Canadian flag to their backpacks in order to avoid hassle overseas and Canadians laughing at that, talking of the time when they had raised their hands and said, "no, I'm Canadian, eh."
So this year we enjoyed passionate debates between the two sides — some making more sense than others. We were entertained by Sarah Silverman, SNL and Tina Fey and of course Sarah Palin. And we watched, we watched a black man stand for president in the United States of America and win — by a majority. Even Florida didn't let us down.
I watched the whole thing live via the Internet from my office, a combination of ABC and BBC news — which I felt was a fairly balanced approach to the event. Justin Webb's comments on the BBC web were interesting and diverse; living in Hong Kong — mass producer of junky teeshirts — ensured that this was one of my favourites:
So what will happen in America now? Is it truly ready for a black president (and without meaning to sound cynical — is it because Bush f***ed up so much that Americans chose to elect this black president?)? Before my friend said it to me out loud, I had already thought 'Obama should be careful. As the fist black president, he's so much more likely to be shot' (after all we've all seen 24). I said the same to a friend of mine who's American. Her response was "that's true." And then, "gee thanks!"
On discussing the result with my father, he also said "I hope he's careful" and then said, "well, he's not really black, he's only half black." The race issue. It's so strange. I am half Chinese, I am not English, I am not Chinese, I am what I am — half. But people don't see you that way, and in my experience people in the US and the UK consider you black if you are as much as half. In any case, you certainly aren't white.
So far most non-Americans I have discussed the election with have echoed the same fears of a racial attack on the president-elect.
The road for Obama will not be easy, but let's hope that with his help America can again become the land that we had respect and affection for, and that American's can unpick those Canadian flags from their backpacks and go back to being American when overseas, and Canadians can be Canadian and the rest of the world can rest a little more assured that America will stop its neo-imperialistic bullying.
My sister who lives in San Francisco sent me a photo of my nephew at 8.11pm PST — just after the California result came through. He's fiave years old, yet his look of resolution, determination and 'HOORAY!' was perfect. My sister captioned the photo 'I hope he remembers this historic day'.