Analysis: Obama makes history

For many outside of the US it may have seemed a forgone conclusion that Barack Obama would take the White House for the Democratic party. It was probably considered the most favourable outcome by many across the globe. But the estimates of the popular vote show a much tighter result than many had believed with Mr Obama taking 51 per cent nationally compared to John McCain’s 48 per cent.

This was an election the like of which has not been seen in the US for over a century. Record numbers of voters turned out early to cast their vote – 23 million people had already voted by Sunday morning across 30 states. It was also an election in which young people made up 30 per cent of voters and in which people were willing to stand in queues for hours to cast their ballot even in torrential rain. Not to mention the record number of voter registrations and turnout generally.

Obama left nothing to chance speaking to people on the telephone personally even on polling day to canvass their vote. And judging by the estimates of the popular vote it was probably a good thing he did. While the Electoral College votes he has make the result look like a landslide initial indications show the race tightened up in the way most US presidential elections do in the last few days. The ten-point lead many national polls showed the president-elect as having in the last few days leading up to the election were either wildly wrong or the Bradley Effect – that people say they will vote for a black candidate to pollsters but then don’t as first experienced by Tom Bradley, an African-American who lost the 1982 California governor’s race – kicked in. Either way, while he didn’t scrape home the popular vote shows the race was a great deal tighter than many would have thought.

Does this matter? Not a bit. Obama has made history as the first African-American to be elected to the position of president of the United States and in January will become the leader of the free world.

Four years ago the idea that a woman or a black man could reach the White House would have been almost unthinkable. It had never happened – except in fictional television programmes – and wasn’t likely to any time soon. Even among those who thought Hillary Clinton would run for the presidency the thought that she would do so in 2008 was still considered unrealistic. Most thought a stab at 2012 the most likely attempt, even the candidate herself played down rumours that she would run for the highest office in the US in 2008.

This has been an historic year for America in more ways than can possibly be imagined. In the first six months of the year a black man and a woman fought for the Democratic nomination to run for president of the United States. Then the oldest man to run for the office did so with a woman as his running mate. Whichever ticket took the White House history would be made. Then there is the fact that after 28 years the US has voted for a candidate with a very progressive platform for reform. Ever since Reagan the US has had a conservative political bias. Clinton made a number of attempts at reform, most notably his doomed healthcare reforms, which while progressive in nature never succeeded. Not only that but for the first time since Kennedy the US has elected a Democrat from the north of the country, Johnson, Carter and Clinton were all southerners

Yet there is a greater sense of history, and of achievement, with this election result. Moreover it is difficult not to get caught up by the charisma and spirit of Obama. He is an orator who can move people in a way few other US presidents have – just think about the numerous gaffes made by the current incumbent. Obama has the ability to lift crowds in a way that only Reagan, Roosevelt and Kennedy managed in the century before him. All three were considered the great communicators of their era and Obama surely fits into this category, his speeches could have been written by the team behind the TV show The West Wing.

So what next? Well fortune really does seem to smile on Obama. He has during his political life always been lucky which is pretty useful as a politician. And this is a man who seems to have all the luck in the world. Having tapped into an American psyche of disappointment with the previous administration Obama has managed to convince many Americans to lift their heads up again and dream big dreams. But with a strong majority in the Senate he might just be able to make some of those big dreams a reality. Few, if any, US presidents have had such favourable conditions. Obama has a Senate that is unlikely to try to frustrate his reforms if only because the Republicans will simply be too weak in the next two years to be able to. This election result may have been historic but the next two years and possibly beyond may mark the beginning of what becomes a truly historic new era in American politics and (maybe) the rest of the world.