Thursday, 6 November 2008

President Elect Obama (and thankfully a defeat of Palin)

The US presidential election results are good news in the sense that I feel proud that my country could elect a black president a mere 40 years after the horrid civil rights injustices in the 1960s. I must admit I thought it would be much longer before it could happen as there are still so many people in the States who find the thought absolutely unpalatable.

Unlike here in the UK, people in the States often hide their racism as they are aware it can be socially unacceptable and many find that sufficiently troubling. In the deep South, there are apparently still some Sheriffs and Judges who don a white conical mask and robe at night, although the Ku Klux Klan numbers have thankfully dwindled to a few thousand. (In the UK, I was struck upon arrival by how frequently white people openly included me in their racist jibes as though they could be confident that I was part of their exclusive club that agreed, for example, that the foreign woman who unwittingly walked to the front of the bus queue was an awful, thoughtless creature who should go back from whence she came…when I was foreign as well). It seemed possible that the Gallup polls in the States could come across many people saying they would support Obama who might tick a different box in the privacy of the voting booth where no one would judge their motivation. On the other hand, many members of ethnic minorities, who historically did not tend to vote, turned out in droves for this election, and Obama had plenty of support to balance out any racism. Plus it’s not all about race.

Nor is it necessarily about youth. Obama is about a year older than Bill Clinton was when he took office. And I did not vote against McCain because of his age. No, I valued his experience, and his age was only relevant in my mental risk assessment in terms of the likelihood of Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin, a ghastly woman, reaching the Oval Office herself. Unfortunately, and I don’t wish cruelly to write the gentleman off but, as he had been ill and was in his 70s, there was too big a chance for me. Normally, VPs disappear after the election and the average person on the street struggles even to name them. But this nightmare creature had a chance of taking the important office herself, if not during McCain’s term than once it had finished if he had been popular, as he had said he would only run for one term, and she would then carry on his legacy.

Whilst I have no doubt that much of the population voted for Obama because he represented—and repeatedly promised—change, and most people want change right now as the country is in an awful state, heading for recession and involved in deeply unpopular wars (though admittedly few are popular), I know of many of us who voted for Obama because we were voting against Palin. I have never felt so moved to vote as I was by my need to keep her out of the Oval Office.

What was McCain thinking? I imagine he thought it would help to have a woman on the bill. After Hilary Clinton lost to Obama at the primary stage, television adverts were run where some of her supporters advocated switching to support the Republicans, which was amazing. Perhaps McCain thought that tapping into that support with another woman candidate would push him ahead. But why Sarah Palin? I understand that he announced her as his VP candidate after only one meeting, and I often wondered whether he later regretted the choice, particularly when there were some other better qualified and surely more likeable candidates in the running. Palin initially had some sort of Princess Diana effect, drawing attention away from the man at her side and working the press into a frenzy about this new entity in Fifth Avenue outfits who talked about being a hockey mom, a first in high-powered political speeches.

But what was the point of talking like that? Certainly it was unexpected to hear this level of political speech refer to hockey moms and lipstick. An oft quoted passage in her debate with the future Democratic Vice President Joe Biden was her bit about going to any kids’ Saturday soccer game and asking anyone there what they thought about the economy etc today, and they’d say they were scared. No kidding. Where does that get us on the issues? It just lured the less aware into thinking that she was one of them so that her side deserved the vote, but clearly there were not enough of them.

I couldn’t help worrying that Sarah Palin in the White House would see her selling off our national parks, striving to lift any protection of endangered species and declaring everything fit for the fun of shooting them, making guns even easier to get hold of with fewer controls, banning evolution being taught in science classrooms as she was a firm Creationist, and reversing Roe vs Wade. Her environmental stance is dreadful, and having a strong member of the mighty National Rifle Association in such a powerful position would be too terrifying. (I’m not a big fan of Michael Moore, who surprisingly claims to be a lifelong NRA member, but do recommend his film Bowling for Columbine for getting a feel about the ease of getting guns—even as a free gift upon opening a bank account--and getting some insight into the heart of the NRA as they criticise rally-style the Denver mayor for asking them not to hold their annual gathering there 10 days after the horrific Columbine shootings; Moore has posted a transcript of the late Charlton Heston’s speech that day here .)

Palin was criticised for having her husband sit in on private cabinet meetings in Alaska when he had no locus or right to do so and for copying gubernatorial emails on official business to him, apparently even those involving labour negotiations. She has little experience in politics or of the world, having only just got her passport in 2006 and taking only a couple overseas trips (if you include Canada) and confused an answer about the VP’s role in the Senate. She was also found guilty of having abused her position, specifically violating a state ethics law prohibiting public officials from using their office for personal gain, when she sacked a senior state official who refused to dismiss her sister’s ex-husband from his job as a state trooper during their bitter custody battle.

Basically, Palin stands for most things that I stand against. I have been regularly horrified by her utterings and stances. In addition, a new picture emerged in my mind of her finding herself wildly out of her depth and crumbling in the White House, with even husband Todd unable to run things for her, and people noting in history that we’d tried a female president and she couldn’t cope so we won’t go there again.

I know I was not the only one who made it a point to vote against Palin. Still, I have real concerns about Obama. He is a great orator who dazzles people, sucking him into his rhetoric even if there is actually little substance in it, and it is so easy to sing the song of change at such a miserable time, but how will he actually implement it? He has only been in the Government for a remarkably short time, taking his seat in the Senate when the opposing candidate, who was ahead in the polls, pulled out after a scandal. During his short time in the Senate, he has not, I understand, served on any Committees nor sponsored any Bills. He has never been in the military yet he will be Chief of the Armed Forces, and I worry about his level of understanding of what it means to be a soldier. He is remarkably inexperienced. He has some worrying connections, such as the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, whose “inflammatory rhetoric" (to quote Obama’s own aides) included the assertion that the United States brought on the 9/11 attacks with its own "terrorism" and America should be damned. His wife introduced them, and she has always made me uncomfortable, staring out with a sullen, arrogant expression and always seeming to wear a defiant attitude, which I hope is not driven by her radical beliefs. I know many people who worry that she herself is a racist, which might not be true, but I oddly find myself hoping she takes more of a traditional role of supporting her husband and family rather than getting strongly involved in politics in a Hilary Clinton fashion.

But Obama is a prize compared to Palin, and I feel inclined to believe that he has the sense to spend the next few months gathering some very sensible advisors around him who can fill in the gaps of his inexperience and help him plot the path to achieving some of the change that he promised. Surely, we dare to think, things can only get better? McCain made a gracious speech conceding defeat, and I hope it is true that he does not intend to sit around regretting what might have been, though I disagree that the failure is solely his own. It is, in any case, a momentous and historic day, one that has even kept my fellow Londoners enthralled (many of my colleagues were up all night following the results whereas I got a good night's sleep). And I am not unhappy.