Obama fulfills King's dream

EADT Political Editor Graham Dines looks at how Barack Obama's message of hope propelled him into the White House

Graham Dines

EADT Political Editor Graham Dines looks at how Barack Obama's message of hope propelled him into the White House

IT was clear the game was up for John McCain almost as soon as the polls closed on the eastern seaboard and in the states squashed between the mid west and the Atlantic.

Although McCain was winning in traditional republican heartlands of Kentucky, Kansas and West Virginia, the margin of victory was less than that enjoyed four years' ago by George W. Bush.

The change that Barack Obama had been urging American to make was coming true. Record numbers went to the polls - and among first time voters and black Americans, Obama was making almost a clean sweep.

And then at 2am, some of the states with the highest number of electoral college votes started reporting precinct by precinct and it was clear Barack Obama was to be president elect.

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When Virginia and Florida fell to Obama, even the most optimistic Republican knew the party had been defeated. The blame will lie at the feel of Bush, whose White House was last night besieged by chanting Obama supporters keen to see this most unpopular of presidents out of office.

But the US constitution stipulates that there must be 77 days between polling day and the presidential inauguration, which will give Obama to choose his administration and plan for the four years ahead.

Although Bush won his second term just 18 months after the invasion of Iraq, the case for war was never convincing and as the body bags started coming home in droves after the 2004 vote, normally red neck Americans finally decided that enough was enough.

And Bush was blamed for the economic meltdown. There was no hiding place for Republicans - their president had got the country into the mess and ordinary folk didn't want another of his ilk taking charge.

Obama was fresh. He had the advantage of youth. His ethnicity attracted huge numbers of black Americans to vote. His oratory struck a chord with the average American.

The campaign echoed the message of hope offered by Martin Luther King 40 years ago, who was gunned down for daring to be black and vocal. Four decades on, the United States has matured. Racial segregation no longer exists and though in the deep south there will be loathing of a negro taking charge of the country, the rest of America seems remarkably at ease with the one-term senator from Illinois.

And that makes him odds-on favourite to win the 2012 US election. As long as he delivers on his promises and the voters' expectations, he'll get a final, four-year term. But if his actions don't match the rhetoric, he'll be a busted flush.

It won't be easy. His first task will be to tackle the economic mess in the United States and senior US economist Paul Ashworth has warned: “The next US President is going to inherit the poisoned chalice of an economy entering a deep and prolonged recession and a soaring budget deficit that will rapidly reach levels not seen in a generation.”

In a speech of supreme statesmanship and elegance in the early hours of Wednesday morning, McCain conceded defeat and called on his supporters to get behind their new commander-in-chief, whose triumph was decisive and sweeping.

McCain was unlucky. The economic crisis played into the hands of the Democrats. And the Democrats chose a mercurial candidate rather one-time favourite Hilary Clinton, who many experts believed would have struggled against the war hero McCain.

So history has been made. An all-American boy with the name Barack Hussein Obama, the son of a white woman and a black man he barely knew, raised by his grandparents far outside the stream of American power and wealth, has been elected the 44th president of the United States.

He saw what was wrong with the country and offered hope and change. The troops will withdraw from Iraq, and the festering sore which is the US health insurance system is almost certain to be reformed.

For Britain, the danger is that the US will become isolationist and protectionist. When the Iraq nightmare is finally over, President Obama will be reluctant commit them to any further overseas adventures. And he may well support increased tariffs on imports as a way of boosting the domestic economy.

Over here, Obama's election has given renewed heart to David Cameron's Conservatives. If the United States can reject the old order and sweep away a party tainted by economic failure, then so can the UK.

The US has elected a novice, and in so doing removed one of the planks propping up Gordon Brown whose swipe at putative Labour leader David Miliband and David Cameron that the current crisis was “no time for a novice” has been so clearly repudiated across the Atlantic.

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