Possibly one of the most difficult things I've done.
Owasso Reporter 10th November 2008
Only in America
Separated by a Common Language
Here Comes The Sun...
UPDATE 23rd November 2008
The top link no longer works as the archives require registration and payment of a nominal sum.
The article text was as follows:
Water cooler moments
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to give you an insight into what the recent election has meant to people in Great Britain. Given that your state provided the highest percentage of votes for Senator McCain, I start from a position of weakness but I hope you'll bear with me.
Your editor has already alluded to this theme and it was my first thought when drafting these words. As in your country we have water cooler moments where Britons remember where they were when events in foreign parts affected the world:
· Armstrong on the moon, Dallas 1963, Lennon 1980, fall of the Berlin Wall, Diana in Paris, Mandela's walk to freedom, and September 11th.
On Wednesday, as red eyes gathered by the water cooler, another moment was added to the list. From the office cleaner to the Managing Director, people who profess no interest in politics - even domestic issues - have taken an interest in this historic event. And make no bones about it, this is indeed historic. Whatever one's personal viewpoint, right or left, Obama seems to have crossed traditional boundaries in my country and seems to have given us fresh hope.
There is an old saying here that you should not talk about religion, politics or football in the pub as strong beer and strong opinions, unlike good fences, do not make for good neighbours. But the election has become a catalyst for people to renew interest. On Friday night, for example, talk was not about the likely outcomes of soccer matches on Saturday or tips for the weekend's horse races, it was still about one man.
Here, Conservatives have queued up to offer support for an unlikely ally. Indeed, a prospective Conservative Party candidate in this locality proudly displays a photo taken with Obama.
It's difficult to pinpoint the reasons for this. Sure, the issue of colour is important, but Obama seems to have something more - oratory skills lacking in Bush and a sincerity not apparent in Clinton.
As a friend in Germany told me, 'What I especially like about Obama is that he is a US-American politician who regards other countries as his friends/allies and not as his enemies. According to his speech in Berlin, he wants to work together with other countries and acknowledges their support. However, he also demands this support. Obama gives us Europeans the feeling that we are actually important.
A German woman said in an interview on TV that Obama represents the person of the future because races mix up more and more. She also said that Obama is not only the voice of the US-Americans but he is the voice of the world.'
As this small island notes this was historic but real legacies, like great songs can only be judged properly several years later. Kennedy, at the time of his assassination was unpopular, but became an icon of hope; Reagan was considered a nuclear liability yet became associated with peaceful unification and self-determination in Eastern Europe; Mandela was imprisoned for terrorism but turned into a universally admired statesman. Obama has a huge weight on those impressive shoulders. I for one, to paraphrase Tony Blair, am proud to stand shoulder to shoulder with him.
In 1997 we had similar hopes with the election of Tony Blair. The campaign song was 'Things Can Only Get Better' by a group named D:ream. The hard part for Barack Obama is going to be living up to the dream envisaged in Memphis decades ago.
Here across the Atlantic, Anti-US feeling has been running high since the hanging chads of Florida catapulted George W. into the White House. This is not a distaste for the US-American people themselves but for the Government. As we approach 11/11, this country knows the great debt it owes to the USA war effort although we have to point out that you were a little tardy and the sacrifices of Stalingrad also rank highly.
What rankles though is that the so-called 'special relationship' seems so one-sided. It is physically impossible to stand shoulder to shoulder when so far behind. European leaders will again seek to jostle for position once the new president is inaugurated. Obama will inherit a position of strength but not a moral high ground. The trick is to balance the two.
Here in Liverpool, slavery helped build the city. We now commemorate those wrongs in our museums and in 2008 we are European Capital of Culture.
But whilst slavery ended here well before finally being abolished in the US, we are still some years away from electing a non-white Prime Minister. So, America now leads the way. It has always believed that it did anyway but this has been false.
Debate is now taking place as to whether Britain is ready to embrace the same seismic decision.
Whilst Liverpool has historically been built on immigration and emigration, there are still areas where racism is the norm. This may not amount to direct attacks but there is a covert discrimination happening.
On local radio here many have made comments that Obama's colour should not matter. In terms of what they are referring to it doesn't. However, this misses the point - Obama has given hope to people and emphasised that for all that the American Dream that anyone can be President is a bit of a fallacy, the glass ceiling has developed a crack.
A potential hurdle is an underlying suspicion of racism and religious differences, which bubble at the surface of society. As the economic troubles continue, there is a risk of extreme right-wing parties benefitting as has happened in other parts of Europe.
As the US suffers from a similar downtrend it is vital that Obama does not pander to such elements and tackle the perception that immigration is detrimental to the life of the average Joe (plumber or not). As you may recall, the story about the doll brought your town to my attention and vice versa. Matters can get out of hand and lead to an inferno of intolerance not envisaged when the fire is first lit.
I'm reminded of Oklahoma-born Woody Guthrie in his song, God's Promise
I promise you power, this minute this hour,
The power you need when you fall down to bleed,
I give you my peace, and my strength to pull home
My love for all races all creeds and all kinds.
(c) WG Publications Inc
One major worry is what favours will be called in. Bush owed the oilmen and Wall Street; Obama must tread that thin tightrope line that progressives often find themselves on, and not give in to the temptation of appeasing opponents by being tougher than expected, like a new gang recruit convincing his mates he ain't soft (I'm thinking Danny Zucko and T Birds in Grease here).
As far as the Republicans are concerned, they need to take stock. McCain tried to distance himself from the disastrous Bush administration, but chose an equally disastrous running mate, whose lack of intellectual depth was a reminder of Bush in not-so-free-flow.
McCain's concession speech was noble and gracious. It is a pity that he left this part of his character behind during much of the campaign. The continual attempt to link Obama with socialism and terrorism at a time when Bush was bailing out financial institutions and presiding over a policy of regime change in Iraq ranked as hypocrisy of the highest order. A unifying role in the forthcoming administration is not out of the question.
Of course, the real test of change will be when the Republicans are able to field a candidate in the same terms. Then, the whispers that Obama merely garnered a natural Democrat support to turn out in record numbers, will go away. Condoleezza in 2012?
One oft-quoted fact/myth is that only 27% of Americans own a passport. This, coupled with perceived attitudes to the rest of the world - a with us or against us stance, enhanced by stories about Sarah Palin's knowledge of geography lend ammunition to Anglo-American suspicions.
I conducted a straw poll of people in my local area and asked them to pinpoint Oklahoma on an unmarked map of the United States. The results were not encouraging. Whilst some were able to select the general area, none could do so with any degree of accuracy. They did know that the USA was a country rather than a continent though!
On a more positive note, another non-scientific pointer came at the recent MTV awards in Liverpool. After 9/11 the Star Spangled Banner was played outside Buckingham Palace. And on Thursday night at the European Music Awards people stood for the anthem again. In between these 2 events have been years of suspicion and a feeling of being hoodwinked as our troops came home in body bags fighting in a country where bin Laden was not.
The 3 main US policy issues affecting us in the UK are the financial crisis, US foreign policy, and environmental issues. All three have a bearing on the rest of the world. The USA must be inclusive not unilateralist; in order to unite you must first invite.
Obama may be a turning point so long as he learns the lessons of history and rebuilds rather than pillages. He needs to involve others - the U.N. and European Union - and show leadership by example and create equal partnerships. Should he succeed in this,no longer will Bush's catchphrase sound so hollow,spoken as it was as a single, Germanic word freedomanddemocracy.
Yes, I remember where I was when Obama became President-elect. Unlike many of the other events mentioned, this was not a complete shock but a welcome gift to the free world. Unlike the presents shortly to be seen at the foot of the Christmas tree, this comes with no warranties and a disclaimer: thank you for choosing your President.Handle with care.