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Editorial / Periscope - Niall O'Dowd
A Black Camelot
November 12, 2008
“HE’S the young gaffer who would capsize the stars … mounted on the spring tide of the stars of luck.” John Millington Synge, The Playboy of the Western World
PRESIDENT-elect Barack Obama has certainly capsized the stars. By becoming America’s first African American president he has sent a shockwave across the world that shows little signs of subsiding.
He had his share of luck, too. An unpopular incumbent president, a tanking economy and a war gone wrong certainly helped Obama’s cause.
Ultimately, however, it was his flawless campaign and his aura of cool, composed confidence and competence that won him the White House. He and his picture perfect family are now set to go to Washington. We are surely ushering in the era of the Black Camelot.
The crowds who poured into the streets across America on Election Night were stunning in size and in their enthusiasm. Probably not since the end of the Second World War has there ever been such an outpouring of sentiment.
From Washington, where they came together outside the White House, to New York, where they gathered in Harlem and Times Square, to every major city in the country, the explosion of relief and joy was an indication of just how historic and incredible Obama’s moment was.
He will now take his place as the 44th president beside several early presidents who were slave owners, an incredible juxtaposition.
The night too was the fulfillment of the dreams of Martin Luther King that America would be “free at last” of the worst aspects of the hideous history of slavery and anti Black laws.
Robert Kennedy predicted in 1961 that a “negro could be president” within 40 years. It seemed an incredible claim at the time. Now that same African American seems likely to appoint Robert’s son, Robert Kennedy Junior, to his cabinet.
Senator John McCain’s gracious concession speech was his finest moment in a campaign that went badly wrong despite his best efforts. Facing the anti-Republican headwinds, he had to run a perfect campaign to win, but he never came close to doing so.
The worldwide reaction to Obama’s decisive victory bore eloquent testimony to the importance of the election. Despite its flaws and problems the U.S. is still the beacon and symbol of leadership and hope that it always has been.
Immediately the stereotype of the ugly American so prevalent in the Bush era has been obliterated, and in its place an acknowledgement of the greatness of a country that can elect such a man to the presidency.
From every part of the globe a flood of good wishes have enveloped this new president-elect. People abroad want this young man to succeed, even more desperately, perhaps, than we do here at home.
In the end Obama won because he was the best candidate, and the population looked beyond his race and ethnicity to choose him. That is as it should be, but never was for generations.
He faces into the perfect storm as he assumes office with two wars, a weakening economy and American confidence at an all time low.
Paradoxically, that may help him lower the unrealistic expectations that have to give way to the reality of what he will be able to achieve in straitened economic times.
The fact that he has Irish roots too is a proud moment for Irish America. The comparisons have been made to John. F. Kennedy and his historic march to the presidency, but even Irish Americans would admit that Obama’s achievement is even greater.
America is suddenly a country transformed.
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