[Outlook]Obama for the futureThe 2008 presidential election in the United States is an event of great importance in American history. The country has been a white man’s kingdom for 220 years. This election, however, produced its first black president, and saw the Democratic Party take power from the Republicans. But if the election is viewed only as a sensational political drama of black revolution, the true essence of the moment will be missed.
Woodrow Wilson, its president almost 100 years ago, said that if a farmer becomes king, it doesn’t mean the kingdom becomes more democratic. Likewise, producing a black president won’t turn the United States into a utopia where all people of different races are absolutely equal. Voters who chose the black president weren’t looking for a new America that is yet to exist, but the country that it was before George W. Bush took office.
Senator Barack Obama isn’t the first U.S. president from a minority background. Almost 50 years ago, John F. Kennedy was elected, despite having an Irish Catholic heritage that was far from the country’s mainstream. Obama was expected to win if U.S. society could look past its political prejudice against people with a skin color other than white. Since Kennedy, Catholic politicians have no longer been newsworthy stories in the U.S. John Kerry, the Democratic presidential candidate in 2004, was Catholic, and Obama’s running mate, Joe Biden, is the first Catholic vice president.
Thinking of Kennedy can help us reach a better understanding of this year’s election. Both Obama and Kennedy are from minority groups and both were young, charming and eloquent senators. Just as Kennedy presented a “new frontier” vision for realizing America’s goals, Obama pledged to restore the American dream that has been so damaged by George W. Bush.
Although the two have different skin colors, in terms of background and political conditions, Obama could be described as a reincarnation of Kennedy.
Obama delivered the keynote address at the 2004 Democratic national convention in Boston, even though he was then just a little-known senator from Illinois. He was chosen to do the job because he symbolizes the American dream. In the speech, Obama spoke about how he had become the editor in chief of the Harvard Law Review even though he was a poor black student, and how he had gone on to become an Illinois senator. These feats were impossible in other countries, he said. He said that in America, there was a place for a biracial kid with a funny name like him. He added that God’s biggest blessing to America was to give its people hope. His speech touched the nation.
It can be seen as the beginning of Obama’s Cinderella story, which reached its climax yesterday. Accompanied by Joe Biden, a politician with 36 years of experience, Obama became the first black president in the nation’s history.
The key issue in the 2008 U.S. presidential election was not race, nor was it Iraq or the financial crisis. It was nostalgia for the greatness of America, a greatness that Kennedy inspired people to believe in 50 years ago and that earned Ronald Reagan widespread support and popularity.
Even some Republicans who thought it was too early to have a black president chose Obama, seeking to get revenge on the Republican administration that had degraded America for the past eight years. They also chose Obama because they saw in the young candidate’s eyes and heard in his words the American pride that the Bush administration has lost.
An election is legal revenge. Americans have had their vengeance on the Bush administration, and the era of the Republican Party is over.
Attention has now been drawn to Obama’s potential for truly international leadership. He is more left- leaning than former President Bill Clinton. When it comes to diplomacy, Obama firmly believes in moral internationalism and humanitarian interventionism.
The question is how Barack Obama’s diplomacy, which is faithful to the Democratic Party’s traditional 20th-century ideology, will change in the face of the reality of international politics and U.S. national interests.
It remains to be seen whether America’s first black president, elected in the midst of a U.S.-sparked global financial crisis that could mean the end of the era of the dollar, will serve as a herald for a restored American dream - or a prelude to the fall of one of the greatest nations in the modern history of the world.
*The writer is a professor of international relations at Kyungsung University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Gweon Yong-lib