Why Obama?

Last night a friend asked me why I was excited that Barack Obama won the American election. Why, as a Canadian, do I care? I couldn't really begin to explain in a Twitter post, and I was tired, but I thought about it as I went to sleep and here is what I have come up with.

I like Americans. I know lots of them and I like most of the Americans I know, and for a long time I have been perplexed by the apparent gulf between "America" and the American people I know. Last night's victory closed that gulf; it seems America the country is a lot more closely aligned to the beliefs and hopes of the America I know than to the vocal minority of fundamentalist and fear-mongers we have heard from of late. And thank goodness for that. So I am very happy for my American friends, that finally their government reflects them.

I like what this victory says about America. I have a friend who was predicting a McCain win: "The young people won't wait in line to vote", he said. "The early results with show a strong lead for Obama and everyone else won't bother to vote", he said. There was an argument put forth that Americans say to pollsters that they would vote for an African-American, but then in the privacy of the polling booth their secret inner racist comes out. I am glad those arguments were wrong. I am glad America got excited about its future and came out to vote in droves, many for the first time, many waiting in line (or on line) for hours.

Why am I glad? Because Americans are people, and people are the same everywhere, and if Americans can get excited about democracy and step up and do the right thing, it makes me feel better about people everywhere.

I'm glad Barack Obama won because he ran an honourable and decent campaign. Everyone pisses and moans about negative campaigning, mud-slinging and pettiness, but it seemed, until now, inevitable, like the weather. Obama has proved it's possible to win an election with a positive, optimistic campaign. (Okay, maybe rather vague, but vague in a positive way.) While McCain and Palin were screechin' and spittin', fear-mongerin' and fist-shakin', Obama maintained his composure without condescending. This is a great lesson for American politicians and a great lesson for politicians everywhere in the world. The bar has been raised.

Obama is smart. Really smart, and America is crying out for a smart person in the White House. Why does this matter to me as a Canadian? Because I am excited to have someone in office who has a hope of understanding and acting on climate change, a global issue if ever there was one. Where America leads, the world follows and we desperately need someone to lead us in the right direction on this matter. (Apparently Canada isn't going to do it.)

It's not just climate change. The world faces numerous potential global threats: a flu pandemic, a disaster in our fragile food distribution system, terrorism, peak oil. Not to mention whatever the hell is going on with the economy. It's fine, I guess, to have a numbskull in office when there's not much to do, but when anything could happen I am much happier knowing that there is someone in the most powerful position in the world who has a hope of really understanding the situation, consulting with the right people and making an informed decision without resorting to dogma and superstition.

And I'll admit it: I got caught up in the excitement of the moment. (I still am; I am dying to sit down and watch the Stewart/Colbert special from last night!) Obama is the "other" to so many Americans: he is black to white Americans, he is educated to uneducated Americans, he is foreign-raised to Americans who have never left the country, he is the son of an African to slave-descended Americans (although I never heard anyone talk about that), he is the son of an atheist and a lapsed Muslim to Christian Americans, he is erudite and witty and Northern and liberal(ish); he is so many things that we have heard that Americans aren't (Real Americans, that is) and yet America voted for him. That so many people were able to see past the things they don't share with Barack Obama and see in him the best of their common humanity stirs in me great pride and hope for what has been and could again be a great nation.

Here are some more links:

I don't know if Barack Obama is going to be as shiny as his most enthusiastic supporters make him out to be. I don't know if any mortal could be. But I am excited about what this election says about America and I am optimistic about the future. Why not be?