When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro. - Hunter S. Thompson

08 November 2008

Unreasonably great expectations

With such a great victory come unreasonably great expectations. Many of Mr Obama’s more ardent supporters will be let down—and in some cases they deserve to be. For those who voted for him with their eyes wide open to his limitations, everything now depends on how he governs. Abroad, this 21st-century president will have to grapple with the sort of great-power rivalries last seen in the 19th century (see article). At home, he must try to unite his country, tackling its economic ills while avoiding the pitfalls of one-party rule. Rhetoric and symbolism will still be useful in this; but now is the turn of detail and dedication.

Mr Obama begins with several advantages. At 47, he is too young to have been involved in the bitter cultural wars about Vietnam. And by winning support from a big majority of independents, and even from a fair few Republicans, he makes it possible to imagine a return to a more reflective time when political opponents were not regarded as traitors and collaboration was something to be admired.

Oddly, he may be helped by the fact that, in the end, his victory was slightly disappointing. He won around 52% of the popular vote, more than Mr Bush in 2000 and 2004, but not a remarkable number; this was no Roosevelt or Reagan landslide. And though Mr Obama helped his party cement its grip on Congress, gaining around 20 seats in the House of Representatives and five in the Senate, the haul in the latter chamber falls four short of the 60 needed to break filibusters and pass controversial legislation without Republican support (though recounts may add another seat, or even two). Given how much more money Mr Obama raised, the destruction of the Republican brand under Mr Bush and the effects of the worst financial crisis for 70 years, the fact that 46% of people voted against the Democrat is a reminder of just what a conservative place America still is. Mr Obama is the first northern liberal to be elected president since John Kennedy; he must not forget how far from the political centre of the country that puts him.
Great Expectations of Barack Obama (lead story to The Economist cover package, 6 November 2008)

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