So he’s done it, in fine style too. Absolutely fantastic – a truly momentous and uplifting result.
What now though? There is so much talk about the huge expectations which people have of President Obama and whether he will able to deliver. Are we expecting too much and will Obama be able to bear the “weight of expectation”? Certainly, many on the right (and some on the “Decent” left) are eagerly waiting to express their delight at the sight of disappointed and disenchanted Lefties.
To start with it’s worth asking exactly what our expectations are. I mean it’s no use just saying “change”, what do we think he will, or should, actually do? By what criteria will we judge him?
Well first of all there is one expectation he cannot fail to meet, which is that he will not be George Bush. The sheer irredeemable awfulness of his predecessor means that so long as Obama shows even a reasonable amount of competence and decency and eschews Bush’s naked self-interest, belligerence, ignorance and complete lack of scruples* he will already be a huge improvement.
As for his policies, well despite what his more absurd opponents say, Obama is not a far left/Stalinist/Marxist. He is not even going to try to turn America into a Northern European social democracy let alone some kind of socialist paradise. What I would hope to see is a more liberal, inclusive president who makes it his main priority to help the poorest, not to cut taxes for the rich and pander to corporate interests. Obviously the current financial crisis will be his immediate priority and it will severely limit his options but I hope to see broadly redistributive fiscal policies and ideally he will try to address the inequalities and corruption endemic in the healthcare system. I expect him to stand firmly against the Christian right on the right to choose. I expect he will respect human rights at home and abroad, close Guantanamo Bay and put a complete end to the use of torture by the US state, its agencies and foreign proxies. I expect him to take climate change seriously and produce serious policies to tackle it.
I certainly don’t expect him to withdraw troops from Iraq and Afghanistan tomorrow. I would expect him to negotiate a timetable for withdrawal with the Iraqi government and them ramp up efforts in Afghanistan. I don’t object to this as long as he can stop things like this happening, but I appreciate that others on the left would disagree. I would expect him to have much better relations with Europe and other foreign nations than his predecessor and to improve America’s standing in the world generally. I think this will make it easier to bring about multilateral action over situations such as we have seen in Darfur and are currently seeing the DR Congo, although I am not naive enough to thing this will be some magic wand to solve what are complicated and deep rooted problems. He has said he is willing to talk to the likes of Iran without preconditions and I think this is sensible. I doubt he will bring about a resolution to the Israel/Palestine problem.
So those are my expectations, others may have different ideas, but I don’t thing they are excessive or unreaslistic, and I believe President Obama will on the whole meet them.
*I felt a slight twinge of guilt at typing this after seeing Bush’s gracious and magnanimous speech today, but then I reminded myself of the last eight years.