mercredi 5 novembre 2008

America is black

Here is the editorial that appeared in Le Monde, commenting on Obama's victory.

First of all, one has to write these words out in long hand. Read them slowly and aloud in order to appreciate the magnitude of the news, its emotional and historical charge: the American people have just elected a black-skinned man to the White House. And what intelligence, brio, and sang-froid it took on the part of Barack Obama to win an election that -- let's not forget -- was anything but a shoo-in if we look back less than a year ago. How many pitfalls were avoided, how much resistence and how many prejudices were overcome before this victory was assured, giving a powerful sign of optimism to America and to the rest of the world. Obama managed to make hope coincide with darkness. Without ever, and this is where his virtuosity lay, seeming to be the candidate of a particular community.

Mixing his youth with wisdom beyond his years, the Senator from Illinois was able to break through the original cleavage of a nation born in slavery and segregation and reattach that nation to its founding ideal, the famous "E pluribus unum": making one out of many; believing that a multitude of origins does not prevent us from sharing an aspiration.

A post-racial president? Yes and, above all, one who can legitimately claim to be capable of making himself heard on both sides of the badly healed scar that lies between Blacks and Whites, this past "which has not even passed" as he stated, citing Faulkner, in an exceptional speech he delivered in Philadelphia on March 18, where he calmly and confidently announced his crazy quest for a "more perfect Union."

To win, he had to win over.

And Barack Obama did it by telling a story "that would not have been possible in any other country in the world." His bi-racial history, which finds its roots in Africa and in Asia. A father from Kenya (and not the descendent of a slave), a paternal grandmother living on the shores of Lake Victoria, a white maternal grandmother who died on the eve of his election, filled with love and irrational views on race, fearing Blacks with the same intensity that Obama's former mentor Reverend Wright was able to whip up against Whites.

The new president transcended tensions in order to cut through to what is essential: he managed to place black rancor and white fear on the same scale, uniting them in a single scheme of justice. In doing so, he is the first to break free of a heavy and long chain that runs from the first slaves who built the Capitol to the Civil Rights movement. From Martin Luther King to Malcolm X, from Rosa Parks (who was fined for refusing to give her seat to a White person on a bus in Alabama) to Condy Rice and Colin Powell, both of them propelled to the summit of government.

"Even before he was elected, Obama had done more to advance the cause of black people in the world than Martin Luther King," noted an African head of state recently, off-the-record. "He will be first and foremost an American president," says another. A perfect summary of the scene that will be played out now: the United States has in fact chosen an American who will defend US leadership and interests – up to and including protectionism – and undoubtedly, millions of Blacks will feel more American than they did before without millions of Whites finding themselves left out.

"America is back," shouted Ronald Reagan in 1980. "America is black" is what the world's most powerful nation is telling us today, a devastating power judging from its endless wars, its tattered image, and the unbearable and intense hatred that the lame duck administration has generated with its self-absorption, its Manecheism and its anachronistic reflexes towards the stench of the Cold War.

After electing George W. Bush twice in an incredible move -- bold, dynamic and indicative of faith in its own resources -- America is now closing the book on its conservative revolution, made of deregulation and the unchecked law of the free market, which was killed in the subprime crisis and subsequent collapse of the financial system. Thanks to his charisma and his lucidity, Obama has become the uncontested man of the moment, the man of America's here and now. America has brutally left behind in a dark yesterday both the outgoing president and John McCain, the man who would succeed him.

What an opportunity for this country and for its partners. But also for its enemies, beginning with armed Islamic fundamentalism, which has gotten its sustenance from Bushism's bellicose ideology, its repulsive slogans about the "Axis of Evil," and practices that are not worthy of a democracy--from Guantanémo to Abu Ghraib. After Bush, who was locked inside a set of certainties with no basis in reality, Obama offers the world another face while offering America the much-hoped for opportunity to look itself in the eye with newfound respect for itself, its values and its political institutions.

"Obama will give brand America the same boost that Jean Paul II gave the papacy," as political commentator Andrew Sullivan recently noted. According to Jean-David Levitte, diplomatic advisor to Nicolas Sarkozy and a specialist of the United States, where he represented France for many years, the new president "does not have a different vision of the world. He is a self-made man who is not beholden to anyone."

The keyword for Barack Obama, subject, is pragmatism. Undoubtedly, he will be more cooperative with his allies, more adept at soft power, more inclined to seek dialogue where it has broken down, with Iran for example. "But his multilateralism will not go very far," warns Hubert Védrine, minister of foreign affairs under French prime minister Jospin. He will never make US policy hinge on the outcome of a UN meeting." Surrounded by the diplomatic teams of Bill Clinton 1 (1992-1996), Obama turned the tables on McCain. He appeared to put experience on his side. It was his rival who gradually became the scary candidate who was unsure of himself. With his "change we can believe in" slogan, the new president has laid it on the line: he will do what he can, whatever works, to reduce injustice, educate, provide health care, help people find housing and jobs, letting the government plays its role but without repudiating the market economy approach.

Obama is a "possiblist." While a comparison with John Kennedy is apt ("a pragmatist brilliantly disguised as a romantic"), it must be added that he is a man of his epoch, the man who is most in synch when it comes to plunging America into the multi-polar bath of this 21st century.

On nearly every major issue, aside from the mantra of throwing off the shackles of the Bush inheritance as quickly as possible, Barack Obama has stuck to broad outlines, confident in his ability to understand rapidly and make the right decisions.

Brought to power without a clearly established doctrine, Obama is now in charge of the American dream, open and smiling, preferring calm over drama, reason over excess. He's the man we need. It's up to him to inscribe this moment in the march of time.

Eric Fottorino