Do not be misled by Obama’s decisive Electoral College victory. Like Britain, the American electorate is broken down into constituencies that represent electoral blocs in which the winner takes all. This electoral system means that whereas we may say the American public has spoken, in reality the only people that mattered were those voting in swing states – Pennsylvania, Ohio, Florida, and Virginia to name but a few that swung the election for Obama.
I vote in Tennessee, a state solidly Republican in this election by more than 15% and one that didn’t even vote for it’s native son, Al Gore, when he held the Democrat nomination in 2000. So my vote is merely symbolic, contributing to Obama’s national majority that is materially insignificant. Likewise, on the eve of the election I returned from rural Texas, in the heart of Republican territory. In Bush’s own state, that has not voted Democrat since 1976, the level of division will fail to register in election coverage because of a system that does not favour individual voters in pre-determined states. Here, ‘Nobama’ carnivals were held on conservative campuses where students were invited to throw eggs – representing financial savings that they feared would be lost under Obama’s ‘socialist’ policies – at Obama’s portrait. “He’s not even black, he’s half-white, half-Pakistani” one girl misinformed me, as if even that false data excluded an individual from the nation’s highest office. The division that an Obama presidency will breed is real. Despite my pleas, members of my own family in Tennessee have yet to dismiss the horrific circulations that Obama may be a terrorist – or worse, the anti-Christ.
Conservative America’s greatest fear with the conclusion of this election is likely to be progressive America’s biggest joy. Democrats have made gains in both houses of Congress so, for one of the few times in American history, Obama will preside over a legislature composed by a majority of his party. This is very significant. Party uniformity across the branches of government means Obama should be able to pass most of the controversial legislation he has proposed, from mandatory healthcare to a repeal of President Bush’s upper-end tax cuts. The cry from the artery of Middle America is a fear of socialism, government expansion, taxation that will ‘spread the wealth around’, and let us not forget, women’s right to abortion. An Obama presidency, should it have the opportunity, is likely to appoint justices to the Supreme Court that will only further the ideological slant of the nation’s highest judiciary in favour of Roe vs Wade, a decision conservatives have gotten so close to overturning during the last eight years.
With this election outcome, America will be politically united but still dramatically divided among the populace. In his rousing address before the Democrat convention in 2004, a relatively unknown Senate candidate from Illinois espoused that “there is not a liberal America and a conservative America, there is the United States of America”. But for Barack Obama, President-elect four years later, that utopia is still far from a reality. He may have a Congressional majority, and have overcome the barriers of race that plagued the USA for so long, but the division in America is still as stark as black and white.
For some time Americans have longed for a statesman representing America’s diverse heritage as a land founded on immigration and religious tolerance. Indeed, much of the world has waited for such a figure. A global presidential poll run by The Economist found that Senator McCain received less than a sixth of the votes given to Barack Obama. But the reasons for Obama’s popularity abroad are the reasons for much of his opposition at home. Will he pursue a more diplomatic approach to overseas relations and a more regulated economic agenda at home? Will President Obama be the agent of change he has promised for so long? The bar set for Obama over the next four years will be high, probably unattainable considering America’s current foreign policy mess and financial crisis. Nevertheless, he will also have a unique opportunity to implement a significant political agenda. His election is already a milestone in US history; we hope now it will be for reasons more than the colour of his skin.