I was up all night, drinking vast quantities of beer and vodka, finally getting to bed around 11am UK time. It was certainly worth it – even though it was all over by 4:30 (CNN called it for Obama at 4am, with McCain’s concession speech starting just 20 minutes later) and even though I now have the kind of hangover I haven’t experienced since my student days after grabbing about 4 hours sleep.
Obama’s victory speech was pretty much note perfect (while McCain’s concession speech was of the kind that reminded me why I always used to like the guy) – referencing past epoch-making speeches from everyone from Martin Luther King through Kennedy, Lincoln and Disraeli. It was so good I had to listen to it again, and again, and again to try and pick holes in it, without a great deal of success. He’s a hugely impressive public speaker of the kind I thought we might never see again. An almost 19th century feel to his seemingly effortless delivery.
But, though a little bit of excitement and hyperbole is more than permissible on such an undeniably historic day, us non-Americans – perhaps especially us Europeans – shouldn’t get too excited by President Obama.
He’s got a massive challenge ahead of him – and though I hate the exaggeration over the current credit crisis as much as the next man (exaggeration that Obama himself succumbed to in his speech, referencing the worst financial crisis in a century, when it’s simply not) it’s not over-the-top to say that Obama faces the most serious domestic challenge since FDR in 1932.
If Obama is to do his best for his country – and for the world – he must fix America’s domestic woes before he starts to look overseas. He needs to be sensible and not try to do too much, caught up in all this talk of history and destiny, when every African-American from Spike Lee to Condoleezza Rice has been cropping up on the telly with tears in their eyes. And us non-Americans need to be patient and always remember that he’s THEIR president, elected to serve HIS country first, not ours. Relations with the US will almost certainly improve – they would have done no matter who was elected this time around – but though the image of America has shifted dramatically overnight, we cannot expect a change in American foreign policy anywhere near as swift.