Wednesday, 21 January 2009

Hoping for a change

Watching Obama’s inauguration as the 44th President of the United States of America it was impossible to avoid the conclusion that this event would have been radically different had McCain, or Hillary Clinton, won on November 4th 2008.

It’s hard to imagine two million people turning up to flood the Mall, to surround the new President, to enwrap him and his administration in their hopes, had it been someone else. Barack Obama has come to embody something for the American people that I find difficult to understand in whole.

Partly the acclamation must be influenced by the nature of the person Obama succeeds in the Oval Office. George W Bush has been a monumentally unpopular and incompetent president, and the sense of relief at his departure is palpable even from far away on the other side of the world, on the other side of the day.

But that’s not the entirety of the faith and belief that so many Americans seem to have in their first African American leader. Obama stands as a symbol of the social evolution of the USA since the Civil Rights movement, which is still well within living memory for so many of his fellow citizens. Activists of every hue fought for that equality, and to see that outcome personified in a man who is such a great orator, must be immensely satisfying to so many.

Clinton would not have embodied the feminist struggle in the same way, had she ascended to head her state this year. Feminism as a movement is quite divided, and many still deny that there is a need for feminism at all, whereas racial equality in the US is widely accepted as desirable. There is still racism, and there is still a great deal of subtle discrimination that is less overt but racist none the less. Those who deny it exists are much more fringe-dwellers than those who routinely deny the difficulties women still face.

One day a woman will win the presidency, and it will be in our lifetimes. I hope she’s someone whose politics I can support, and that I can have another bouncy morning of hope like I did today.


M-H said...

I just hope it's not Condoleeza Rice. I'm sure she's got her eye on the candidacy for the Republicans in 2012.

Julie said...

Or Palin. I'm not sure who would be worse - Rice would be fiercely competent and probably achieve of lot of policy change I wouldn't like, whereas Palin would be a like George W, a blunderer who might result in a backlash against female candidates in future.

Anonymous said...

Maybe I have got this wrong but as I understand it Obama isn't "African American" as such (though his wife's family is).

Hugh said...

He's got closer ties to Africa than most Americans of any skin colour!

I presume what you mean is that he's not the descendant of slaves transported across the Atlantic. True. But it's questionable to what extent this is relevant. Certainly most African Americans don't seem to have seen it as a major obstacle to giving him their vote.

In point of fact, he isn't the first African-American president. He is the first non-white president, which is a more significant achievement.

Brett Dale said...

Obama will make a great world leader, its going to be a great four years for the USA.

Anonymous said...

"In point of fact, he isn't the first African-American president. He is the first non-white president, which is a more significant achievement.

Yes, I think this is the point.

Hugh said...

Er, what I meant to say is that he is the first African-American president, but that it's the fact that he is the first non-white President that is truly significant. Sigh.

Julie said...

I could point out that he's the first person elected to the presidency who isn't part of an elite club of white men, but that might cause Hugh to roll his eyes right out of his head ;-)

I can't believe I'm still bouncey from this morning! I actually did some vacuuming before and I think it's a direct result of the election of Barack Obama.

Carol said...

Actually Obama is a lot like a black version of a young Bill Clinton.

Of course Bill Clinton was part of the white man's club, but not of an elite version of it. He was an outsider initially to Wshington power elite. Toni Morrison referred to Clinton as the first black president because he had a similar, lower-socio-economic, single mother background to many African Americans.

Of course Obama has broken through a 'race' barrier, and that is exciting and hopeful. But IMO, in terms of policies, he's not a lot different from Clinton when he took office. And as soon as he took office the right wing started working on a long campaign to smear him. Hillary mostly got a pretty bad press - she was never going to settle for being the woman behind the man, had some political ambitions and was considered a bit dowdy.

It's always more than about one man, thought the US PR machineries focus on personality politics, when there's a helluva lot more power-plays going on between a group/s of powerful people.

IMO it's great to see Bush go, a Democrat in the White House, and a major step forward for race relations.

But I don't think Obama's presidency will be that much dfferent in practice to some past Democrat presidencies.

Hugh said...

Actually Obama is a lot like a black version of a young Bill Clinton.

Absolutely agreed, on pretty much all points.

Giovanni said...

I actually did some vacuuming before and I think it's a direct result of the election of Barack Obama.


Heine said...

So what you're saying is that a Republican woman will not be good enough for you, or the feminist cause. Is that because feminism cannot be right wing or is it just your every day predjudice? Just asking.

Bush may have been unpopular but I doubt you can argue that his achievements in Africa were second to none. He singlehandedly set up the largest international health initiative in history.

People tend to handily forget that, just like they forget that Obama had quite the upbringing that wouldn't look out of place of Bush or Clintons lifestyle.

Anna said...

Heine, right wing feminism doesn't really have much to offer women other than the status quo.

The more flexible the labour market, the worse the gender pay disparity. The less public investment in childcare, the fewer the earning opportunities for mothers. The smaller the financial support for solo parents, the greater the feminisation of poverty.

When you declare intervention into markets off limits (as right wing folk do), there's not much left to intervene in. You can denounce domestic violence and other non-economic phenomena, but if you're unwilling to fund awareness campaigns, social services, address poverty factors which contribute to violence, etc, your denunciations won't do squat.

So I put the question back to you: what does the right have to offer feminists?