Great expectations

  • November 13, 2008
{mosimage}The global Obama lovefest after the Nov. 4 U.S. presidential election suggests that much of the early days of President-elect Barack Obama’s tenure will be taken up with managing expectations.

Around the world, people are comparing his election to that of John F. Kennedy’s in 1960 — the first time a Catholic became president — or the day Nelson Mandela was freed from a South African prison, or the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. And it is true, the election of an African American to the presidency is an historically momentous occasion; it marks a watershed in the long struggle to heal the deep-seated wounds of slavery and racial violence in the American psyche. It is a moment of great rejoicing.

Among American Catholics, 54 per cent voted for Obama, compared to 47 per cent who voted Democrat in 2004. They did this knowing full well that Obama’s stands on abortion and other life issues are at odds with Catholic teaching.

Obama was able to transcend tribal politics and one-issue voting by offering a vision larger than the self-interest on sale elsewhere. Presidential elections are not referendums; they are choices about who, at a particular moment in history, is best suited to govern the United States. This is not a simple choice, but is based on a range of factors, along with an assessment of what can reasonably be accomplished by the person in the White House.

Now, the hard work begins. Obama promised in his Nov. 4 election speech to be president for all Americans. This means Republicans as well as Democrats, pro-lifers as well as the National Abortion Rights Action League, Evangelicals and liberal Protestants; laissez faire ideologues and government interventionists. It even includes Muslims.

Clearly, Obama will fail to live up to the impossible expectations set for him. If he wants to be true to the mandate he has received, he will have to place top priority on those matters that Americans believe are most urgent — the economy, the war in Iraq, health care and the environment. These are the main issues that won him the election.

However, Obama will be under considerable pressure from his party’s own base to deliver on its pet projects. There is already clamouring for him to reverse President George Bush’s longstanding opposition to federal funds for embryonic stem-cell research. It doesn’t appear to matter that science has already proven, by successful results in experiments with adult stem cells, that the government does not have to fund the killing of human embryos. Yet Obama will be hard-pressed to deny those who helped bring him victory.

Similarly, on issues such as abortion, euthanasia and same-sex marriage, Obama will need to resist awarding his friends.

To that end, those who found hope in Obama’s election, but remain opposed to the Democrats’ social agenda, will have to remain vigilant. They will need to continually remind the new president why he won and what his country truly needs at this historic moment.

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