Letter from Westminster 14.11.08

FROM time to time my mailbag produces invitations to embassy parties. Never having been a great lover of Ferrero Rocher most of these get politely declined.

I did, however, make one ex­ception to that last week when the US ambassador requested the plea­sure of my company at an election night party. It was always going to be an exciting night and so to experience my own little piece of Obama mania I accepted. It was a good call. A wide mix of British politicians, journalists and American expats gathered and the mood was one of keen anti­cipa­tion. Even the Republican diehards seemed at worst resigned to an Obama victory. For once we were not disap­pointed and as the night wore on the feeling of anticipation had moved on to one of feeling that we were witnessing something that was truly historic. I believe we were.

Obama’s victory speech when it came was probably one of the most carefully crafted pieces of political oratory that I ever heard. Franklin D Roosevelt told us that we had nothing to fear but fear itself long before I was born but I think I now have some understanding of how his audience must have felt then.

The election of Obama as President of the United States is important for many reasons and not all of them are related to the colour of his skin. He was elected as a young first term senator on an unashamedly liberal programme.

Bill Clinton, for example, was elected on a programme which had had any radicalism carefully re­moved from it. Obama took on the notoriously negative Republican machine on his own terms and beat it. The importance of that for radical liberal politics should not be under­estimated.

In terms of foreign policy it is also to be hoped that Obama will represent a break with the recent past. Already the signs are encour­aging. Early indications are that the camp at Guantanamo Bay is to be closed and its prisoners transferred to the US mainland for proper trial.

A president who understands the importance of the rule of law will be a welcome change. A non-white face in the White House will also make it more difficult for the demagogues and extremists to caricature US foreign policy as a tool of white western imperialism.

As ever in politics, however, for every opportunity there is a threat. Obama’s presidency starts with an enormous amount of goodwill in all parts of the world. That brings with it an enormous burden of expecta­tion. The nagging doubt at the back of my mind is that some of the ex­pectation is unrealistic and un­realistic expectation can often lead to disappointment. Obama himself in a very humor­ous and self-deprecating speech recently reminded his audience that he was not the product of a virgin birth or born in a stable. He is not the messiah but a mortal human like the rest of us.

Alastair Carmichael


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