Leading article: The pendulum has swung - and America has changed

But Barack Obama will face immense challenges in the White House

Share
Related Topics

Barack Obama's victory in yesterday's presidential election is a watershed for his country. His triumph is historic not merely because he is the first African-American – indeed the first representative of any of the minorities who now account for a third of the US population – to secure the nation's highest political office. It also comes at an extraordinary confluence of turning points: political, generational and economic.

The advent of a Democratic president, supported by enlarged Democratic majorities in both chambers on Capitol Hill, signifies the end of the conservative era that began with Ronald Reagan's victory in 1980. Today, the three traditional pillars of that winning Republican philosophy – a robust approach to national security, a blind faith in the market, and conservative social views – are each to varying degrees under challenge.

The 2008 election is likely to be seen as marking the moment when the pendulum swung back towards bigger and more interventionist government, towards a focus on action to reduce America's disparities of wealth, and provide more help to the less fortunate members of society.

Hastening this process is the economic and financial crisis, caused by the bursting of the greatest credit bubble since 1929. The 2008 election thus also draws a line under the boom that began under Reagan in the mid-1980s and, barring a couple of very shallow recessions, has continued since. This time however, the US may be entering a long and deep recession, with only sluggish growth to follow. This will change the social and geopolitical landscape in which President Obama (and probably his successors) will operate.

The third change is generational. Born in 1961, Mr Obama technically belongs to the baby-boomer generation of Presidents Bill Clinton and George W Bush. But he is a man whose formative years were not the self-indulgent 1960s but the late 1970s and early 1980s. That difference is compounded by his upbringing, exceptional for a US President, indeed the leader of almost any country. The |impact will be most evident in his foreign policy.

Having spent his childhood in Hawaii, on the very edge of America proper, and in Indonesia, the most populous Muslim country, Mr Obama is better placed than any US leader before him to grasp how the rest of the world sees America. Mr Bush's inability to do so was a major reason for the failure of his presidency on the world stage. Mr Obama's very background, coupled with a relative decline in US global power, means diplomacy will make a welcome return as America's preferred method of conducting foreign policy.

The tasks facing the new President are immense. The national coffers are virtually empty. Yet an economic crisis with few precedents must be confronted, two unpopular wars must be resolved. At home, much infrastructure is second rate or crumbling. The education America offers its children is falling behind that of its rivals. A healthcare system needs to be rebuilt, while social security must be shored up so it can cope with the demands of baby boomers as they retire.

Mr Obama comes to office with a fund of goodwill, at home and abroad. He may prove a disappointment, not least because expectations have been set unreasonably high. But the greatest presidents – George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt – were great precisely because they overcame huge challenges. Today's fraught circumstances mean Barack Obama has the chance to join their number.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: 3rd Line Virtualisation, Windows & Server Engineer

£40000 - £47000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A 3rd Line Virtualisation / Sto...

Recruitment Genius: Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Service Engineer

£26000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A successful national service f...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive / Sales - OTE £25,000

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Fixed Term Contract

£17500 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We currently require an experie...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Army reservist Corporal James Dunsby  

Whether it’s in the City, the Army or at school, this ritual sadism has to stop

Chris Blackhurst
Caitlyn Jenner, the transgender Olympic champion formerly known as Bruce, unveiled her new name on Monday  

'I'm the happiest I've been for a long time and I finally know where I fit': Here's why role models matter for trans kids

Susie Green
Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific