If only Martin Luther King could wake from the dead! And his faithful deputy, Ralph Abernathy. And Bayard Rustin, who organised the Great March on Washington in 1963 that roused American public opinion to push for an end to segregation. And the militant Stokley Carmichael who led the students, both black and white, to knock on every black door in the small towns and byways of the South to mobilise them to vote. And, not least, President Lyndon Johnson who, putting his own racist past behind him, used his formidable political energy to push through Congress both the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act.
If only they could rise up now, what would they see? Would they believe that one Barack Hussein Obama, son of an African, educated as a small child in Indonesia where he was registered in school as a Muslim, and brought up later in Hawaii by his 100 per cent white, mainstream grandparents, could be today elected as president of the United States? The “dream” come true when, as Dr King prophesied, “every Negro in this country…. will be judged on the basis of the content of his character rather than the colour of his skin.”
“It will be a glorious day, the morning stars will sing together, and the sons of God will shout for joy”, preached Dr King. And it is. Against all expectations, it has come to pass.
It is perhaps America’s greatest achievement since the Declaration of Independence, one that President George W Bush, for all his missteps and misplaced conservatism, must be honored for too. He put two blacks in charge of America’s national security, Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice, a tremendous step forward that helped pave the way for Obama.
The effect on the rest of the world will be stunning. No European nation, including Russia, that has a part-black national poet, Pushkin, is within sight of electing a man of colour as head of government, yet Europeans will be profoundly thankful that the America they began to hate can now again be admired, and even loved. Africa, needless to say, will be electrified. Asia will nod sagely, recalling that India, in modern times, has had a woman prime minister, a Muslim president and now a Sikh prime minister.
The middle east will rejoice too. Muslims have always had less hangups about racial equality than western Christians. Now they will expect to see a man who has climbed out of the abysmal abyss of poverty and separated parents in a country once riven with prejudice, who will profoundly and instinctively understand the plight of the Palestinians and will really this time put America’s strength in motion to enable a two state solution.
All the continents, including South America, where blacks and Amerindians remain largely powerless, will sense the importance of this victory.
Inevitably American foreign policy, given the weight of the bureaucracy, the power of the military-industrial complex (which Obama has written scathingly about) and the innate tendency of perhaps a majority of Americans to believe in “manifest destiny” will be hard to change. There will be immense resistance: from the established press, from many in academia who often have their own vested interest in the wishes of the military-industrial complex and the sheer innate conservatism of a poorly-educated society where too many can’t even find Ukraine or Georgia on the map, much less Kenya or Indonesia.
On top of that, there is the enormous residue of the financial crisis to be cleaned up and a major worldwide recession to be avoided. Has Obama the courage to realise that the present federal budget must be sharply cut if he is going to make way for his health care and social reforms, and that in this time of stringency the only savings can come from the inflated and misdirected defense budget?
The world needs not just a new Bretton Woods to revamp the world’s great economic institutions, but a United Nations that works in harmony (as it did in George Bush Sr’s today when he partnered Mikhail Gorbachev in making the Security Council a place of unanimity). It needs an end to thinking and behaving as if the Muslim threat was as big a threat as the Soviets in the cold war days, as too many politicians, academics and pundits have declared. It needs major nuclear disarmament. It needs to keep oil prices reasonably low, which means real conservation and a civilised, mature relationship with Iran.
Obama in this campaign has revealed his character; he has, at a relatively young age, found and mastered his own sense of gravity. And America has chosen to elect him president. Thank you, Martin Luther King: “Peace at last. Thank God Almighty. Peace at last.”