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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: L’amnésie et le défi

by Pierre Laurent

Memories grow short, but the Challenge is real

Translated Tuesday 11 November 2008, by Kieran O’Meara

Long-awaited and hoped for, well beyond the borders of the United States, yesterday’s election of Barack Obama has been greeted the world over as a real event. And it is one. It is an event with great symbolic force, the election of the first African-American President of the United States.

United States Special

Forty years have passed since the assassination of Martin Luther King, the champion of a heroic struggle for the civil rights of black Americans. The President-elect is not the descendent of slaves, but a man of mixed-race, born to a Kenyan father and a white mother from Kansas, who enters the White House in a country where, at the time of his birth, segregationist states denied citizenship to those who had a drop of black blood in their veins. Coming from the United States, the world’s greatest power, the message is received as such by tens of millions of men and women across the world who see it as a sign of hope for their struggles against all forms of discrimination. For these struggles, there will be, Marie-George Buffet declared yesterday, “a before- and after-November 4”.

Paradoxically, however, this symbolism is probably not the major explanation of this election result in the United States itself. President Obama is not the president of the minorities. He has been elected by a majority of voters first and foremost as a man of change. The United States wanted to turn the page on Bush so much that John McCain carefully kept the outgoing President out of his election campaign. That was insufficient, though, to permit the Republican Party to hold on to its positions. The party itself has suffered a memorable defeat in Congress. After eight years in office, Bush’s record appeared indefensible, whereas four years ago he had won hands down, catching the rest of the world off guard. Today, the whole world is pro-Obama. A veil of oblivion has fallen over the commentators praising the election of the new President. Our own President is a perfect example of someone who has switched sides. It was he who had run to shake Bush’s hand in order to eclipse Chirac from the right, when the latter had been opposed to war in Iraq, and continued to bow and scrape to Bush after he had entered the Elysée Palace. However, we would do well to draw up the balance-sheet of those catastrophic years in order not to repeat them. The page has been turned on Bush at the ballot box, it remains to be turned in history...

This is what is at stake in the Obama presidency, which has promised so much, and has raised so many expectations, affirming the importance of the social question over that of the racial question, promising a new American Dream which will give everyone a chance. The candidate Obama has raised great hopes among ordinary people who have brought him to victory, responding to the deep concerns of his people, wounded by the effects of the financial and economic crisis and the growing involvement in the quagmire of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Obama has also raised the hopes of a large part of the capitalist establishment, which sees in his election the possibility of saving the capitalist pilot of globalisation from the shipwreck caused by the current crisis and of restoring the image of American leadership, badly degraded by Bush’s management of it. The coexistence of these combined expectations was the motor force behind his election. A contradictory challenge now lies ahead, because it is the very background of capitalist management, plunged into a crucial economic crisis, which threatens both the livelihood of American workers and the world’s equilibrium at the present moment. The formulas for power which built American prosperity are now under close scrutiny. Barack Obama will not durably change the lives of the American people nor the way the world sees the United States without tackling the logic of these formulas head on. Does he desire to do this? Can he succeed in doing this? Barack Obama cannot close the book on the questions which his election has brought to light. A new story is in the making.

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