The importance of Obama's re-election

Diane Abbott

Sunday, November 11, 2012

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I stayed up all night to hear the result of the US elections. In the British time zone that meant staying up until dawn. But I was determined not to go to bed until I knew the result for certain.

I have never forgotten the 2000 US presidential elections. I went to sleep happily, having heard Florida called for Al Gore, on the assumption that the presidency was safely in Democratic hands. But I woke up to the shocking news that the position had been reversed, followed by the whole "hanging chads" melodrama.

That year the presidency ultimately went to George W Bush. That searing experience meant I never wanted to be caught out like that again. So this year I waited until I President Obama's acceptance speech and had exchanged triumphant messages with loved ones in Jamaica. By then it was time to shower, get dressed and go to work.

But now that I have caught up with my sleep and the dust is settling, it is worth considering the significance of the re-election of Barack Hussein Obama to the world and to countries like Jamaica.

One of the most important consequences is that the world will be a safer place. Mitt Romney himself did not appear to know much about diplomacy or foreign policy. He shocked even British conservatives by coming to Britain and blurting out that he was doubtful about our ability to run a successful Olympics. In fact, we ran one of the most successful games ever.

More importantly, Romney was surrounded by the same foreign policy advisors that George W Bush relied on. So, on foreign policy, Romney was the back-to-the-future candidate. He was threatening a trade war with China; refusing to rule out bombing Iran; did not support Obama's proposed withdrawal from Afghanistan; was offering unconditional support to Israel and appeared hostile to Palestine.

But Obama is committed to achieving peace in the Middle East. And in his second term, without having to worry about getting re-elected or the strength of pro-Israel lobbies, he can do something about it. Also, an Obama presidency offers the best hope of overhauling US policies on Cuba, particularly the trade blockade.

Obama also offered better economic policies than Romney. And sound economic policies are just not good for the US itself. They are vital for countries like Jamaica, which rely on a healthy American economy to generate tourism and export opportunities. And sound economic policy is also vital for the millions of persons of Jamaican origin who live in the US and on whose remittances Jamaica is so dependent.

Because Romney looked like a serious businessman, many people seemed to overlook the fact that his economic policies did not add up. Romney claimed to be determined to close the US deficit. But he also wanted to cut taxes and push up defence spending.

The British business magazine The Economist pointed out that Romney's economic policies only made sense if you assumed that he was lying about most things. Happily, the American people did not vote for a President Romney, so the American economy (and everyone dependent on it) dodged a bullet.

Finally, the fact that the leader of the free world is a black man is internationally significant. If the US had failed to give Obama a second term, the clear message to the world would have been that his election in 2008 was a mistake.

In recent months, commentators were insisting that black people and young people would simply not come out to vote in the huge numbers of the heady days in 2008. In fact, black voters were grimly determined to support their man, despite efforts by the Republicans to suppress voting by unnecessary voter ID laws, etc.

In the end, black people queued for hours to vote in vital swing states like Virginia and Florida. And the numbers of both black and young voters were almost exactly the same as 2008. Furthermore, Hispanic voters came out in unprecedented numbers and helped deliver some key states to Obama.

And the significance of Obama is not just that he is black. The importance of a black family in the White House cannot be over-estimated. The president and his family are America's 'first family'. By the time Obama's eight-year term is over, there will be a generation of children all over the world who will have grown up with the image of a black family as the American first family.

Also, the Obamas are a strong, happy family unit; very different from the stereotypes of the dysfunctional black family. And black women the world over love the way Obama gives honour to Michelle. She is no 'browning', but a strong, educated, confident woman of colour; a real role model to black girls the world over.

So the re-election of Barack Hussein Obama is important to the world and important to black people everywhere. As he said in his acceptance speech, which I stayed up nearly 24 hours to watch, "The best is yet to come."

Diane Abbott is the British Labour party spokeswoman on public health and MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington




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