The excitement around the world following the win of Barack Obama in the US Presidential Election is quite energising, although I’m worried that the adulation being poured on the Illinios senator can only mean that we will eventually be disappointed. Not even President Jed Bartlet could hope to live up to the expectations being promoted from various parts of the world.
As an aside, there is an interesting discussion building on Circulating Library about The West Wing.
But I have to say that the excitement is pretty interesting from a cultural perspective. I can’t remember such fuss being made over the election of any other international leader. I was too young to remember the election of JFK, the president most often compared to Obama, but even that seemed to lack the almost universal acclaim Obama is receiving internationally. Yes, Obama only received 53% of the popular vote—hardly the landslide that some people are calling it—and the confluence of an unpopular war, the credit crisis, and a lame-duck Bush gave his election some sort of inevitability, and of course the symbolism of the first black president has a deep resonance, but this has the feel of something different. Part of it is undoubtedly his considerable rhetorical skill: linguist David Crystal has an analysis of Obama’s victory speech (rapidly becoming known simply as “the speech”) in which he calls it one of the great political speeches of our time.
But I think it has more to do with it being one of the first internationally significant elections since social networking became ubiquitous. Obama’s campaign used social networking intelligently, and the online community took it up with enthusiasm:
From YouTube to Flickr, from Facebook to Twitter, images and sentiments from celebrations across the U.S. began pouring in on the Internet’s media-sharing sites, just moments after Barack Obama clinched the presidential election Tuesday.
Virtual world celebrates Obama’s win (MSNBC, 5 Nov 2008).
There is more going on here than the inane “who’s got more Facebook friends” type of analysis that characterised the 2007 Australian federal election (although it must be said that the McCain campaign’s use of social networking was almost as inept as the Howard government’s). As Nick has posted, Twitter became a key site for the dissemination of information, as well as a indicator of the mood of the electorate.
Interestingly, it is not just in the US where this celebration is happening: there is possibly more partying outside the US. It may not be surprising that Kenyans are celebrating the election (Kenya’s President Mwai Kibaki declared Thursday a public holiday in honor of Obama’s victory), but it seems that everyone now wants in on the act: Irish folk outfit Hardy Drew and the Nancy Boys have become an overnight Youtube sensation with their hit “There’s no one as Irish as Barack O’Bama”; while the president-elect gets the Bollywood treatment in a video that has to date received over half a million hits.
All this adds to the sense of celebration, to the sense of relief that the term of the worst US president ever is almost over. Like many commentators, I just hope that after the party, there is some substance to the rhetoric.