Tuesday 24 October 2017

Lise Hand: Four more years to make Obama's dream a reality

At 10.30pm (4.30am GMT), the giant screens in Chicago flashed blue and a roar rose from the thousands gathered in Barack Obama’s hometown.

The roar rippled out of Illinois and spread to his party headquarters in Washington DC, and over to New York where the Empire State morphed into a sparkling column of blue.

But there was one expression and one emotion reflected in the faces of the President’s staff and supporters bathed in that warm blue glow - relief, sheer relief.

They weren’t so much winners, as survivors of a rancorous, bitter war. The jubilant scenes unfolding in Chicago last night may have resembled the joyous celebration of President Obama’s election in 2008, but second time around, his path to the White House had been so much rockier and uncertain.

In 2008 he was swept to power on an upbeat mantra of Hope and Change, carried by impassioned orations about there being no blue America or red America, but one United States of America.

Four years on, the President was in the teeth of a gale, buffeted by a savage recession, faced by grim statistics such as a popularity rating which had dropped below 50pc in the crucial final run-up to the election, an unemployment rate of 7.1pc - a level which sounded the death-knell for every incumbent President since Franklin D. Roosevelt.

And since 2008 the electorate had seen little merging of red and blue, or precious few signs of Hope or Change from a President largely hamstrung by a divided Congress who rejected any notion of bipartisanship, but also one who governed with a diffidence and remoteness starkly at odds with the passion of his historic, joy-filled, poetic campaign.

And still Barack Obama’s re-election should’ve been straightforward, thanks to the disarray in Republican ranks who scrambled to find a credible candidate - Massachusetts Mormon Mitt Romney wasn’t so much the winner of the primaries as simply the last candidate standing after a series of pratfalls by his opponents.

Also, Mitt Romney’s campaign was marred with missteps, mostly notably the video which surfaced in September in which he declared to supporters that 47pc of the nation pay no income taxes and are dependent on federal aid and that these “victims” will vote for Obama.

And yet Obama struggled to find his famous mojo. He stumped in prose. He put in a dreadful, listless performance in the first of a trio of debates with Mitt Romney. His figures slumped.

And once again, just like 2008, it looked as if the fate of the two candidates would come down to a handful of swing states, with Ohio holding the key to the White House front door.

In the last week, there were signs that Obama had rediscovered his mojo. Bruce Springsteen, the nation’s unofficial poet laureate, appeared in Iowa and Wisconsin and Ohio and invoked the talismanic power of the American Dream. “The American Dream and an American Reality - Our vote tomorrow is the one undeniable way we get to determine the distance in that equation,” the Boss told a huge crowd in Wisconsin on Monday night. “Tomorrow, we get a personal hand in shaping the kind of America we want our kids to grow up in.”

And Bruce Springsteen once again had nailed it. The 2008 election was about the American Dream, but this one was all about the American Reality. It was about surviving hurricanes both real and economic. The magic had dissipated after four years of pain.

But then the polls opened across America, and the lines of voters were long. The maps began to light up. Red, blue, red blue. And in the end, it wasn’t the long, long night of so many pundits’ predictions. It was clear that the trends which had begun in 2008 were now continuing - the hands that pressed the levers in polling stations belonged in numbers to Latinos, blacks, to young voters and especially to women.

For women were galavanised by the potential threat a Republican victory would pose to the cornerstone legal ruling of Roe versus Wade which protects abortion right, and they were sickened by comments on rape made by two Republicans running for the Senate (both Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock lost).

As the night progressed, important states on the map turned blue. At 10.12pm (4.12am GMT), Ohio was declared for Obama. Over on Fox News, dismayed arch-conservative Karl Rove refused to concede defeat. Billionaire Republican supporter Donald Trump fomented revolution on Twitter: “The election is a total sham and travesty. We need a democracy,” tweeted the enraged hair-do.

The blame-game began among the Republicans. An early contender for a scapegoat was hitherto staunch Republican governor of New Jersey, Chris Christie, who had heaped praise on the President for his handling of the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.

There was quite a delay until the defeated candidate Mitt Romney took his lonely walk to the podium in his Boston headquarters to make his concession speech. But it was a gracious farewell and he pleaded for the bitter divides in Congress to be healed.

“The nation, as you know, is at a critical point. At a time like this, we can’t risk partisan bickering and political posturing. Our leaders have to reach across the aisle to do the people’s work,” he told his subdued supporters.

At just after 12.30am (6.30am GMT), Barack Obama, a two-time President, walked onstage at his election headquarters, hand-in-hand with his daughters and wife Michelle to a rapturous tumultuous reception and chants of ‘Four More Years’.

He was calm in the middle of the storm. “We are an American family, and we rise and fall together as one nation and as one people,” he told the crowd. “The best has yet to come”.

There’s that Hope thing again. He has four more years to make it a Reality, not just a Dream.

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