Obama's election from the perspective of a Mexican writer looking at American history.
In La Crónica de Hoy. (My translation)
5 de Noviembre de 2008 | Hora de publicación: 04:28
As I write, in the United States election results are pouring in. We're getting the numbers from the exit polls in the states where voting is over. The institutionalized uncertainty of democracy is in evidence. The commentators are doing nothing but repeating over and over that this is an historic election, as if it were not. But beyond this now-hammered into the ground theme, preliminary results are showing a very important step being made in the process of democratization which began with the Constitution [of the United States] in 1788.
The Constitution designed a means to guarantee the autonomous power of every state in the federal system. Presidential power thus created was clearly limited by a bicameral legislature where the Senate, made up of two senators from each state, served as protective mechanism of this original arrangement. The system of indirect election, which in the majority of states gives the victor all the delegates to the electoral college, was also designed to guarantee local power over central power.
That first system, whose original concept was undoubtedly influenced by the thought of the Enlightenment, especially that of John Locke and Baron de Montesquieu, was thought to answer the particular challenges that faced the effort to create a central government on top of the traditional self-government that existed in the states which, until 1776, had been autonomous colonies. After the War of Independence, the effort resulted only in a weakconfederation.
But what most worried the delegates to the Constitutional Convention of 1787-1788 was the issue of property rights. It was about serving patrician property owners in the plantation states of the South and in the comercial states of the North. And when they spoke of property rights, the delegates included the savage right to possess human beings as slaves. Those national heroes of liberty designed a representative system which only included white males as members of the political community, those with a certain amount of property. In the Puritan ideal of equality, neither women, nor Indians, nor poor whites, nor, of course, black slaves were included.
During the 19th Cenury, gradually more people became eligible to vote. At the beginning of the last century, women finally received the right to vote, but in many southern states, racial segregation stood strong a century after the abolition of slavery which had come at the cost of a terrible civil war, and blacks continued to face obstacles in exercising their right to vote.
It has been barely fifty years since the black community of the South was victimized by violent discrimination.
It was the mobilization and resistance of civil rights activists who succeeded in gaining legislation to guarantee the full equality of a substantial part of the population of the United States which, until then, was treated as inferior.
Even with these advances, the electoral representation of the black community of the United States has traditionally been small, to the extent that in the Senate there have been very few blacks: in the present Senate, Barack Obama is the only one.
If only for this fact, the election yesterday signified a very important thrust forward in the evolution of the democratic process of the United States. That which was born as an elective oligarchy of white patricians step by step has broadened political representation.
However, the Constitution of 1788, still in force, makes it difficult for a single change in the presidency to bring about great changes in US politics since the mechanisms of checks and balances among the powers were designed to be be conservative [to prevent hasty change] However, in spite of the limitations to presidential power, Obama's election has cultural implications of transcendent importance.
It shouldn't be forgotten that Clinton could not advance his health care reforms precisely because of Congressional obstacles.The incoming president triumphed with an enormous ability to communicate his offer of change. He has succeeded in generating utopian energies in a good portion of the electorate and has mobilized in his favor young people who exercised their right to vote for the first time. The expectations he has generated, today to his advantage, can turn against him when he begins to govern in the midst of the tremendous economic crisis which the world faces.
The huge problems that President Obama will have to face during the coming months will test the energy and creativity which he and his team have demonstrated during the campaign. His clear and powerful oratory will now have to be turned to mobilizing the government, and as we well know in Mexico, it is not the same to be a good candidate as to be a good president.
Obama has shown great ability and consistency during these last months. However, the great unknown which faces us today is whether he will succeed in constructing a new social pact, with international implications. To succeed requires that he construct a new economic and social order in a world which Bush has left in crisis and at war. The expectations are very high. We will have to wait to see how the new democracy in America meets them.