There has been a recent tendency among South African commentators to write off an (then imminent) Obama victory as nothing more than the personality cult of a charismatic leader. I think tonight's sweep of the House and Senate by the Dems should give some indication that the vote probably has something to do with policy, not just person.
I am very happy about the Democratic victory. In fact, I'm so happy I could dance in a musical! (and those tickets would be pretty hard to get :D - West Wing reference, never mind). I'm happy because Obama is particularly attractive as leader of one of the world's largest economies - he's young, he's fairly liberal, he doesn't need help to find the middle east on a map and has actually visited other countries for a reason other than to plan to drop bombs on them and he's a minority leader, which is always encouraging when one is a minority in one's own country. Plus he's from Africa which just rocks because it completely disproves the ridiculous idea that Africans are intrinsically incapable of being good politicians - leaving the ANC with no excuse for their ridiculous antics.
But the reason I'm thrilled has less to do with Obama as a person and more to do with the reason the Americans elected him. The number one reason cited by votes for their choice was economics. For years the Republicans have won the American election on social issues - appealing to the social conservative paranoia about individuals making any choices, ridiculous ideas like whether creationism should be taught in classrooms and knee-jerk conservative reactions to same-sex unions and abortion - with a little bit of national security propaganda thrown in (can anyone say WMD in Iraq?). With that victory, however, have come free-market fundamentalist economic policies which have been so heavily skewed in favour of big business being allowed to make insanely massive profits no matter what the cost - and particularly at the expense of labour, the environment and anyone poor - that it was only in a period of relative economic wealth (sustained by the military-industrial complex) that even the American electorate would let them get away with it.
A vote for the Dems in this election is a vote AGAINST free-market fundamentalist policies that led to the current economic disasters in the States. The Dems stand for the sensible mixed economy approach which ensures social safety nets and labour protections. An approach which allows for growth of profits and national growth within the context of careful planning and limits and checks and balances (yes, like the South African system... she says smugly).
Reckless free-marketeering has created global chaos. It's great to see that the Americans have noticed. It also appears that Americans have decided that they don't want to be the world's policeman - and I say policeman in a 1976 Soweto, South Africa kind of way. They have decided they are more interested in a president who will fix American health-care and make sure all their own people are okay instead of spending all his time bombing the hell out of 'rogue' nations. A vote for the Dems is a vote against corporate tyranny, a vote for the people. That makes me happy.
This was also one of the biggest American elections in years. The voting population was energised by someone offering real change. The youth were energised by the idea of someone who is slightly closer to their generation. Minorities were energised by the idea of actually being represented. Everyone was energised by the idea that their votes could actually get rid of policies and a party they no longer wanted. The sense of agency, that democracy actually works, was enough to get millions of previously disaffected people to the polls. The scourge of apathy and disaffected people, particularly youth, is a problem world-wide. Including in South Africa.
Everyone said there was no way an inexperienced senator could win. Everyone said there was no way a black man could be president in America. Everyone said there is was no way the staid, traditional party with a heritage of defending the country could be voted out of power. But 'everyone' was wrong.
One of the reasons today's victory for the Democrats fills me with hope is because they represent the liberal democratic values that I support and that are central to the South African system and constitution. It's great to see that support for these values is once again en vogue, at least in the USA. Another reason is that I hope, beyond hope, that seeing that this kind of change is possible in the USA might energise South Africans and perhaps, sometime in the near future, we might vote actually to policy and not on struggle credentials.