KEY WEST, Florida – The state of Florida was a case study of how the 2008 United States presidential election was won. Talk about will to power. Implanted in the Barack Obama campaign mindset, articulated by the “two Davids” – former Obama chief strategist Axelrod and campaign manager Plouffe – an uncontroversial Florida win would not only erase the nightmarish hanging chad film noir of eight years ago but achieve burning bright redemption by routing the Republicans with an overwhelming ground game, part of the most sophisticated field operation in the history of American politics.
From the point of view of Obamaland, the alluring, swinging Sunshine State became an obsession – even more than Ohio.
Money was no object. The campaign deployed 250,000 volunteers clustered around 100 field offices getting out the vote with phone banks and knocking door-to-door, canvassing cops and cars and manicured boulevards, derelict wastelands and bastions of privilege, outspending the McCain campaign on the airwaves three to one.
It boiled down to the – vital – matter of selling a polished black intellectual from Chicago who was virtually unknown in Florida only five months ago. Bill Clinton and Al Gore, superstars in their own right, hit the stage in Florida in the last week of campaigning only after Obama had proved he could win the Sunshine State by himself.
In the end, Obama got almost 71% of new registered voters in Florida. Boosted by swing voters, independents, African Americans, the bulk of the vote from Central and South Americans, and young Cuban Americans, he beat McCain 51% to 48%, paving the road to that moment in time the Reverend Martin Luther King dreamed of. Joe the Plumber in Ohio may have not, but Jose el Plomero in Florida voted Obama.
The long and winding road
Time waits for no president-elect. But it will take time for the symbolism of November 4 to sink in – that cool, calm, collected one man melting pot smile imprinted on the face of the planet, as if every corner of Earth was allowed to dream in American again and sing, as One, Obambopaloobop Obambamboom.
It’s been a long time comin’. Obama is post-everything, and not only ethnically. A former colleague at the University of Chicago law faculty describes him as a “visionary minimalist”. A dreamer, yes – but within realistic boundaries.
The world, still ecstatic, will soon notice that Obama is also all about post-ethnic civic nationalism. Make no mistake: in his own way, he also wants a New American century. His speeches tell the story. He truly believes in American exceptionalism and in the US manifest destiny.
But he is not an ideologue. He does not position himself as a liberal or a centrist. He is above all a pragmatist. His speeches also stress that it’s not about left and right. It’s not about big government or small government. It’s about a government that works.
How will it work? Americans at this historical juncture are not allowed to be “crackpot realists” – as C Wright Mills would put it. Everyone has to become a critical intellectual. As Obama himself said in his acceptance speech,
The road ahead will be long. Our climb will be steep. We may not get there in one year or even in one term. But America, I have never been more hopeful that I am tonight that we will get there. I promise you, we as a people, we’ll get there.
The keys to the highway
Obama has to bridge the gulf not only between black and white but red and blue and rich and poor. The Bush era meant eight years of non-stop redistribution of wealth from the bottom to the top, and the crystallization of the US as the most socially unequal among all industrialized economies. But Americans have had enough. A recent Gallup poll reveals 58% – and 84% of Democratic voters – believe money and wealth should be more evenly distributed in the US.
Obama has to – literally – climb to the mountain top and challenge the \$700 billion taxpayer bailout of Wall Street. Will he dare to re-regulate Wall Street in the public interest?
He has to come clean about a health plan that won’t be run and controlled by hardcore corporate insurance companies, ultra-conservative hospital associations and the Big Pharma industry. Why not a universal single payer health program?
He has to come clean on his relationship with Big Agrobusiness. He has to explain how fiscal austerity will be compatible with creating jobs. How bailing out Wall Street is compatible with productive investment. And how the cracked up framework of the “war on terror” is compatible with a domestic recovery.
The Pentagon celebrated Obama’s election by bombing a wedding party in Kandahar province in Afghanistan – 48 dead, mostly women and children, and scores of wounded.
Obama wants a surge in Afghanistan. Obama wants to expand the framework of the “war on terror” inside the Pakistani tribal areas. Obama wants redeployment in Iraq – not withdrawal. He does not have a clearly defined deadline to leave Iraq because the Pentagon lodged in Iraq is directly tied to access to oil in the Middle East and a non-stop war of attrition with Iran, Syria and Hezbollah in Lebanon. Obama has not renounced unconditional support to Israel’s neo-colonial war on Palestine and relentless expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank – one of the root causes of virtually all the grief in the Middle East.
And then there’s that “other” America.
Will Obama understand the reach and transformative power of profound social movements in Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, Paraguay, all over Latin America? Will he understand that the Monroe Doctrine is dead – and Latin America as a whole is more than willing for a mature relationship with the US?
Sunsets are fabulous in Key West. Cuba is just 144 kilometers away.
Will Obama have the courage to end a failed, painful and criminal embargo – he’s already been called on it by Hugo Chavez in Venezuela and President Luiz Inacio Lula in Brazil – an embargo that banishes the purchase of spare parts for diagnostic equipment used in cancer detection, delays the delivery of millions of syringes for vaccinations against communicable diseases, and blocks access to imported seeds, fertilizers and spare parts for farm machinery? The US embargo is an embargo against ordinary Cubans.
Geographically, the United States of America ends here at the tip of Florida. Politically, the long Bush night of the soul also ends here – in slightly over 70 days. Historically, led by a cool black man with a weapon of mass seduction – his unlimited soft power – this passage of time has the potential to be the prelude to a new day dawning. It’s up to engaged, tirelessly mobilized US civil society – and for the whole world for that matter – to turn hope into reality, and help this man “change America, and change the world”.