On November 4, 2008, Barack Obama said America had changed. For those who recalled the idealism of the 60s, the dreams of Martin Luther King and the Kennedy brothers had seemingly come to pass: a young African-American man from humble beginnings was elected on the basis of his character and not on the colour of his skin. It was an exhilarating moment that I was fortunate to witness while standing on the roof of the Canadian embassy. A little over a year later, however, many Americans are wondering whether America has really changed or whether last year’s election was an accident of history.
The polarization so often decried by Obama and the rest of the political class remains as sharp as ever. While the nation seemed open to more governmental activism in light of the financial meltdown of last fall, more and more Americans have become concerned about the size of government, the deficit and the debt. Health care reform still has the favour of a majority of the population, but the shape that reform should take has become fodder for acrimonious debates. And as Obama considers different options for the war in Afghanistan, the debate over American military efforts will once again be front and centre. No matter what, his decision will surely be a contentious one. Meanwhile, the economy remains fragile, job losses are expected through most of 2010, and Obama’s approval numbers have come back down to Earth. America, it seems, is back to business as usual.
Yet, I believe America is on an irreversible course of change, both domestically and in foreign policy. For one thing, Americans seem more conscious of their standing in the world. Relations with China and Russia are about to enter a new stage. The environment, energy needs, national security, and diplomacy require that the United States work with its partners. Even when it comes to less-friendly and outright belligerent nations, Americans realize that war has to be the last alternative. Iran cannot become the next Iraq. Exporting U.S.-style democracy and nation-building, laudable as it may appear to some, is not the cornerstone of U.S. foreign policy unless it meets national interests. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will not be supported indefinitely and without reservation. Exit strategies will be the order of the day, which may explain the president’s lengthy deliberations on increasing troop levels in Afghanistan.
On the domestic front, Republicans are becoming increasingly aware that the GOP will have to once again become a big tent party or risk long-term minority status. The worrying state of the economy will require greater accountability from Wall Street. And, for better or worse, consumer habits are changing, although for many, it has been involuntary. If the future appears perilous to some, to others, it is downright exciting. Despite all the uncertainty, the U.S. remains a pivotal and positive force on the defining issues of the future—peace, nuclear security, innovation, the environment and reducing poverty .
With this in mind, I am off to New York City on an exciting government assignment representing Quebec interests. This will be my last blog for a while (stop cheering jolyon, Gaunilon and friends). I want to thank Maclean’s for its confidence and support. This blog started off as an account of my involvement in the New Hampshire primary in January of 2008 and was based on my belief in the significance and promise of the Obama campaign. It soon became more. Along the way, I hope it was enjoyable to readers and bloggers. Many approved my opinions, but I know I provoked some. Through it all, I never intended to be disagreeable even when we disagreed. I enjoyed the exchanges even if I avoided direct responses. Many of you helped me think further; others reinforced my points of view. Thanks to all.