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The initial euphoria over Barack Obama

November 17, 2008

Obamamania is what is on, although the sky high expectations would make any President nervous. Here are some excerpts from the media and the blogosphere:

A few excerpts from the reactions of the international media:

Sources: [1], [2] and [3]

  • The International Herald Tribune talked about how America had “leaped” across the color line.
  • UK’s The Guardian compared Obama’s achievement with Roosevelt’s of 1932 and Reagan’s of 1980 and the tabloid Daily Mirror headline said “GOBAMA!”, a complete contrast to what it had said when George W. Bush was re-elected in 2004. Their headline had then asked “How can 59,054,087 people be so DUMB?”
  • Germany’s Der Spiegel’s praised Obama, saying that he had an “ability to remain untouched by all the razzmatazz” around him. The tabloid Bild wrote “Messiah Obama” and talked about how everyone was in love with Obamerica.
  • China Daily said they were “elated at his landslide win” and believed that China would have every reason to anticipate a more friendly America.”
  • Singapore’s Professor Kishore Mahbubani felt that Obama’s election will significantly reduce anti-Americanism.
  • The Times of India believed that Obama would be India-friendly and talked about two images of America: One of a “bullying superpower” and the other that of a “land of hope and opportunity”. And that it is the latter that Obama epitomizes.
  • The Kenya Times called Obama “the foremost blaze-trailing son of this land.”
  • In Israel, the daily newspaper Haaretz called the U.S. election an “example of democracy at its best.”
  • Russia’s Pravda said that “Eight years of hell are over.”
  • Australia, the Sydney Morning Herald called Obama’s win a “stunning grassroots political movement, powered by massive multi-million dollar fundraising.”
  • Prime Minister of Spain has said that Barack Obama’s election has “kindled a feeling of hope in the real capacity to build a better world.”
  • France’s Liberation said: “For the first time, an African-American and a woman were candidates for the highest office in the land. It seems like America could teach us a thing or two about democracy”. French writer and philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy has said that “never will an American election have excited in the rest of the world a hope at once so crazy and so reasoned.”
  • The Australian asked: “Which other big, rich, predominantly white society has elected a member of a racial minority to be its head of government? Not Australia”.

Cautious notes were struck by:

  • UAE’s Arabic daily, Al Khaleej. The newspaper was cynical and believed that “whoever is the winner” the White House would favour Israel.
  • Qatar’s Al Jazeera believed that Obama’s election was an anti-incumbency vote.
  • Khaleej Times in Dubai listed “Things to do for President Obama” and said he had a lot to do.
  • The Japanese news agency Kyodo mentioned that Obama had a “daunting” task ahead of him to repair the economy.
  • Italy’s Il Giornale warned that “He’s Just A President. Not the Messiah.”
  • Here is an interesting quote from Josef Joffe, a German Journalist and political scientist:

Europeans want to love America again, and they imagine that a simple act of exorcism (called “elections”) will rid them of the curse. But politics is not about redemption. Obama is not what West Europeans dream he is: polite, social-democratic and pacific. In other words, more European than American. Will the Euroswooners still love Obama when he presses them for more troops in Afghanistan and real sanctions on Iran?

Some opinions from the blogsphere:

  • Here is an aol video which gives a summary of blogger reactions after Obama’s win.
  • Paul believes that Americans are a pragmatic people and “Obama’s best chance to realign the electorate is to successfully implement policies that work, regardless of their ideological label, to solve the problems facing us.”
  • Texas Liberal (Neil) says “Maybe better days have finally arrived. Maybe I can now eat away at the many layered lasagna of resentment, instead of having the resentment eat away at me.”
  • Vikram feels that the Obama-mania sweeping urban English-speaking Indians is perhaps a good thing in the sense that it atleast got them thinking about Indian ‘Obamas.’
  • Shefaly has analysed why Obama won. She says that “his success story is underscored by a sense of ‘otherness’ whether on account of his mixed-race background, his academic accolades, his relative greenness in politics or his style of politics. And she also suggests that like Obama did, “Let us wear our ‘otherness’ lightly; recognise that it is a part of our identity, not our entire identity.”
  • Indian Homemaker compares Obama to Mahatma Gandhi as he “gave each one of us hope of a better day…”

I also found a survey which encapsulated reactions of people across the across the world, those who never voted but had strong opinions nonetheless. The survey was taken only amongst those respondents who were following the American election. What is fascinating that while the American public was almost evenly divided between Obama and McCain, other countries were more polarised, a strong majority either with Obama or with McCain.

Here is the graph from Pew Research:

Do we all need learn lessons from the American election?
A lot of the international media wondered whether a minority candidate could have similar success in their countries. Speaking of India, well, we have people from minority communities as well as from downtrodden groups who have been elected to various senior political posts, although most may have been elected by their own communities, not by a broad section of society. Unless the latter happens I guess we will not fully mature as a democracy.

I have not studied it in-depth but on the face of it I quite like America’s system of electing just two senators from each state. As each U.S state is represented by two senators, and it is not based on population, there are several benefits. One is that the fewer number of candidates ensures that votes are not splintered between many candidates (this is so important in India where people vote on the basis of their own group) and secondly no one state dominates over another. What will happen (in India) if we follow this is that elected candidates will get a bigger share of the vote, and owing their election victory to a broader base, will work towards doing things for all communities. Well, I don’t know whether this is possible in India as we have a different political system, but the idea seems attractive and the only way to ensure that candidates get votes from all sections of the public.

(The photograph is from Time Magazine and the graph from Pew)

Related Reading: Mayawati and Barack Obama – any comparison?
More posts on politics in India
More posts on the Media.

36 Comments leave one →
  1. November 17, 2008 9:27 am

    The Kenya Times called Obama “the foremost blaze-trailing son of this land.”

    That’s the consensus. Still no birth certificate.

    rjjrdq, yeah you are right! I dread to think how India would have reacted if he had Indian blood!🙂 – Nita.

  2. November 17, 2008 9:44 am

    Thank you for a great post, Nita! It’s fascinating to see what people around the world are saying. I am passing your link to a friend who just a few days ago was complaining to me of how difficult it is to get from the American media a good, comprehensive view of the international response to Obama’s election.

    I agree with you that expectations about Obama are sky high. I don’t think anyone — whether a saint or a sinner — can possibly live up to all those expectations. He is bound to disappoint us. I have been telling people how impatient I am for his inauguration on January 20th so that I can start complaining he’s not moving fast enough and far enough to satisfy me. 😀

    I’m under the impression that the political system here in America is kind of ossified, and that it might be very difficult for Obama to get his agenda implemented. If that’s the case, then a lot will be up to the people who elected him to pressure their representatives and senators to vote for Obama’s agenda. I think he is aware of that, and so I think he will try to keep his supporters mobilized for at least a while. After most presidential elections, it’s back to business as usual for most of the voters. But maybe this time, Obama will keep people whipped up and get them participating in the political process.

    From most of the people I talk with here in America I get the sense they feel anything could happen now — that anything is possible — and that they are looking for many good things to come from this election. But there are others who believe Obama’s election is the worse thing they have ever seen happen to the country. Did you know Obama is getting a record-breaking number of death threats? It is a very strong mix of opinions here — I don’t know of anyone who ignored the election and doesn’t have one opinion or another about Obama.

    Thank you for the mention and link to my post!

    Paul, thanks and welcome. And yes even I think that there is now way that Obama can really live up to these expectations. And I did read about the threats and racial attacks in the USA but I think its expected. The very fact that half the nation did not vote for Obama means that at least a small percentage did not do so because of racial reasons. And out of this a teeny weeny percentage would be the vitrolic kind. In fact even comparisons with John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King make me uneasy, for obvious reasons. – Nita.

  3. November 17, 2008 9:48 am

    Nita, just a note, the Senate is the equivalent of the Rajya Sabha, which in India has seats allocated as per population. Some other countries like Germany, Brazil have senates with a cap on the number of possible seats, so in a sense they are in between the American and Indian systems. Interestingly, Pakistan has a senate just like the US, a result of the war of 1971.

    A similar system in India would certainly make India more decentralized.

    I really liked Joffe’s comment, it really is a very brave and I think correct analysis.

    Vikram, true the senate is equivalent to the Rajya Sabha but it is all powerful as they have the presidential system and the senators are directly elected representatives of the people. If we have to keep our own political system but yet adopt this, it means the changes will have to happen in our Lok Sabha. I think it is worth thinking of this seriously as it is one of the ways to ensure that the elected representative actually represents the majority of the electorate. – Nita.

  4. Vivek Khadpekar permalink
    November 17, 2008 10:39 am

    @ Vikram:

    //…the Rajya Sabha, which in India has seats allocated as per population…//

    Is that correct? I was under the impression that it was the Lok Sabha seats which were pro-rated according to population. I have to check this out, but I believe Rajya Sabha membership is by nomination, based on the concerned individual’s real or imagined outstanding contributions to public life or to his/her field of endeavour and achievement. The allocation is subject to election to the extent that there is more than one nomination (by different parties) for a seat.

  5. November 17, 2008 10:41 am

    A comprehensive coverage of what the media and blogosphere said about Obama’s victory, indeed.
    Just to add: my last week’s drive to the Townside of Mumbai found Obama painted all over town :-
    Nana Chudasama’s Talk of the Town said:
    “Congratulations from us to the US
    For a Colorful Victory”
    Amul’s ad said:
    Barackfast in the White House

    With Obamul
    A dance academy board said:
    Learn Barack Dance!

    Nice ones.🙂 – Nita.

  6. Vivek Khadpekar permalink
    November 17, 2008 10:43 am

    @ Vikram:

    I checked it out, and it seems both of us are partly right. For details, see

    http://www.answers.com/topic/rajya-sabha

  7. November 17, 2008 11:10 am

    When something looks to good to be true, mu antenae go up… probably i am being cynical and not with a very good reason to that!

    Good job done to put so many views in a nut shell!!🙂

    Sakhi, thanks. And I know what you mean. Obama is just too good a talker isn’t he! – Nita.

  8. chirax permalink
    November 17, 2008 12:30 pm

    GOBAMA !!!, however I think we should, Now be definitely expecting some really radical(I mean really radical) steps towards World Unification. I must say its a right time any for any one to be president of US, it is a make or break time, Obama has a daunting task of correcting the economy, Proving he not just a good orator, Solid steps in Middle east, Tone down the Big Brother image, Provide good business avenues blaha…I hope he’s not just a soda bottle fizz …Lets See

    Chirax, soda bottle fizz, well I hope not! To some extent its also those around him who are to blame for making him out to be a messiah. – Nita.

  9. November 17, 2008 12:43 pm

    オバマ!!Anyway there is a town called Obama in Japan perhaps that is why the Japanese seem excited about it. I hear that town had a lot of support for him due to that. It is up somewhere in Fukui prefecture. I think you can read more about the place here.A translator might be required though :p

    Odzer, that’s interesting. Maybe his mom had that town in mind when she named him!🙂 – Nita.

  10. November 17, 2008 12:44 pm

    Nita san my comment has gone in to moderation. Help!!!

  11. November 17, 2008 1:48 pm

    Good compilation.
    Great effort.

    -Nikhil

    Thanks.🙂 – Nita.

  12. November 17, 2008 2:14 pm

    Well Indian politicians seems to be copying his quotes too… read this one during my visit to mumbai

    “badal ghadu shakto” – Poonam Mahajan

    🙂 – Nita.

  13. November 17, 2008 2:50 pm

    This is why we love your posts Nita….wonderful, for a non follower like me, your post gave a overview , both positives and negative reactions of people all over world…..Kudos!

    Thanks.🙂 – Nita.

  14. November 17, 2008 3:33 pm

    Nita Thanks for mentioning me🙂 I had been thinking the same thing, a change in the system might benefit us too, don’t know enough about the differences to comment … but I guess, this deserves some study.

    @Gopinath Mavinkurve – That made me barack into a smile🙂

    IHM, you are welcome. And hopefully people who are in politics also have ideas to reform our political system! – Nita.

  15. November 17, 2008 4:11 pm

    Nita, what a great research!

    Obama is for sure a personality that will deliver some very good results. we need more people like him in politics!

    Axinia, thanks. Actually takes longer is to put up the links in the posts, that’s really time-consuming! – Nita.

  16. November 17, 2008 4:47 pm

    true changing our system will help🙂

    Vishesh, perhaps you could think of making politics a career.🙂 – Nita.

  17. November 17, 2008 4:48 pm

    well… as long as the world is at peace and every country is content, it doesn’t matter if its Obama or Osama ruling the US…

    Well, as long as it’s not the real Osama you are talking about!🙂 – Nita.

  18. November 17, 2008 5:20 pm

    Obama……toast of the world

    The rise of Obama to the Presidency speaks volumes of a society that, just five-six decades back, was deeply divided on racial lines and which actively practiced “untouchability” in daily life.

    That race was never sought to be capitalised on is another sign of a society coming to terms with itself, warts notwithstanding.

    But (as I have mentioned in my last post) the rise of Obama has been due to
    1. Brilliant packaging, positioning and superb marketing,
    2. Flawless execution of a very detailed strategy.
    3. Unfailing magnetic power of rhetoric and oratory.

    I think for Obama, the primary thing to do now is manage unrealistic expectations and water them down.

    The real world is not a fairy tale and USA does not have the same standing or economic strength it once had.

    I like your three points which explain in a nutshell the branding of Obama. As you said, the first thing he needs to do is water down the expectations. Knowing what a great orator that he is, I think he can do it. – Nita.

  19. Vivek Khadpekar permalink
    November 17, 2008 6:07 pm

    Hi all!

    For an alternative take on Obama, by an Indian-American academic, see Vijay Prashad’s article at

    http://www.counterpunch.org/prashad11072008.html

    Despite the focus on the Sonal Shah controversy, Prashad in fact covers a lot more territory. You may not agree with all he says, but it is nonetheless compelling reading.

  20. November 17, 2008 9:35 pm

    in India– our current PM is minority and past president was minority. political landscape is very different to direct comparison thou.
    I do believe, good large % of voting population would vote for candidates beyond their community, religion, gender,.. [minority are elected not only because minority elect them]

    thou american senator is 2 per state. national presidential election is based on electoral votes which is based on population.
    presidential/senator system keep power to few so its increases power of doing good (and bad). but yes its sure does something instead of nothing.
    I do think our(british) system is better with some fix.

    Yuva, The PM was not elected directly by our people, he was elected by his party. Even the president in our country is not directly voted in by the people. Also can you give me example where a minority person has been elected by a large cross-section of people? I am not saying you are wrong here, I just need to know who you are referring to. – Nita.

  21. November 17, 2008 9:42 pm

    Also, I was not surprised to see obama win election.. but i would have been surprised to see a atheist (/non-Christ person), homosexual, single (how is not interested in marriage or children),..
    but its democracy..any free society will evolve itself to correct its past mistakes.

    we in india always compare us to america or west (so we should) but we are only 60yr old. look at pakistan, nepal, srilanka, bangladesh,..we are far far better. with so so much difference we are still single country with no major fracture wanting to split the union.

  22. wishtobeanon permalink
    November 17, 2008 10:08 pm

    Hi Nita, I was waiting for you to write an article on Obama so I could express my thoughts. I witnessed true democracy here in the US – I am not talking about Obama – citizens have the right to vote on different issues concerning their city, state and country, like voting for or against increasing property taxes (for improvement of schools), voting for their local Sheriff (may be equivalent to police chief in India) and judges, voting for or against the building of a casino in the state and so many other issues. The governance here is decentralized – so things happen and the promises at the city or state level atleast are not empty promises.
    If we had the same type of governance in India, citizens of India could actually have a voice in the governance of their respective village, town, city or state. Do you think a total revamp of the system would be possible in India?

    I think a total revamp is possible but it needs an educated and informed populace who elect the right people who will make changes in policies and systems. We have so many people in India doing real work, but they are not in the right positions to make a difference. Also until poverty is alleviated, our people always remain vulnerable to to be influenced monetarily and also they get intimidated easily. So I guess in other words I am saying, not now, not for another 50 years at least. That’s what I feel. – Nita

  23. November 17, 2008 11:05 pm

    Great effort Nita. Nice header ! What place is it?

    Thanks. And that is the Mumbai-Pune Expressway. – Nita.

  24. November 17, 2008 11:32 pm

    A great post Nita.. I am not following much of the American elections.. just briefly looking into it.. and this post given what I must know.. thanks🙂

    Thanks for appreciating!🙂 – Nita.

  25. November 17, 2008 11:41 pm

    Nita, the Senators are elected for a period of 6 years (1/3rd face election every two years) which gives them relative freedom to do the right thing, instead of bowing down to populist measures. The Representatives are elected for 2 years and their numbers from each state are determined according to the state population. They are supposed to represent the wishes of their constituents in a more direct manner than the Senators as they are up for re-election in two years. Thus, between the two chambers of the Congress, the founding fathers tried to strike a balance between short-term and long-term interests of the nation.

    I doubt that implementing the US system in India in and of itself will remove the problems that face the Indian electoral and political system, as long as those elected remain corrupt and act in ways that are unethical. Besides, changing the Parliamentary system India has to something else would require massive changes in the Indian Constitution as well as consensus among almost all parties.

    Also, a closer look at the democracy in the US shows that it’s not all that democratic as it’s made out to be, with any voices from the left and right, other than the two major parties, denied any representation, and effectively resulting in disenfranchisement of those voices. Many people do not vote with their interests, but rather with their fears of having the “other” party member become the President. First-past-the-post system has its negatives. The debates are tightly controlled and kept closed to any third-party candidates, and the outcome of an election can pretty much be decided by the amount of money raised by the candidate, and whoever raises more money is most likely to win. Hardly anything to admire, IMO.

    So, while Indian Parliamentary system has its cons, the American democratic system is not without its faults either, which are glossed over in all the cheer-leading and back-patting that goes on.

  26. Padmini permalink
    November 18, 2008 2:41 am

    Excellent article Nita. I especially liked the statistics. This is truly a historical moment in American history where racism is so deeply ingrained. African Americans are so elated and transported with joy that many have no words to describe their feelings since they are still digesting Obama’s victory. I recently read an article in The Washington Post about an African American who had served several Presidents in the White House as a cook/cleaner, and never imagined that the day would actually dawn when a black man would step into the White House as the President!

  27. November 18, 2008 3:08 am

    Very nice compilation. I believe Obama can certainly be a good president but He really does have an uphill task. But a man who is calm and composed after a huge victory, I saw determination and will power in his silence.

  28. November 18, 2008 4:17 am

    Only if there was an obama song to tweak the arythmic beats of the economy.

  29. November 18, 2008 4:32 am

    Obama represents a chance for change, hopefully in a positive way, not only because of his racial background but also because he’s not one of “the good ole boys”. He doesn’t have his fingers in so many political pies, unlike Bush. But he has one heaping mess to clean up. Those who believe that will happen overnight will be sorely disappointed.

    Nice article. Interesting to see the opinions from other countries. I know a lot of Canadians who were tuning in to the election.

    Here’s something I was sent for a chuckle, a twist of a Hebrew prayer: Barack atah Illinois, Elohenu melech ha’olam, hoo-ray p’ri ha-electoral landslide. Amen.

  30. November 18, 2008 4:47 am

    @ Nita : May be not. It seems to be quite a coincidence. By the way the picture on the top seems to be of a Japanese sweet snack. It is called まんじゅう or Manjou and it seems to be courtesy of the same townspeople. It is often filled with sweet bean paste. If you want to see how it looks just copy the Japanese text above and do a google image search. I had some difficulty reading the label above because it uses a font that I am not used to so I did not comment on that earlier till I was very sure of it. So now Obama is also a snack :p

  31. lallopallo permalink
    November 18, 2008 7:21 am

    Nice one Nita.

  32. November 18, 2008 8:44 am

    Great research and a very good example of link blogging.
    Only time will tell. People just have the habit of applauding one second and belittling the next. Its better to wait and watch.

  33. November 18, 2008 9:26 am

    Heh. Vijay Prashad indulges in guilt by association. Pretty low tactics for him, and an atrocious smear job which is quite a stretch, and shows that there’s no dearth of loonies on the left either.

    His “logic” seems to be along the same lines as:
    Obama breathed in an atom that was breathed out by Hitler. Ergo, Obama is as bad as Hitler. *rolling my eyes*

  34. November 18, 2008 12:53 pm

    Amit, thank you for giving the cons and it has surely increased my understanding of the American system. Although I knew communist parties were banned, I did not know that the far right parties were also banned. Ofcourse where money power is concerned, that works here too and it is those parties with the most money who get the votes. Also, as parties get the funds underhand this increases corruption. Some say that if the party funding is made more transparent, the corruption in India will decrease. And you are right, massive changes are required to make India anything near the presidential system or even to strike any sort of compromise between the two systems. It seems so impossible that I guess its best to make our present system work better. However I am still in love with the idea of having fewer people represent each state in the Lok Sabha, as it will mean better representation of the majority. Right now an elected candidate hardly represents anyone! The reasons are two. One because more MP exists from each state than are necessary. And two, for each seat, a 50% minimum votes are not necessary and if 3-4 candidates are standing for the same post, then one person may be elected not a strong percentage but he still wins the seat! Take this being replicated across the state and you have politicians running the state who do not have the mandate of the people!

    Padmini, I think this election drove everyone into a state of excitement over there like never seen before. And my heart goes out to all African Americans. Now they can feel truly part of this country.

    Dineshbabu, he is impressive I agree. Didn’t seem to be carried away at all. Lets wish him all the best!

    anrosh,🙂

    Mish, thanks. I think many across the world would have loved to vote even if they were not citizens! I have never seen so much interest in an American election. I confess I was more of a Hillary fan though. And I too hope that people tone down their expectations otherwise Obama will disappoint.

    Odzer, thanks.🙂 I thought they were some sort of badges!

    Lallopallo, thanks.

    Reema, yes and public memory is short!!

  35. November 18, 2008 7:11 pm

    Although I knew communist parties were banned, I did not know that the far right parties were also banned.

    Nita, slight correction. Parties are not banned – the way the American system has been set up and then rigged by the two major parties, it becomes next-to-impossible for any person who doesn’t belong to these two parties, to win an election. So those who do vote for these third parties have no representation and no voice in the Congress.

    Right now an elected candidate hardly represents anyone! The reasons are two. One because more MP exist from each state than are necessary.

    Nita, I’m not sure I understand this. An elected MP is still representing a certain area and constituency, right? So people living in that constituency (city/district) are represented by that MP, no? Or can there be two MPs elected from the same constituency? Please explain this point.

    And two, for each seat, a 50% minimum votes are not necessary and if 3-4 candidates are standing for the same post, then one person may be elected not a strong percentage but he still wins the seat!

    That’s exactly how Clinton won the first time – with a 40-something % vote and not a majority.🙂
    One solution is Instant Runoff Voting where voters rank candidates in order of preference, and which ensures that the person getting elected is supported by a clear majority. More here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Instant-runoff_voting
    In terms of changing to the Indian system, IRV is probably less difficult to bring about than a switch to US-style system.

    Sorry for sounding confusing Amit. What I meant was that unlike having 2 senators from each state, you have many MP from each state, scores them at times, so true they are representating the people, but no one MP is representing the majority of the people of the state. And this is compounded by the fact that even the MP who is elected does not represent the majority of his constituency! 40% vote for clinton seems huge because in India you can win with far less as all you need to get is more than the others who are standing!! And as any number can stand the vote can get very splintered indeed. Terrible, isn’t it! – Nita.

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