When I first visited New York 32 years ago, I was strongly advised against walking through Harlem. 40 years ago, Martin Luther King was assassinated for daring to dream about racial integration. 13 years previous to that, Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a white woman on a bus and tipped the balance, beginning what has become, of late, an avalanche of change. Now, after decades of struggle, what was previously unthinkable – despite Jesse Jackson’s valiant attempts to stand for the presidency in the 1980s – has actually happened; a black man has been elected President of the USA and it feels good.
Or at least it felt good for a little while, in the wake of John McCain’s gracious concession speech and Obama’s stirring acceptance speech. Now, only 12 hours later, the internet has started to breed colonies of bile and cynicism, hatred and demagoguery, which is spreading fast and picking away at the euphoria and hope, at that sense of history being made that anyone, of whatever political persuasion, must surely have felt when they woke to the news of Obama’s victory this morning.
It seems that the honeymoon is over almost before it started. Are people so cynical, in the wake of the Blair effect that came, eventually, to be seen as nothing more than spin and puffery, that they cannot even bask in the hope Obama offers for a little while? The internet opens us up to an endless array of opinion, and can be a great agent of change, but have the spinmeisters hardened us so much that we cannot see a good thing for what it is without having to rationalize it to death?
The most interesting detail in the Obama speech by far was when, in passing, he characterised the global economy – only in passing, mind you – as being in its worst state for more than a century. This strikes me as a genuine breakthrough and although it was only one sentence, it was clearly the product of much sweat in the back rooms of the Obama campaign. It is the sort of idea, surely, of a man prepared to try to do what he has pledged to do – change the world for the better. He has seen the problems the American people and the world face
The world should be focusing on these details, on the gracious pledge of help offered by John McCain, on the positivity that Obama’s election has engendered. If we listen to the haters, the people who booed the mention of Obama during McCain’s concession speech, the cynics who wonder, bitterly, if Obama can do anything he has promised so soon after the election, the Twitterers who compare his victory to the walk Blair took to 10 Downing Street which lead inexorably to the Iraq war, surely all is lost before it has a chance to be won.
Surely now is not the time for a PR backlash. Should we not all be hoping that Obama will live up to his promises, deliver change and fail to give any traction to the poisonous prophecies of the web’s anonymous nay sayers and doom-mongers?