Saturday, November 08, 2008

Thoughts on Obama from Japan

The Polish journalist Ryszard Kapuscinski once wrote something to the affect that foreign correspondents who cover the far corners of the earth are a cynical lot used to overcoming obstacles that most people can’t imagine just to do their jobs, and that little can excite them.

That may be so to a large degree, but for my own part I have rarely been as deeply elated or moved as I have been by the election of Barack Hussein Obama as the 44th President of the United States, and the scenes that followed it. Obama’s acceptance speech before a crowd of over 200,000 at Chicago’s Grant Park, the scenes of Americans - young and old, rich and poor, black and white and Latino and Asian and Arab, male and female - embracing, cheering and weeping, and the outpouring of emotion in scenes broadcast from around the globe was as resounding message as any imaginable about the ability of the United States to change and that the eight year nightmare of vainglorious militarism, disastrous economic irresponsibility and plain and simple mean-spiritedness was coming to an end.

Having supported Barack Obama in the primaries in my native state of Pennsylvania and written about his presidential campaign frequently in recent months, and having early-voted for Obama in the general election in Pennsylvania this past October, I found myself in Japan during actual election day. I watched as the returns began to come in with my girlfriend in the exquisite city of Kyoto and then raced to the fishing village of Obama, Japan, where banners bearing a manga-influenced drawing of the new president proclaimed “I love Obama.”

The United States has been through so much in the last eight years, from the attacks of September 11th and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq to the destruction of Hurricane Katrina and the economic meltdown that occurred this year, which further impoverished a population already beset by often non-existent healthcare, stagnant wages and/or disappearing jobs, and an ever-diminishing international reputation as the windshield cowboy and his cohorts mistook truculence for statesmanship and attempted to set regions of American against one another in a miserable scramble for ever-more power. One of the phrases that most stuck in my mind from Obama’s speech before the throng in Grant Park the other nights ran as follows:

If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible; who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time; who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer.

Tonight, as I strolled under a sliver of autumn moon through the old Higashi Chaya quarter here in Kanazawa on the Sea of Japan, my thoughts were with my native land, and a feeling of deep pride for what has come to pass this week, and deep responsibility for all that remains to be done. I have a year ahead of me working and reporting from Asia, but I think that, after that, I just might head home to record how this new chapter is being written in this new day.

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