I spent hours on Tuesday afternoon with the folks from Radio France, taking calls on the air from listeners across that nation, and spent an hour this evening with some Belgian legislators. The all but unanimous conclusion (even of the people of these two nations who so often holder each other in contempt), was a simple one: "Barack Obama is 'le rock star.'"
So I wondered, with that bald announcement that accompanied an all but universal belief among French, Belgians and others around the world that the outcome of this election was a foregone conclusion (perhaps giving Americans more credit than we perhaps deserved for picking, for a change, the RIGHT leader), what might have been their reaction had this election gone another way. What if Hillary had been the candidate? What if McCain and picked a different running mate? What if McCain had even won?
Let's take one question at a time. I asked my friends from Belgium, who'd come to "observe" our electoral process (and watched in horror when an ancient voting machine broke down in an East Side precinct in Manhattan!) what if Hillary had been the candidate? The reaction had many levels. Europeans, they explained, are familiar with strong women heads of state or government - Britain's Margaret Thatcher, Germany's Angela Merkel. Said one Belgian, "we can respect them, perhaps, but we cannot love and embrace them." Obama, in short, is a love affair rather than a friendship of opportunity to be discarded at will.
What then if McCain had picked a different running mate, and had even won? Certainly, there is something in the European nature that says, at last, at all cost, America has finally rid itself of the Bush years. But Obama, well that's somewhat different. Tonight's result represents truly a changement du cap - a whole new direction that the United States is taking, shrugging off nearly a decade when Europe and indeed much of the world looked on in horror as America, once the unquestioned leader, careened from crisis to crisis, dragging friends and enemies alike into the morass it created from one corner of the globe to another.
What does that mean for the future? What it means is that as quickly as possible--long before January 20, two and a half long months away--our new president-elect must begin to give hope and lift the spirits of a world that is now hanging on his every utterance, expecting a team that will be quickly assembled to attack the enormous problems that he has inherited.
And already it's beginning. Overnight, as the electoral vote mounted toward a victory for Obama, Asian stock markets took off, soaring 5% in a heartbeat. At 1 am in New York, 7 am in Paris as France was just waking up to the news of a Democratic victory, journalists on French radio were asking Americans--well, at least this American, what does it all mean? How wonderful is this news?
My response? How much we now still have to accomplish.
David A. Andelman is Editor of World Policy Journal and author of A Shattered Peace: Versailles 1919 and the Price We Pay Today.