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Web person at the Imperial War Museum, just completed PhD about digital sustainability in museums (the original motivation for this blog was as my research diary). Posting occasionally, and usually museum tech stuff but prone to stray. I welcome comments if you want to take anything further. These are my opinions and should not be attributed to my employer or anyone else (unless they thought of them too). Twitter: @jottevanger

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

America the beautiful

As the car swung through autumn drizzle and leaf-fall en route to the station this momentous morning, listening to Barack Obama's victory speech with its account of America's historical challenges and responses as seen by one 106-year-old first-time voter, I found myself holding back the tears. I'd thought myself too cynical to get carried along with rhetoric; happily I've found this not to be the case when the rhetoric captures something true and expansive and, in this case, full of hope. I'd like to think, on the other hand, that I'd still not be seduced by Blair-style insincerity and (mis)calculation, where the goal of careful speech-craft is manipulation and misrepresentation, instead of the clearest expression of a vision or argument.

If I'm honest, though, there's always the chance that I'm getting carried away by the moment. I can't forget that, despite my contempt for Blair and the fact that in 1997 I (a Labour-supporter since childhood) voted against him, when he swept into office and rid us of the Tories all my reservations melted away and I wrote him a letter of congratulations, expressing my hope for the future. This rapidly proved to be mistaken, though it must still be said he wasn't quite a Tory (all the time). But even considering that lapse, and the fact that other circumstances are making me especially emotional at the moment, I think this sense of joy, of a meaningful shift in America and of hope for the world, these are real and won't dissolve in disillusionment. Of course there will be disappointments in how Obama acts as president, or perhaps in the scale of his ambitions, and we mustn't forget that he's US President (elect) first and world leader second (what a relief if he can lift that latter burden from our own unimaginative premier). There will be surprises to interrupt any programme of change, although he's lucky that one such shock has come just before the election rather than after.

Why do we outside the US care so much? It's not simply that America's future influences ours, true though that is. For me, I simply identify strongly with the US. Nevermind that I've spent but two short spells there, or that there's much internally or about its disproportionate global influence that strikes one as wrong; and nevermind that the democratic process there is shot through with flaws that can on occasion permit gross injuries against the idea of representing the will of the people; still America's people can show their feelings at the ballot box like no other nation, in an expression of freedom that on a day like today can inspire us all. I dearly hope that the talk of bi-partisanship doesn't evaporate, as the biggest shortcoming of first-past-the-post democracy is obviously that it can result in excluding or denying the values of huge proportions of the population. Here in the UK we have a technocrat at the controls, one who's strengths are solely in economics and who preaches pragmatism. What we all need right now is not a (pure) pragmatist, but someone who can offer a vision the inspire us so that, as Obama says, we can look within ourselves and say "Yes we can!". I think he's that man.

Thank you America. I kiss you!

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