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Washington diary: Global Obamania

By Matt Frei
BBC News, Washington

"There is nothing that is wrong with America that can't be fixed by what is right with America."

Women from the Japanese town of Obama show their support for Barack Obama's presidential bid
Barack Obama could improve America's popularity around the world
The words were once uttered by a man who is now busy licking his own and his wife's wounds.

Bill Clinton is not used to failure.

But ironically his words turned out to be prophetic in a way that neither he nor any of us would have imagined.

After an electoral process that makes a round of Harry Potter's favourite game Quidditch look simple, the Democratic Party has eventually chosen a man whose name - some Americans can't help noticing - rhymes with Osama, and whose middle name is Hussein; who was brought up in Hawaii and Indonesia, and whose father was a Kenyan economist.

And all this in the middle of a war against foreign extremists.

If you had tried to sell the Obama story to the fiction editor of a major publishing company they would have laughed at you and ushered you to the door.

Good fiction needs to be plausible, they would have bleated.

Great reality can be as implausible as it wants, America has now replied.

Miserable

Back on the campaign trail, Barack Obama and John McCain are knuckling down to the nuts and bolts of their diverging economic policies.

Obama knows that he needs to stop sounding vague and hopeful and start sounding precise and resourceful.

If he fails to do this he will never win over those voters who are having a truly miserable time these days.

They need him to feel their pain and reduce it with sound policies.

Obama's nomination has achieved in one night what hand-wringing Bush diplomacy has failed to deliver in four years

Much of the rest of the world has the luxury of electoral irrelevance.

They are free to continue basking in Obamamania.

The last thing they want to hear about is the senator's proposals for tax reform and transport regulation.

So, in Berlin they are wearing Obama t-shirts.

Karsten Voigt, a former government minister, has been able to declare that Germany is Obamaland.

In Rome, one restaurant is apparently selling Obama pizzas, with olives and pineapple chunks - surely this is doing the man from a Chicago a culinary disservice?

On Bondi Beach in Sydney, they are drawing battleground states in the sand and debating whether a black man can win in Kentucky or Tennessee.

Enlightenment ideas

Obama's nomination has achieved in one night what hand-wringing Bush diplomacy has failed to deliver in four years: a powerful signal that America still has the power to surprise and inspire.

It proves that the revolutionary heart of this nation founded on ideas borrowed from the European Enlightenment still beats despite Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib.

The world peddles in symbols which never convey the complete picture and ride roughshod over nuance.

American elections tend to be decided by a whisker-thin majority in the swing county of one swing state

But America desperately needed a symbol which everyone at home and abroad could feel good about.

Legions of Republicans or Hillary Democrats may not like what they hear from Obama, they will probably never vote for him, but they cannot dislike what they see in him at first glance.

His very improbability gives Americans a reason to feel good about themselves and he gives the rest of the world a reason to feel good about America.

And that, of course, is where it may end.

His campaign could turn out to be a minefield of unexpected hiccups.

His presidency, if he ever gets there, could be haunted by mistakes and misjudgements.

He may lose on 4 November.

Fifty-Fifty nation

After another four and a half months of campaigning, America will be ready for any legal outcome delivered at the polls, assuming, of course, the votes can actually be counted.

The world needs to come down to reality and experience the cold turkey of American electoral politics.

Despite the lofty dreams ringing in campaign ears this remains the 50-50 nation.

American elections tend to be decided by a whisker-thin majority in the swing county of one swing state.

Obama may be a global citizen but to voters in West Virginia or parts of Ohio that sounds as pretentious as a double decaf Venti latte.

But before the German politician who wrote that Obama was a cross between John F Kennedy and Martin Luther King gets too sniffy about those hillbillies in America, just remember this:

Germany has a minority of four million Turks, but has elected only a handful of ethnic Turks to the Bundestag.

An ethnic Pakistani Prime Minister taking up residence at Number 10 Downing Street is even less likely than England winning the World Cup.

In Beijing, the overt racism shown to African students brought over under the bygone days of international Communism is truly shocking.

Even if America is not ready to elect a black president, the rest of the world has no right to point the finger.

And there is always the possibility that Obama failed not because he was black, not because he was too global, but simply because his vision of America's future did not add up.

Matt Frei is the presenter of BBC World News Americawhich airs every weekday at 0030 BST on BBC News and at 0000 BST (1900 ET / 1600 PT) on BBC World News and BBC America (for viewers outside the UK only).


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MATT FREI'S WASHINGTON DIARY

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