Monday, 10 November 2008

A New President, A New Era - By John Beecher

On Wednesday 5 November those who had not stayed up to watch the results come in live woke up to find that Barack Obama had been elected the 44th president of the United States of America. The world breathed a collective sigh of relief and the image of America as a land of opportunity and equality was restored. The historic significance of this election is difficult to overstate. For many voters who cast their ballots on 4 November the days of segregation and the struggle for civil rights is within living memory, for these men and women the political an emotional significance of seeing an African American president elected in their life time is hard to express with words. The election of Obama also puts an end to the ‘Republican Era’ which began with Reagan in 1981 and challenges the assumption that America is fundamentally a centre right nation.

The historic significance of the election was not lost on the QUB students who gathered at Elms to watch the results come in through the night. The crowd, a mixture of American and local students, was overwhelmingly in support of Obama. In most cases those who chose to lend their voices in support of Republican candidate John McCain did so in order to get a reaction from the Obama supporters rather than out of true political conviction. The genuine Republicans in the room were subdued; they knew this was not their night, they knew they were on the wrong side of the crowd and on the wrong side of history.

As the first results came in at around midnight giving an early lead to McCain a notable tension intruded on the festive atmosphere as everybody asked themselves if the substantial leads to Obama in the opinion polls were simply too good to be true, whether public sentiment had matched private action in the poll booths. This symbolic victory of taking an early lead was the only victory McCain would see. As the polls closed in the next block of states and the results came in, Obama surged ahead and took a lead he would hold for the rest of the night. However, the Obama supporters continued to use the conditional tense until a projected Democrat victory in Ohio affectively closed the deal. For many the most significant moment came when the notoriously partisan Fox News predicted a victory for Obama.

When the key state of California went blue and the Democrats retained Washington, taking the Democrats over the crucial 270 electoral collages needed for victory, it was as though the final whistle had been blown on a World Cup final. The physical and emotional reaction was overwhelming. People jumped from their seats cheering and hugging complete strangers. The moment was illuminated by the flashes of digital cameras. Chants of “yes, we can” gave way to “Yes, we did” and were mixed with” O-Ba-Ma”, “USA” and “Fuck George Bush”. The feeling was one of incredulous relief and euphoria. Americans spoke of being able to feel pride in their nation once again. To many across the world this was a redemption of the United States; the eight years of the Bush administration were absolved by the election of a candidate who based his campaign on a need for change. These were scenes repeated across America and across the world as people celebrated the election of a president they could believe in, I wander how many babies were conceived on that night.

Most stayed until 6.00am to watch Barack Obama’s acceptance speech to 250,000 supporters in Chicago’s Grant Park. The speech was watched in reverential silence. Some chose to video the screen on their mobile phones. Obama opened his speech by saying his victory affirmed the principals of American democracy. From any other politician this may have seemed like a political cliché but from the “skinny kid with the funny name” addressing a diverse crowd of passionate supporters, including the veteran civil rights campaigner Rev Jessie Jackson crying tears of joy and relief, it felt like an undeniable truth. Obama reiterated much of the rhetoric of the campaign in the style that has already established him as one of the great orators of American political history but warned of the difficulties ahead. Obama placed his victory within the context of American history by referring to the life of 106 year old Anne Dixon Cooper and the changes she has seen in her century in America and by considering the changes his young daughters may see in their life times. The exhausted but ecstatic crowd watching in Elms were appreciative of Obama’s acknowledgment of “those watching from beyond our shores”, underlying the importance of this result to people around the world.

The concession speech of John McCain delivered prior to Obama’s speech was just as well received. This gracious and eloquent speech (clearly the product of several days work) revealed McCain as the politician of honour that he is; a fact obscured at times over recent months by a largly negative campaign by the Republican Party. The speed with which McCain silenced his supporters as they began to boo Obama’s victory demonstrated his integrity. Meanwhile vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, in many ways the comic relief in a campaign of operatic intensity, could barley contain her fury; both at defeat and the inevitability with which responsibility for that defeat will be attributed to her. It was a marked contrast to the composure of McCain.

As I write this a small American flag hangs above my desk, a souvenir from that momentous night. I feel it now symbolises something new. In recent days many have spoken of the ‘American Dream’ with a sincerity unthinkable in the recent past. The unpopularity of the Bush administration both in America and around the world had led to apathy and cynicism. Obama ran a campaign based on hope and the need for change and in doing so politicised a generation. The change is seismic. That an African American named Barack Husain Obama could rise from relative obscurity to leader of the free world in only four years has challenged many assumptions about the nature of politics. When Obama assumes the presidency on 20 January 2009 he will do so with perhaps greater expectations than any other political leader in history. A great many people have placed a massive emotional investment in Mr Obama and if he fails to live up to his promise the grassroots movement created by his meteoric rise will hold him to account. Though there will inevitably be disappointments ahead, Obama cannot be all things to all people and he faces the difficult task of assuming leadership in a time of recession, the presidency of Obama will be infinitely better for both America and the world than the McCain Palin alternative. Also, a whole generation has learned that their democratic voice matters and can bring about radical change. The political landscape may never be the same again.


Anonymous said...

wonderful post. How long do you suppose before it. Becomes ' how shut is the SU and the sabbaticals'

Rockhead Romple said...

I, as a typical student, love Obama and all of his liberalism. But he ain't a patch on Ciarnan Hefferty!

Anonymous said...

You're right. I hear Ciarnan actually voted for the other guy. What a basatard!

Anonymous said...

Monday 27th October... Does this date sound familiar to anyone on here? It sounds a bit like the date that the next issue of The Gown was supposed to be released, but hold on a minute! Today is Tuesday 11th November and still no Gown? This can't be right... especially after James Murphy was criticsed so emphatically on this very blog for his SU Mag being late. Strange that...

Charlene said...

Dear Anonymous (wow, doesn't THAT sound familiar?)

I don't know where you have got your facts from, the Gown never once publicised when the new issue was to be released.
We had planned to have it out for the start of November, but I think you should remember that we are just students after all with other priorities.
You didn't elect us to fulfil this role, and we aren't using your money to print our quality publication.

Let the rant about us having Union office space ensue...

Enjoy the issue.

Catherine said...

I would like to fully support what Charlene has written.

The Gown is an extra curricular activity for all those involved, a little sideline which we happen to really enjoy, and that will hopefully help those of us who wish to pursue a career in journalism.

It is NOT our job. We are students at QUB.

We are accountable to nobody.

When and how we get our paper out is ENTIRELY up to us.

We get zero financial support from QUB, we do not have a marketing manager and we do not have specific proof readers.

The small, tight knit Gown team is responsible for everything that has to be done, and we achieve it all on our own quite successfully.

So this issue is late, is it?

ah well, even if it is (which it's not) the only complaints will be from people wanting to get a flick through it ASAP, and get reading all our quality writing.


Disgruntled Goat said...

I see the gown clearly isn't interested in unbiased journalism, at least in terms of politics. This article may as well have been titled "All Hail Obama".

Anonymous said...

I believe senators Obama and Biden happen to be finite beings. How then can they be "infinitely" better than McCain Palin?

Hubert Cumberdale said...


"We are accountable to nobody."

Surely, under the Gown constitution, one must be accountable to one's paid membership? As a society, is one not bound to submit audited accounts, elect officers and account for one's conduct to the membership as 'elected' officers of a QUBSU society?

To be accountable to no-one would certain not be a boast. Perhaps the victory of some distorted clique conflict?

Any light to be shed on this?

Catherine said...

I do indeed have light to shed on this:

Members of The Gown team and all contributors do NOT pay membership fees.

It is free of charge to be involved with The Gown.

50 watts of reason said...

"As a society, is one not bound to submit audited accounts, elect officers and account for one's conduct to the membership as 'elected' officers of a QUBSU society?"

The Gown isn't a QUBSU society.
Light shed.

Paperwork Dan said...

"The Gown isn't a QUBSU society.
Light shed."

So they just pay rent for their office and pc to the union ie. the students who fund the union?

Union user said...

Is this story not about the US Elections...?

Gown Team said...

You are quite right "union user".

Have a nice day man said...

So will we never find out about exactly what sort of relationship the gown has with the SU?

PS I really do hope you have a brilliant day

Detergent Dan (formerly Paperwork Dan) said...

Maybe we will get a thread about the Gown's role and responsibilities in the Union another time.

bureaucrat ben said...

Quite right we shouldn't discuss the gown here. All this accountability malarchy and democracy is just a pain that gets in the way.

Lorcan said...

Brilliantly written post. Easily smokes my scanty effort in the print edition... As for the pernickety plea for unbiased journalism regarding Obama:

@ disgruntledgoat

- look at the presentation of the result in the UK and Irish press. It transcends political boundaries, albeit temporarily. The Mail, Sun etc. have deigned to hail Obama/Biden for the time being so the Gown shouldn't be afraid to either. Obama's depiction may be positive on merit, not neccessarily through bias.

-the Gown, as a student publication, is likely to be (sterotypically I know) on the broad left anyway, so, yknow, join up and challenge the evil, overbearing Trotskyite Gown establishment if you wanna. Best, as Lyndon Johnson said, to be in the inside of the tent piss*ng out than on the outside piss*ng in...

- @ various...
This might be the naive fresher's feeble brain at work, but what the hell axe to you have to grind with the Gown? The amount of ridiculous pettiness under the fold of every other post on here is just ludicrous.

Discussion of the article might be a wee bit more interesting/less bloody tiresome, especially considering its depiction of an emerging leader who maybe, just maybe, offers something in the way of unity for the greater good, hope, change etc.

Grow the f*ck up.

The Gownies will inherit the earth! :p


Bored said...

"a little sideline which we happen to really enjoy, and that will hopefully help those of us who wish to pursue a career in journalism"

Well, if you don't grow up and act a little more professionally I can't see how you would ever pursue a successful career in journalism. The Gown and the gown blog isn't so much a news forum anymore but an opportunity for you to slag and criticise the student union and those that work in it. Concentrate on reporting news and grow up. I for one won't be wasting my time reading this juvenile rubbish anymore.

Catherine said...


In what way do The Gown team "criticise the students' union and those that work in it"? I would absolutely love to see a list of examples to support your argument.

Whenever we do criticise the Union, it is for good reason and it is in the spirit of the history of The Gown.

The newspaper was set up in 1955 to hold the Union and the executive to account.

Therefore, whenever we do "criticise" the Union, it is merely carrying out a 53 year old duty.

Maybe you should just read The SU Magazine - A fine example of grown-up profesionalism.

A very hungry crocodile called Barry said...

'Bored' needs to wise up. What is it about the Union Exec that should make them exempt from criticism

Anonymous said...

Sorry to wage in to the exec debate that is wholly unrelated to this post but just thought it worth mentioning how ashamed Queen's and the rest of the Union clearly are by Murphy and the team's attempts to produce a decent mag. It's STILL not on the website, will it ever be I wonder??