I keep forgetting to post this.  A friend who currently lives in China wrote:

It has been interesting to hear some of my former students express excitement and intrigue about the presidency of Barack Obama. The reason it has captured their attention is because it proves to them that the US truly is a democratic republic. The government of China often down plays American democracy, insisting that, in reality, only a few families have any power (Kennedys, Bushs, Clintons, etc.), and so the election of an ethnic minority, relatively unknown just five years ago, to President of the United State has proven to my students the US really is a democracy, contrary to what they are often taught.


Posted by Jon Daley on June 18, 2009, 2:15 pm | Read 3122 times
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I remember thinking that even if Obama ends up being a poor president, the symbolic value of his election cannot be underestimated. Just try to imagine an ethnically Korean president in Japan, or a female president in Iran, or a Basque president in Spain, among many other examples!

(That's not to say Obama's a first, but his visibility goes far beyond Fujimori in Peru or even Mandela in South Africa.)

Posted by Stephan on June 19, 2009, 4:25 pm

I'm sure you're right, from the perspective of most of the world, but it doesn't seem to me to be at all the equivalent of your examples. Maybe if this were a century ago, or even half a century. But there have been black people in high places for a long time now -- and those who would deny someone the presidency based solely on his race have been reduced to a relative handful of kooks. Not at all the same as the position of a woman in Iran.

Posted by SursumCorda on June 19, 2009, 5:37 pm

You're right, we've had a black supreme court justice for a while, and those who'd militate against a person based on race are few and far between. And of course there is a clear difference between his situation and that of an Iranian woman.

Perhaps it's that slavery is such a big and omnipresent part of US history that makes it such a big deal when a black president is not only envisageable and acceptable, but mainstream enough to become fact. America having proven that this can actually happen (and not remain an empty promise) may well also speed up similar transitions elsewhere.

Posted by Stephan on June 20, 2009, 9:44 am
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