Obama wins White House; night to remember for US

By Arun Kumar, IANS,

Washington : Smashing through the country’s “colour line”, Barack Hussein Obama was Wednesday elected 44th president of the United States, a position that will vest unparalleled global power in the son of a Kenyan father and a white American mother.

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He will take office on Jan 20 with his vice president-elect Joe Biden at a White House ceremony.

As the world watched in awe and admiration, Obama got an overwhelming mandate in the electoral college – 338 votes to Republican John McCain’s 158 – exorcising the lingering ghosts of racism 145 years after the US abolished slavery.

“Change has come to America,” the Democratic candidate said, addressing the country as the president-elect from an open blue stage before an ocean of people in his hometown of Chicago. “It’s a long time coming, but because of what we did on this day, at this defining moment, change has come to America,” he said to deafening roars from his supporters, many of whom, particularly blacks, wept at the achievement.

After an acrimonious campaign, Obama and McCain were gracious in their moments of victory and defeat. “He has endured sacrifices for America that most of us cannot begin to imagine,” Obama said of the Vietnam war veteran McCain and called him “brave and selfless”.

McCain, in turn, praised his rival’s inspirational and precedent-shattering campaign. “We have come to the end of a long journey,” he told supporters in Phoenix, Arizona. “I urge all Americans who supported me to join me in not just congratulating him but offering our next president our goodwill.”

Obama will assume the leadership of a nation facing a daunting economic crisis and mired in two wars – factors that pushed a nation looking for change away from the unpopular President George W. Bush’s Republican Party.

“The road ahead will be long. Our climb will be steep. We may not get there in one year or even one term, but America – I have never been more hopeful than I am tonight that we will get there,” he said in a rousing speech that was heard by millions around the world.

The disenchantment with Bush gave the Democrats a majority in the Senate and the party has picked up almost a score of seats in the House of Representatives, boosting Obama’s capacity to promote his agenda.

Obama’s extraordinary feat a mere 43 years after the blacks won full civil rights – and a long 138 years after they got the vote – in a large measure stemmed from what the New York Times called his “improbable, unshakable conviction that America was ready to step across the colour line”.

It was a realisation of the dream of the assassinated civil rights leader, Martin Luther King. Forty-five years ago, he had declared his dream that one day people would be “judged not by the colour of their skin, but by the content of their character”.

Obama acknowledged Mahatma Gandhi’s inspiration just as King had done. “In my life, I have always looked to Mahatma Gandhi as an inspiration, because he embodied the kind of transformational change that can be made when ordinary people come together to do extraordinary things,” Obama wrote in an article. “That is why his portrait hangs in my Senate office; to remind me that real results will not just come from Washington, they will come from the people.”

Obama said in a recent interview with IANS, that he believes that “India is a natural strategic partner for America in the 21st century and that the US should be working with India on a range of critical issues from preventing terrorism to promoting peace and stability in Asia.”

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh Wednesday congratulated Obama and said: “Your extraordinary journey to the White House will inspire people not only in your country but also around the world.”

News of Obama’s win set off celebrations by supporters around the country and the world, from Times Square in New York to the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, civil rights leader Martin Luther King’s home church, and to New Delhi.

“Most Americans here that I spoke with expressed a sigh of relief,” Sharon Lowen, an American danseuse who lives in India and practises Indian classical dance, said in New Delhi, where Indians joined Americans in celebration. “They were earlier shy to be branded as Americans – with Obama’s victory we are proud now to be Americans.”

African-Americans in the US wept and danced in the streets Tuesday night, declaring that a once-reluctant nation had finally lived up to its democratic promise.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson, a civil rights leader and onetime presidential contender, joined the celebrations in Chicago, tears streaming down his cheeks.

“This is a great night. This is an unbelievable night,” said US Representaive John Lewis of Georgia, who was brutally beaten by police in Selma, Alabama, during a voting rights march in the 1960s.

Others exulted in small towns and big cities. And white voters marvelled at what they had wrought in turning a page on the country’s bitter racial history, the Times said.

President Bush, whose long shadow loomed heavily on the McCain campaign with the election becoming a kind of referendum on his eight-year rule, too called Obama to congratulate him on his victory.

“I promise to make this a smooth transition,” the president said to Obama. “You are about to go on one of the great journeys of life. Congratulations, and go enjoy yourself.”

Obama became the first Democrat since Jimmy Carter in 1976 to receive more than 50 percent of the popular vote, and made good on his pledge to transform the electoral map.

He overpowered McCain in Ohio, Florida, Virginia and Pennsylvania – four states that the campaign had spent months courting as the keys to victory.

The Democrat easily won most of the Northeast and mid-Atlantic states that normally back Democrats, including New Hampshire, and ran strong in states that are normally solid for Republicans, such as Virginia, Indiana and Florida.