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Barack Obama: the quiet revolution


Video by Nicolas GERMAIN

Text by Caroline DELABROY

Latest update : 2008-11-06

Elected the first black president of the United States, Barack Obama, 47, has reclaimed the American dream he defended throughout his campaign. Ambitious and charismatic, the Democrat has vowed to be a leader for all Americans.


It’s the story of a man who reclaimed the American dream. At 47, Barack Obama, who was unknown to the public only a few years ago, became the first African-American citizen to be elected president of the United States. The man who promised that dreams could still come true, and that change could come, can now fully enjoy his victory.

“If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible, who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time, who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer,” he told the huge crowd gathered at Chicago’s Grant Park.

On stage, with his wife Michelle and his daughters Malia and Sasha, he offered the world an image of a new America.

Barack Obama, the story of an ambitious, talented man with lots of charisma

He came into the limelight in July, 2004. The Democrats were holding their national convention before the presidential election and the local Chicago official came on the stage to support John Kerry, electrifying the hall.

His speech, but also his dignified appearance and clear and profound voice, conquered the audience. The senator from Illinois developed a rhetoric he would complete and repeatedly come back to.

“There’s no right wing or conservative America, there’s the United States of America,” he repeated. “There’s no black America, white America, Latino or Asian America, there’s the United States of America. We are one nation.”

National reconciliation

Throughout the campaign, Obama has pleaded for reconciliation between Americans, over differences, skin colour, sex and age.

Born in Hawaii to a black father from Kenya and a white mother from Kansas, he has always rejected traditional community formats, refusing to be labeled as a “community” candidate. He therefore has rarely addressed racial issues, poverty in the black community and the high incarceration rate.

Nevertheless, Obama is part of an American history in which segregation, slavery and injustice are all still remembered and deeply rooted. He may be inspired by John Kennedy, his achievements, youth and attraction, but his true heroes are Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King.

This is the heritage the public had in mind when Obama invoked 106-year-old Ann Nixon Cooper, a black voter from Atlanta.

“She was born just a generation past slavery; a time when there were no cars on the road or planes in the sky; when someone like her couldn’t vote for two reasons – because she was a woman and because of the colour of her skin.” 

“I won’t be a perfect president”

When Barack Obama presents his past, he likes to tell the story of a young middle-class boy. Raised by his mother in Indonesia and in Hawaii by his grandparents, he grew up in a modest home. He then left for New York to study political science and international relations at Columbia. Rather than starting his career on Wall Street, he chose to work as a social worker in Chicago’s impoverished neighbourhoods. He then went to Harvard Law School and became, in 1991, the first black editor-in-chief of the prestigious Harvard Law Review.

Then came Michelle. Back in Chicago, and now a lawyer, Obama met his future wife in a prestigious law firm that had hired him. After losing an initial election to the House of Representatives in 2000, his political career picked up speed. In 2004 he became the first black senator in Congress.

Barack Obama’s victory in the race to the White House blew a wind of hope throughout the world and in the US, but he now has countless challenges ahead of him.

“Even as we celebrate tonight, we know the challenges that tomorrow will bring are the greatest of our lifetime – two wars, a planet in peril, the worst financial crisis in a century.”

He has four years to show what he’s really capable of, and the first months will probably have a honeymoon taste.

“I won’t be a perfect president, he had warned during the campaign, but promised this: I will always be honest with you about the challenges we face. I will listen to you, especially when we disagree.”

Date created : 2008-11-05