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Mainstream, Vol XLVII, No 8, February 7, 2009

A Historic New Era Begins in US: Great Expectations

Wednesday 11 February 2009, by N V K Murthy

As I watched Barack Obama being sworn in as the 44th President of the United States of America, my mind went back to the fall of 1956. I was then in Bloomington Indiana; as a graduate student there, I had taken up lodging in an approved house just across the road from the campus. My landlady was a White American widow. One day a classmate of mine, who happened to be a Black American, came home with me after class and spent some time with me in my room before we went out again. When I came back later in the evening two other students, who were White Americans and sharing the other room, told me that the landlady almost had an apoplectic stroke because of me. When I asked them why, they told me that she was raving that for the first time in her life a Black American had crossed her threshold. I went up to her and apologised for hurting her feelings but told her that my friends would continue to visit me and so it would be best if I shifted to another lodging, which I did. I also remembered about the time I joined a demonstration against a pub which barred entry to coloured Americans. That was in 1955.

The movement for civil rights had already started; it reached its crescendo during the sixties. Then came the Civil Rights Bill. But, it did not bring racial discrimination to an end, even as in India the Constitution making untouchability illegal did not put an end to the practice of untouchability. Even so progress was made and today what many thought was unthinkable has happened. A Black American has been sworn in as the President of the USA, making it a historic event.

The new President has a daunting job before him. He has to find a solution to the unprecedented financial crisis. He has also to get the US out of the wars that former President Bush got the country entangled into. President Obama, in his inaugural address, made his priorities quite clear. The address lasted just 18 minutes. But he answered the questions that were raised in everyone’s mind. There has been a lot of talk in the USA about the size of the government. The President pointedly said that the issue is not a small government or a large government but a government that works for the good of the people of the United States. Referring to the financial crisis, he said that while the market system was good for business, without a watchful eye the system could go berserk as it had happened in the last few months in the United States. So it was necessary to regulate and ensure transparency especially in the financial market.

While the whole world was concerned about global warming and tried to control polluting automobile emissions by the Kyoto Agreement, ex-President Bush refused to sign the agreement on the plea that it would hurt the interests of the United States. President Obama, on the other hand, has pledged to do everything possible to halt global warming. He has set in motion plans to encourage renewable sources of energy, like solar and wind. In foreign policy he has assured the cooperation of the United States to every other nation in the world which wants peace and amity amongst nations. He has promised to work with foes and friends for a peaceful world without injuring the safety of the United States.

The French and Russian revolutions of the past had wide-ranging repercussions the world over. What happened in the US on January 20, 2009 is no less a revolution and a peaceful one at that! Could this trigger off changes in other countries, especially those in the Third World, and help the peoples of those nations to claim their rightful place in the sun?

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