The son of a teenage single mother who barely knew his father has become president of the United States. In any other country such a story line would border on the miraculous. When you combine it with the fact that Barack Obama is also black it becomes a story for the ages. Make no mistake about it. What we witnessed in Washington this week was history, not in the sense that we overuse and abuse the term, but one of the greatest ever moments for democracy on earth. Because we live in the moment so much we are hard pressed to see just how extraordinary the moment is. Think of all the presidents on a single wall pictorial, and now add in the face and feature the biography of our 44th occupant of the White House. The contrast is truly remarkable. There is simply no other country where a man with such an unpromising start in life, abandoned by his father, moved from place to place by his mother, forced to live overseas for a time, could ever grow up to be a leader. Indeed, Kenyans are fond of saying that Obama could never become president of their country because he is from a minority tribe. In Indian terms he would probably have belonged to the untouchable class, while in Europe he would not have had the pedigree or connections to ensure his election. Yet it has happened. Obama has been elected to lead the strongest democracy in the world at a time of great national turmoil and change. There was even talk during the election season that he was not a real American at all, and some diehard Republicans tried desperately to prove he was born abroad. Then some disparaged Hawaii as not being the real America, as if somehow the 50th state was not part of the union when Obama was born in 1961. But it was, and he is now indisputably the leader of the western world. Rather like Karol Wojtyla, the Polish cardinal who became Pope in 1978 and shattered centuries of Italian only traditions, Obama has changed the landscape of America forever. From now on every child born in this country can aspire to the highest office in the land. Yes, there are still barriers to come down for women, Hispanics and others, but the Obama election has proven that America, however gingerly, is moving to a new post-racial society, while Hillary Clinton's close run race and the selection of Sarah Palin by Republican candidate John McCain as his running mate shows we are moving past a gender based society also. Given the changing nature of America's demographics, Atlantic Magazine recently wrote provocatively that we might never see a white president again. While that is unlikely, the unique melting pot that is America is sure to never be the same again. Republicans, for instance are already looking hard at Bobby Jindal, son of Indian immigrants, as a valuable contender four years from now. That is all for the future, however. We can only bask in the reflected glow of the Obama presidency for now, and forget for a brief moment the massive problems that face him in America and across the world. We know he has an Irish link too through his Moneygall, Co. Offaly ancestor and, no doubt, he will pay the requisite visit to the old sod in the years ahead. He will receive a great welcome there, no doubt. Irish and African settlers came to America predominantly in slave ships and fleeing famine. Barack Obama's triumph has been to overcome all that for his race and his generation. We wish him well.
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