Reaction in Britain to Barack Obama’s victory has been predictable, given that the country leads Europe and much of the world in knee-jerk anti-Americanism — which, more often than not, is actually anti-Republicanism — and is also consumed with its own version of white guilt (post-colonial in our case), and entranced by notions of multiculturalism. Commentators have obsessed over the racial aspects of the election, and have expended so much energy gloating over the demise of George Bush that you’d think that it was he, and not McCain, whom Obama had defeated. But a few pundits have managed to control their excitement long enough to look at the challenges the new president will face, and one or two even sound a cautionary note. Amid the endless references to Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech, and much talk of transformational presidencies and Republican wipeouts, most commentators at least acknowledge that America is still fundamentally a center-right nation. An exception is Anatole Kaletsky, of the generally conservative Times, who, in one of the more far-fetched analyses, claims Obama’s victory signals a dramatic shift to the left:
The election of the first black president — who happens to be a brilliant and unabashed intellectual with a left-wing record on the environment, healthcare, abortion and gun control — will surely transform social attitudes and redirect the bias of the Supreme Court.
Kaletsky appears to think Obama’s victory signals a widespread endorsement of those policies, but ignores the fact that Obama shifted towards the center on virtually every issue during his campaign, largely steered clear of policy specifics, concealed or obfuscated his intentions on key issues (“bankrupting” coal plants, gun rights), and outright lied about others (abortion). There’s also no guarantee that Obama will be able to “redirect the bias” of the Supreme Court, even if he serves two terms, given the relative youth of the four conservative-leaning justices and “swing” vote Justice Kennedy. And he rather undermines his own argument that this election was all about social issues by admitting that the economic crisis was the deciding factor. Oddly, though, given that Kaletsky is an economics specialist, he contrives to blame the meltdown entirely on Bush, with no mention of Fannie, Freddie, or the Community Reinvestment Act; clearly he has an anti-conservative polemic to deliver, and isn’t going to let the facts get in the way.