Obama’s Global Ethical Challenges

PRINCETON – The astonishing story of Barack Obama’s election as president has already done much to restore America’s global image. In place of a president whose only qualification for the office was his father’s name, we now have one whose intelligence and vision overcame the formidable obstacle of being the exotically named son of an African Muslim. Who would have believed, after the last two elections, that the American public was capable of electing such a candidate?

Obama’s achievement raises the stakes for his first term in office. He campaigned on the theme that he is different from other politicians and will deliver real change. That appeal drew large and enthusiastic crowds, which, together with astute use of the Internet, gained him an unprecedented four million donors, and induced a huge number of African-Americans and young people to register to vote.

This is the chance of a lifetime to break through the cynicism that has pervaded American politics for decades. But if Obama fails to make good on his promise of change, it will be decades before the electorate again places its trust in a candidate who claims to be different from the usual run of politicians.

Many Americans will judge the new administration by what it does at home. That includes raising taxes on those earning more than $250,000 a year, and using the money to extend health insurance to the tens of millions of Americans who – uniquely for an industrialized nation – do not have it. He has also pledged tax cuts for medium and lower-paid workers, and improvements to America’s education system. Keeping those promises despite America’s gloomy economic prospects will not be easy.