From a Divided Past to a Shared Future

Scheffer: “Obama can also inspire the Netherlands.”

From our reporter Leen Vervake

Updated on November 5, 2008 18:16, on November 5, 2008 18:19

Amsterdam- Yes, it is an historic breakthrough that America has elected a black President. But even more important: “He is also a president for everyone,” noted commentator Paul Scheffer on Obama’s electoral victory.

It was the same for professor of American Studies Ruth Oldenziel and the Dutch-Amercan professor James Kennedy giving a reading on election night from the Milkyway Club in Amsterdam. When the early results were in, The Volkskrant approached them for a response.

Scheffer: “Obama’s strength comes from the story of his life. He comes from a mixed marriage; he is the child of an immigrant, stands outside of the history of slavery. He doesn’t confirm ethnic identity, but transcends it. He returns to the ideal of the civil-rights movement – a color blind society, but without the bitterness of that movement over broken promises.”

Is it then possible for him to signify much to the black community?

Scheffer: “Oh yes, I saw tears in the eyes of Jesse Jackson and Oprah Winfrey. A Black CNN reporter worded it well: Now African-Americans have no more excuses, they must take destiny into their own hands.”

Oldenziel: “Obama is a role model. I heard African-Americans are signing themselves up for night school, now that they see how far you can kick the ball.”

Is the euphoria that we saw on the TV screen premature? Obama must solve enormous problems.

Odenziel: “The euphoria is not superficial. It is an unloading of a progressive and also reasonable America that in the past eight years has been completely traumatized from being hit by Bush. They had voted for Al Gore and instead got a completely different President. Those feelings that were held back are what you now see exploding. Trauma gets a place.”

Can Obama count on the patience of the voters to solve the big problems?

Kennedy: “It depends. If the economy continues to deteriorate, people are put out of their houses, unemployment mounts, then patience will decrease rapidly. With health care reform, for which the Americans have waited for so long, they ought to have more patience.

As for the economy, Obama can not change much by himself. Communication becomes very important. After Bush, people need a great communicator, who asks things, who senses the pain and offers hope. It is that which Obama may possibly be able to exploit.”

Oldensiel: “America needs to have an adult conversation, and that Obama may be able to offer. He has already indicated that he might not fulfill all of his promises, but says: He sincerely hopes so.”

What does Obama’s election mean for the Netherlands, or Europe?

Oldenziel: “The adult conversation that Obama will strike up with the Americans, will also be a conversation with us in Europe. He shall assume reciprocity. On the subject of climate change that means America will do more. I expect a role for Al Gore. But he will ask Europe to commit in Afghanistan. That becomes a whole dance.”

Scheffer: “I hope that his understanding of ethnic differences can be an inspiration for the Netherlands. We here must talk less about a divided past and more about a shared future.

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