Obama’s historic nomination grips U.S., world

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Republican or Democrat, liberal or conservative, there was no escaping the sense Wednesday that a barrier had been overcome.

Across the country, Americans of every political stripe were talking about Democratic Sen. Barack Obama becoming the first black to capture the presidential nomination of a major political party.

“It reminded me of when John F. Kennedy was elected,” said Michael O’Connell, director of the Cypress Park Community Center in Los Angeles.

“I remember waking up that day and my mother telling me Kennedy had won - quite significant for someone with an Irish-Catholic background. I felt like that all over again,” he said.

America witnessed some genuine history, an event which held a spectrum of implications for the nation.

“People really had the sense it was something special. It was a real historic moment, and I think it made them pretty happy, pretty enthusiastic,” said Sonya Ali, who helps manage Ben’s Chili Bowl, the venerable family eatery that has served urban comfort food and provided a forum for local opinions since 1958.

“I could hear our patrons talking, wondering what it would be like to have Obama getting settled into the Oval Office for his first term - and his second term, too,” Mrs. Ali said.

Journalist and historian Richard Brookhiser, author of “George Washington on Leadership,” said Mr. Obama’s victory is historic, but the fall election will determine the extent of its significance.

And whether Mr. Obama becomes president is not necessarily the be-all and end-all.

“When Al Smith got the Democratic nomination as a Roman Catholic in 1928, it was historic. But he didn’t win. Still, it was an achievement, and changed the map of American politics,” Mr. Brookhiser said.

Many saw Mr. Obama’s nomination in larger terms.

“It’s appropriate to savor this moment. This feat by Barack Obama is not about him alone. It could not have happened without a deep thirst for change which resides in the American people. Obama built his campaign around that change and articulated it in a way that was persuasive,” said Ronald Walters, a professor of political science at the University of Maryland.

“People hope that with a change of administration there can reflect a change in attitude about the role of government in political culture - or a change in the image of America overseas,” Mr. Walters said.

Many European observers said the Obama candidacy already had transformed the image of the United States on the continent, an image tarnished by sharp divisions with the Bush administration.

“This result is not just a change of direction for [the United States],” wrote Mario Platero, longtime U.S. editor for the Italian newspaper, Il Sole 24 Ore. “It has sent a strong message to the entire world at a moment when the United States seemed fragile and afflicted with grave problems.”

Some forces hostile to the Bush administration did not have warm words for the Democratic standard bearer.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told reporters on a visit to Rome Wednesday that both Mr. Obama and Mr. McCain will be forced to take a “different approach” given what he called the U.S. domestic and foreign-policy failures of recent years.

“Whoever wins the elections, I’m sure the United States will change,” he told the Italian daily La Repubblica. “The United States will have a reduced sphere of influence in the world.”

Moderate and militant Palestinian factions attacked Mr. Obama’s Washington speech yesterday before a major pro-Israel lobby, which included support for Israel’s claim to an undivided Jerusalem as its capital.

Sami Abu Zuhri, spokesman for the militant Hamas movement, told Reuters new agency, “We do not differentiate between the two presidential candidates because their policies regarding the Arab-Israeli conflict are the same and are hostile to us.”

Certain contemporary forces still hold sway, however.

“This is history, yes. But Obama’s win has been so anticipated by both the press and public in recent months that the drama of it gets undercut. It loses its sense of ‘historicity,’ so to speak,” said Robert Lichter, director of the Center for Media and Public Affairs.

The customary gravitas associated with history is not always intact either. Some analysts criticized Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton for her jaunty speech after Mr. Obama’s win, calling it a breech of etiquette.

“This was his night. An historic night,” said MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough. “And on that night, she’s sticking a sharp stick in his eye, saying listen: You either make me vice president, or you put me on the Supreme Court if that’s what I want.”

Then there is another reality: Moments come and go.

“Yes, this is history. But the victory passes and we have the next historical moment to consider. For Obama, that is whether he chooses Hillary Clinton as his running mate, and how he further defines himself in the campaign,” said David M. Abshire, director of the Center for the Study of the Presidency.

Some cite an altogether different historic angle.

“The American people rejected Senator Hillary Clinton because they couldn’t stand the thought of another Clinton administration,” said former White House aide Kathleen Willey, who was subpoenaed in 1997 to testify in Paula Jones’ sexual harassment lawsuit against former President Bill Clinton.

“The country clearly wants to move past the Clinton era and its echoes of past controversies and disappointments,” Mrs. Willey said.

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