I am unsure of how most Estonians view the results of the American presidential race. In some Estonian polls, the charismatic Democratic candidate Barack Obama was seen as a favorite, yet support for Republican John McCain was strong, especially compared with the rest of Europe.
John McCain certainly appeared to be the safe, trans-Atlantic candidate -- the one Estonians could pin their hopes on to bring the "straight talk express" to Moscow, should the need present itself.
At the same time, Obama's popularity made him a strong candidate too. It would be much harder for Western Europeans to reject the initiatives of a President Obama, who is so popular among their own residents, than it was for them to reject George W. Bush's doctrine of preemptive war and "cowboy capitalism." They probably will wind up rejecting Obama anyway, but the honeymoon has yet to even begin, so let's not predict its end just yet.
Also, Obama was the candidate who represented what still makes America attractive to the Brazilians and the Kenyans and the Japanese. That's why they still flock in droves to Bay Area start-ups and East Coast universities. And a strong mandate from the American people, plus a warm reception in many countries will make American power competitive again, not only in Europe, but in Africa and South America and Asia. We should not forget that our president-elect still speaks some Indonesian.
This election had strong ideological undertones, but, ultimately, I believe it was decided on the perception of competence. Most Americans are not ideologues. They just want the president to do his job. We forget that George W. Bush's poll numbers tanked in September 2005, right after Hurricane Katrina. It wasn't his ideology that hurt him, though the seizure of the Republican Party by its right flank didn't help. It was the perception that he was asleep at the wheel. That he was incompetent.
John McCain was dragged down by this legacy and so underperformed in most polls. But up until September, he still had a chance of winning the election on the residual strength of the Reagan Republican brand: lower taxes, strong national security, ownership society. Then he picked Sarah Palin, who came on strong but was not prepared for national politics and eventually embarrassed the Republican ticket.
McCain also reacted to the financial crisis in a very convoluted way, suspending, then unsuspending, his campaign to go to Washington, only to arrive too late to make an impact on the bailout deal. Suddenly, McCain looked dazed. It appeared that he did not know what he was doing. He supposedly picked his VP after meeting her only two times, and, it was rumored, to spite those in his party who told him to pick Mitt Romney. He seemed to have a predisposition for impulsive decision making.
And so Obama's lead strengthened, and McCain was unable to make up the difference to the end, even with the help of Morning Joe, Joe Sixpack, and Joe the Plumber. Obama, despite his slim resume, was seen as a better communicator and more competent by most people, and that is what, I think, made the difference in the end.
In terms of policy towards security issues in northeastern Europe, Estonians and others probably know that the president-elect believes that Finland should join NATO "as soon as possible." That is, American policy will not really change. They should also understand that Obama is a post-Cold War candidate. As Finnish Foreign Minister Alexander Stubb has said, Europe, whole and free, is the default in the minds of most working age Europeans and Americans. Russian revisionism and German sauna diplomacy looks pathetic compared to these stronger appeals to pan-European and global prosperity.
Furthermore, ideology and personal preferences aside, Obama/Biden seemed like the stronger ticket. They already had a transition team in place and had made advances to possible secretaries of treasury, defense, and state. So, they were ready to take over. The McCain/Palin ticket seemed to be imploding in recent weeks and had they somehow won, they would have still been stuck with a Democratic majority in Congress. Exhausted by eight years of rule with most of their major players sidelined (remember Bill Frist? Tom DeLay? Rick Santorum?), Republicans are in no position to lead the country at this moment. So Americans chose the more apparently confident and competent ticket.
Having a strong, empowered American leadership, with a hefty mandate (52 percent of the vote, 349 electoral votes and counting) is good for the United States and its allies. Despite two wars and economic recession, the country has, for the moment, been reenergized by this election and will soon be ready to reengage the world under a new administration.
Itching for Eestimaa, kolmapäev 5. november