It was the election that shook the world. On Nov. 4, 2008, Barack Hussein Obama opened an audacious chapter in the history books by becoming the first African American-elected president of the United States.
His victory was greeted by jubilant crowds across the world, from the street corners of Harlem to the village of Kogelo, Obama’s ancestral home in western Kenya. Tears were shed by members of the civil rights generation who vividly remember a country that denied legions of black Americans the right to vote less than 50 years ago, while cheers came from the multi-hued masses of young people who seized the significance of the moment.
In his victory speech in Chicago’s Grant Park, Obama proclaimed: “It’s been a long time coming, but tonight because of what we did on this day, in this election, at this defining moment, change has come to America.”
The nation’s 44th president is the type of leader our editors have championed in the pages of this magazine for almost four decades—an African American with a razor-sharp intellect, top-notch skills, and exceptional credentials who can perform at the highest level. In this case, Obama’s stage is the world theater.
Welcome to the “Age of Obama.” He comes to office with a powerful mandate to fix America. His landslide defeat of his Republican opponent—he gained 364 electoral votes to Sen. John McCain’s 162—confirmed this. In the popular vote, more than 66 million Americans (a whopping 53% of voters) cast their ballots for Obama, who received 95% of the black vote, 43% of the white vote, and 66% of the Hispanic vote—the highest numbers ever for a Democrat. Just as important, he brought a new generation to the polls, capturing 66% of voters under 30 and 71% of first-time voters. And as America watched the returns, the country witnessed how he redrew the electoral map, winning a slew of so-called red states such as Indiana and North Carolina.
But as voters revel in this zeitgeist moment, the president-elect acknowledged “the challenges that tomorrow will bring are the greatest in our lifetime: two wars, a planet in peril, the worst financial crisis in a century.” He comes to office with the greatest test of any president since Franklin Delano Roosevelt inherited the Great Depression 79 years ago. It’s hard to downplay the enormous and overwhelming challenges awaiting Obama, but he shows promise of being a truly transformational president like Lincoln, who preserved the union; FDR, who gave America his New Deal politics; Kennedy, who made a nation envision its destiny of greatness and achievement; Reagan, who forged a conservative revolution; and Clinton, who built a “bridge to the 21st century.”
This analysis is not just hero worship. On the campaign trail, Obama demonstrated cool, calm, collective leadership backed by a steel spine. He has brought a new, inclusive generation to power. His election signaled the end of baby boomer domination of politics and business, replaced by a phalanx of energetic, change-oriented post-boomers and GenXers. As part of this new guard, Obama’s