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The Whole World was Watching

Don’t get me wrong, when it became obvious Obama was winning big, it was fun to be at the Democrats Abroad party at the Slide Nightclub in Darlinghurst, Sydney, waving my pint and shouting as the results came in. It was all the sweeter because it was clear  this was no ordinary victory. To borrow an expression, “we beat them like rented mules.”

But the full significance of this election to the world at large swept over me an hour later, in an ordinary pub where a woman with a chihuahua snuggled in her arms sat outside sunning herself, men in the back played video games, and workmen struggled to install one more table near the door.

Lizanne and I had thought it was too early for McCain to concede, and were sprawled on a couch talking about the events of the day, when a screen-scroll announced that regular programming was preempted.

As Obama strode onto the stage, we stood up. This was for practical reasons — we couldn’t see the screen from where we sat — and yet it somehow felt right for other reasons. We were honoring something much larger than a new president.

The workmen put down their tools.
The bartender stopped wiping glasses.
The woman with the chihuahua walked in and stood with us.
The men in the back left their video games and came forward.
People drifted in off the street and stood quietly, eyes fixed on the screen.

No one sat. Everyone stood for Obama.

As Obama spoke, the pub was pregnant with respectful silence. I wanted to take a picture but my hands were wet from wiping away tears.

Obama finished his speech; then everyone in the pub — all but two of us Australians — cheered and applauded.

Life picked up where it left off. The television resumed its mindless daytime chatter, and soon the workmen were making a tremendous racket. The video-game players wandered to fresher territory. The woman with the chihuahua reestablished her post at the prime outdoor spot in front of the pub, her nervous little dog still tucked in her arms. Everyone else either got a beer and sat down, or stepped back into the sunshine of a Sydney spring day to resume their quotidian tasks.

But I felt, at long last, no longer an American with an asterisk, apologizing for a government at odds with the world.

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