On 4 November Barack Obama was elected as the first black president of the USA. He got 60% of the votes of the relatively hard-up (household income less than $50,000 a year) and only 49% of the votes of the well-off (household income above $100,00 a year).
He got 95% of the African-American vote, 66% of the Hispanic vote, 62% of the Asian vote, and 43% of the white vote. He won 56% of the female vote, and 49% of the male vote.
66% of 18-29 year olds voted for him, his vote decreasing through age groups to 45% of the over-65s. (All these figures from USA Today.)
We can only rejoice at the barrier-breaking involved in the election of a black person as president of the USA. Not so long ago in broad historical terms, in the 1940s, US Trotskyists used to support black candidates, even those put forward by bourgeois parties, because of the immense symbolic significance of those black candidates.
It is less than half a century since that African-Americans gained - or rather regained, having first won them in the aftermath of the Civil War - elementary civil rights in large parts of the USA.
Even today, Obama himself is only the third black person since the post-Civil War Reconstruction era to sit in the US Senate, and the only currently sitting black member of the Senate. Before 1955 (and after Reconstruction) there were never more than one or two black members of the House of Representatives (today there are 40). The first black mayor of a major city (Cleveland, Ohio) was not elected until 1967; the first black state Governor, not until 1990.
Only a short time ago, it was unimaginable that one of the big political parties in the USA would nominate a black person for president, let alone that he would be elected. That Obama was elected, and that very large numbers of white people, probably a majority of young white people, voted for him, reflects a huge change of attitudes.
It is not the end of racism, or anywhere near that, but it reflects a great step forward.
The symbolism is enormously greater than that in the election of Britain's first woman prime minister, Margaret Thatcher, in 1979 (though even that contained, in an odd way, a reflection of the achievements of the women's movement of the 1960s). Britain had had women Cabinet ministers on and off since 1929. It was not unusual for women sharply dissociated from feminist claims to play a prominent role in political life.
Obama is not, and cannot be, sharply dissociated from anti-racist claims in the USA. At the very least he represents the claims of the "liberal" anti-racism of the big cities of the Norhern USA, against backwoods racism.
Another positive effect of the election is that it must help to break the common reduction of anti-capitalism to anti-Americanism. George W Bush and Dick Cheney could almost have been chosen to give credit to the idea that capitalism = the USA = capitalism.
Obama is not anti-capitalist, not at all. But visibly he is pro-capitalist in just the same way as more-or-less liberal political leaders are in every country in the world. He is not pro-capitalist in a way that is peculiarly "American".
His election also deals a blow to the prejudice that crass xenophobia and arrogance towards other peoples is something peculiarly American. Most Americans voted for someone who, though certainly pro-capitalist, is not a xenophobe, not crassly arrogant towards non-Americans, and not racist.
In almost every country in the world opinion surveys showed a majority, and sometimes a huge majority, for Obama. Non-USA has got the US president it wanted.
The election may thus help break the prejudice that socialists should back anyone "Third World"-ish against the USA, even if they be the Taliban, Al Qaeda, or Ahmadinejad - the prejudice that capitalism = USA = racist arrogance = imperialism, and anti-USA = anti-racist = anti-imperialist = anti-capitalist = progressive.
Obama in office will disappoint his leftish-minded voters. He was elected as the candidate of the Democratic Party machine, and with the backing of very big money indeed. His political career has been a conventional Democratic Party machine career. He promised little in specifics, and is unlikely to carry through his better promises.
For all those reasons, revolutionary socialists in the USA did not vote for Obama. Kim Moody and Barry Finger have explained why on this website, while recognising that "the symbolic significance of an African-American so close to the presidency in a country whose politics is so fundamentally scarred by racism cannot be underestimated" (Finger).
Even the disappointment, however, will not undo the positive symbolism: not even racists are likely to explain the bad things of an Obama presidency by the fact that he is black. Now, as Kim Moody puts it, "everything depends on workers getting organised to fight back from below".