National Commentary

Helen Thomas: Democracy Is the Real Winner

WASHINGTON – Democracy is the real winner in this week’s presidential election, when American voters made history.

The mind-boggling surge that catapulted President-elect Barack Obama to the nation’s top leadership is a shining victory of tolerance over racial prejudice.

It’s been a long journey from the Civil War, the civil rights movement, courageous laws passed in the Lyndon B. Johnson era and the landmark Supreme Court rulings on civil liberties.

I watched Tuesday night’s election returns with an African-American friend. When Obama’s triumph flashed across the television screen, she said in a low voice, “I have a dream,” echoing a line from one of Martin Luther King’s memorable speeches. Another teary-eyed African American said: “I never thought I’d ever see this day.”

Obama’s campaign mantra of “change” resonated with millions of Americans, disenchanted with President Bush on all fronts, particularly the collapsing economy.

The election galvanized a remarkable outpouring of youthful voters who cast ballots for the first time and became involved in the campaigns and election process. After all, the future belongs to them.

The enthusiastic atmosphere on Election Day was so great it almost became a sin not to vote.

Obama’s GOP opponent – Sen. John McCain – bowed out with gracious concession remarks, saying, “Let there be no reason now for any American to fail to cherish their citizenship in this greatest nation on earth.”

Now comes the hard part. Obama has a raft of promises to keep and overwhelming problems to solve. He should hit the ground running. It would behoove him to find out what binding commitments outgoing President Bush has made or intends to make in his dying White House months.

Obama should make a top priority of ordering tight government regulation of the billions, perhaps trillions, of dollars that Bush and Congress have doled to bolster bankrupt bankers and financial institutions.

To their shame, the banks are continuing to pay dividends, bonuses and top salaries to their CEOs out of the taxpayers’ pockets.

It’s time to plan for the nation’s recovery from 6 percent joblessness (9 percent in Detroit); thousands of home foreclosures; and overseas outsourcing of production.

Obama also has to repair the U.S. standing with allies in the world who were alienated for too long by the Bush administration.

Fortunately, the election spells a strong rejection of the ruinous policies of the neoconservatives who played such a powerful role in the Bush administration. The neocons bear a heavy responsibility for the deceptions that led to the U.S. invasion of Iraq, and are still pushing for an attack on Iran.

To restore the nation’s honor, the incoming chief executive has to call a halt to U.S. secret prisons, torture of detainees and detentions without due process.

Even at this late date, the New York Times reported that Attorney General Michael Mukasey has rushed new guidelines for the FBI that permit agents to use “chillingly intrusive techniques to collect information on Americans, even where there is no information of wrongdoing.”

Like it or not, the Bush administration will be remembered for warrantless domestic wiretapping.

True to form, Bush is continuing the assault on clean air, clean water and other environmental regulations that he began in his first term.

And that’s not all. On the foreign policy front, the deceptive war against Iraq – which has taken the lives of thousands of Americans and 10 times more thousands of lives of Iraqis – has yet to be justified.

Obama will also have to contend with the deepening U.S. war in Afghanistan and the secret U.S. commitments with the government in Kabul to bring down the warlords and tribal leaders with rockets and bombs fired from drone airplanes.

From his first week as president, Bush began tearing up or weakening a raft of post-World War II treaties, starting with the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty with Russia.

In the run up to the election, Bush was conspicuously absent. White House press secretary Dana Perino told reporters that the president was “realistic about the political environment that we are in,” apparently referring to his historic low popularity polls.

But on a more upbeat note, she said, “What keeps him going is knowing he’s done the right thing.”

I doubt it but time will tell.

(c) 2008 Hearst Newspapers