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The first US election that caught my interest was the presidential campaign of John F. Kennedy. I was a teenager and not the slightest bit interested in politics but I thought he was good-looking and I stuck his photograph inside my school hymn book so I could gaze adoringly at him during prayers.

Since then I’ve watched the shenanigans with interest but no great passion.

Something I think people in Britain forget is that our own political parties do not correlate directly with the US parties, so that Republican isn’t another word for Conservative, and Democrat is not the same as Labour. I understand that the Democrats are somewhere in between the two but much less radical than our socialist parties, while the Republicans are much further to the right than our own Tory party.

Since November 4th I think politics has just got interesting again although for real excitement a contest between Condoleezza Rice and Hillary Clinton would have been the one to watch. With no vote and no political axe to grind I must admit that although John McCain seemed to be a nice enough man I thought he was looking increasingly tired and that opened up the spectre of a President Palin.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure Palin has her good points though I certainly couldn’t go along with some of her opinions — and am glad I didn’t have to. The other thing about her that I found annoying beyond belief is the bizarre names she has given her poor sons! Track? Trig? What was she thinking? A frivolous point perhaps, but I’m not so sure — eccentricity isn’t what most people want in the person in the hot seat.

As for Barack Obama, I wish him well and I feel desperately sorry for him. Yes, he has achieved his dream and that’s wonderful but my heart sank as I read the ecstatic comments around recent blog entries. Such a weight of expectation resting on the shoulders of one mortal man; in some cases it was almost like reading reports of the Second Coming.

To a much lesser extent there was a similar surge of optimism in the UK in 1997 when Tony Blair came to power and to those who voted for him (not me) the disappointment came as a personal blow when he was found to have feet of clay.

As for affecting me and my world personally, I just don’t know. I would love to believe that President Obama would be the one to bring peace to the Middle East but there are an awful lot of notches on that particular bedpost. Instead, I think I’ll hope that he will be ready to talk and to listen and to take for his motto the words of Winston Churchill: ‘Jaw, Jaw, instead of War, War.’

Finally, I hope the new president can sustain the new mood of optimism and tolerance that is sweeping the States and apply that to the weighty problems facing the world.

Nicola Slade, England

The Irish have always looked to the USA; there is no doubt that this is partly due to history, to the fierce oppression Irish citizens suffered for centuries under the rulers of our neighbouring island. America offered hope, a chance of a new and better life and, most of all, a place where you could become whatever you wanted, rise as high as your abilities allowed. All this was on offer, as it were, across the Atlantic, and many hundreds of thousands headed for the new world.

I chose to move to an old world and so, on the morning of Wednesday, 5th November 2008, here in the hills of southern France, I turned on my PC to see that Barack Obama, a black man of mixed parentage, who had not started life with a silver spoon, was now the President Elect of the United States of America.

The very thought that this charismatic human being, who forty years ago might have had to use the back entrance to a club, was now to be the holder of the highest office on the planet, made tears spring into my eyes. I was overcome with emotion, thrilled beyond belief, that he had won the confidence of the people. I was full of wonder that such a magnificent change should come about during my lifetime.

We had heard during the early hours that the Republicans might very well, indeed were likely to swing it in the end. ‘The people are not yet ready for such an enormous change’ one report went. Some experienced news broadcasters had a theory that vast numbers of people who had not yet made their voices heard, could turn this election over; they could only see a white man, no matter what white man, in the Oval Office.

As I read the Chicago Tribune and The New York Times on line, I felt a huge glow of happiness, as if a new hope for the whole world had happened overnight.

My Irish background gives me a different outlook to most of my neighbours here in this part of France. A fair number see this country as the centre of the universe and most importantly, as a state that looks after its citizens from the cradle to the grave. The President, Nicolas Sarkozy, to the horror of some of the French, has a different view. He is something of a world citizen, young, dynamic, and a million miles away from those who went before. Mr Sarkozy, in his own words, was never one of the elite of this country. The President of France has experience of being an outsider. He is the son of a Hungarian immigrant who very early on, abandoned his wife and children. This left the young Nicolas with a burning desire to prove himself through sheer hard work and merit. Mr Sarkozy did not attend the traditional elite school, from which the Presidents normally come. He studied as a lawyer.

The President frightens some people because of his energy, strong opinions, ability to embrace the new, his world travels and ease with other nationalities. On the night of his election, he proclaimed that France was turning a new page in its history. He does not believe in rights without obligations. He believes in opportunity, but also in hard work and personal commitment. This can be misinterpreted by some, who, it must be said, find the words ‘pressure of work’ an alien concept.

It seems from all sources that President Sarkozy is delighted with the outcome in the USA. According to reports, he was one of the first to telephone Mr Obama with good wishes.

Just as when Mr Sarkozy visited the USA and, according to the press reports, told his hosts that all the youth of France loved wearing Levis and drinking Coke, his opponents now are inclined to refer to him as a sort of wannabe American who carries a French passport. His supporters, however, claim, probably rightly, that he is the only man who can save France from its economic and social ills. They champion his travels, seeing him as promoting France in a positive and contemporary way, leaving much of the old stuffiness behind.

When something major happens in the USA, it affects the world. I, from my standpoint here in a remote part of this huge country, feel positive about these two Presidents with their interesting and challenging backgrounds, their knowledge of life outside the very small and stifling world of the elite, will possibly work better together than many who have gone before. We are, on both sides of the Atlantic, truly living in interesting times.

Jane Shortall, France

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