Flags Around the World Wave for the USA

The world’s leading democracy, in a hard-fought election with a polarized electorate, just peacefully elected a new leader.

It’s often said that the results of an American election can have a bigger impact in the day-to-day lives of people in other countries. And, as the rest of the world — the other 96 percent of humanity — watched our results come in, most of them were satisfied with our choice. (While 49 percent of Americans aren’t so sure, in many parts of the planet, President Obama is much-appreciated. As never since Roosevelt or Kennedy, Obama is a world favorite.)

Here in the world’s richest country, the dominant issue was our “financial crisis.” And we were closely split in choosing a leader to deal with our economy. Meanwhile, we basically ignored topics critical to much of the rest of the world — issues of war and peace, climate change, and support for the half of humanity struggling to live on $2 a day. But because we’ve re-elected a proven multilateralist with a track record sympathetic to those concerns, today there is happiness beyond our borders.

My European friends are particularly impressed that America has granted a second term to a president who has already expanded heath care rights and ran on a pledge to increase taxes to defend social programs–two Europe-friendly issues that were a political live wire here just a few years ago. These, along with the breakthrough state-level success of some same-sex marriage and marijuana legalization initiatives, may indicate that America is inching philosophically closer to Europe.

Perhaps most importantly, over these last several months, we’ve shown the world how a democracy works: We can stage a heated, but still respectful, debate about differing values. And, even as a huge and powerful nation of 300 million people, the title of most powerful person on earth is decided not on a battlefield or in a smoke-filled back room, but as tens of millions of individual voters fill out their ballots. The challenger was classy and statesmanlike in his concession speech, and deserves our respect and our thanks for prodding a healthy political discourse. This election demonstrated to the world not just the American values of today, but the democratic principles our nation is founded upon.