One of the biggest reasons I’m voting for Obama

I just had dinner at a Nile-side restaurant with two Egyptian officials and a businessman, and one of them quoted one of his children as asking: “Could something like this ever happen in Egypt?” And the answer from everyone at the table was, of course, “no.” It couldn’t happen anywhere in this region. Could a Copt become president of Egypt? Not a chance. Could a Shiite become the leader of Saudi Arabia? Not in a hundred years. A Bahai president of Iran? In your dreams. Here, the past always buries the future, not the other way around.

Yes, all of this Obama-mania is excessive and will inevitably be punctured should he win the presidency and start making tough calls or big mistakes. For now, though, what it reveals is how much many foreigners, after all the acrimony of the Bush years, still hunger for the “idea of America” — this open, optimistic, and, indeed, revolutionary, place so radically different from their own societies.

In his history of 19th-century America, “What Hath God Wrought,” Daniel Walker Howe quotes Ralph Waldo Emerson as telling a meeting of the Mercantile Library Association in 1844 that “America is the country of the future. It is a country of beginnings, of projects, of vast designs and expectations.”

That’s the America that got swallowed by the war on terrorism. And it’s the America that many people want back. I have no idea whether Obama will win in November. Whether he does or doesn’t, though, the mere fact of his nomination has done something very important. We’ve surprised ourselves and surprised the world and, in so doing, reminded everyone that we are still a country of new beginnings.

– Thomas Friedman, Obama On The Nile, NY Times, 11 June 2008