The election of Barack Obama as President of the United States

I’m in Geneva today, at a meeting of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). Last evening many people (not only the U.S. residents) were awake listening to the election results. The hangover today here is mostly from a lack of sleep, as the results of the election were not clear until very late (10 pm EST is 4 AM Switzerland time).

As many people have written, if the election was global, it would have been a landslide for Obama, and the reaction here is quite positive. Obama has given the U.S. an immediate lift in terms of popularity and respect — both sorely lacking in recent years.

The achievement of Barack Obama in winning this election is so enormous it is difficult to summarize in a few words. He is the son of a Kenyan father he never knew, and a mother whose professional life was quite untypical. He managed to believe in himself in ways that seemed absurd to many. He has now permanently changed everyone’s expectations about what anyone can achieve. The message will resonate not only in the United States, but globally.

In winning the election, Obama choose to make a national appeal, competing and winning in many states previously thought to be reliably republican. He picked up endorsements and support from many conservative and moderate voices and voters. At a personal level, I found Obama’s election an inspiring and deeply emotional moment, as did many of my friends and family members, including persons of diverse political views.

The election campaign demonstrated enormous poise and very impressive organizational and management skills, which is encouraging evidence that Obama can skillfully manage the federal government.

John McCain started the campaign with an enormous reserve of good will, with a reputation for independence, and a supporter of human rights, good government measures and a frequent protector of consumer interests. The divisive and negative nature of the McCain campaign did not enhance his reputation. As a former resident of Alaska, I was stunned at his choice of Sarah Palin for vice president, and shocked more by the nature of her performance.

Much has been made of Obama’s calm and thoughtful demeanor. His actions on many issues are likely to be relatively cautious, pragmatic and moderate.

Now, with the campaign over, Obama will put together a government. During his brief tenure as a U.S. Senator, Obama was not deeply engaged in the issues that KEI follows closely. KEI was never able to get Obama to engage to protect developing countries from the broader consequences of U.S. bullying on intellectual property protection for medicines, and he was not a well known champion of consumer interests in other areas. The government will be run by the people he appoints, and Obama has attracted a very attractive and bright group of advisers — people that seem for now to be working together. We are optimistic that many of Obama’s first round of appointments will be very capable, and open to innovative approaches to policy challenges. Obama will also likely make some less impressive appointments. Taken together, these appointments will have enormous policy consequences.

The lobbying activity as regards the transition is quite intensive, from many fronts and interest groups. KEI will try to report on some aspects of the staffing choices, such as those who will have influence on policies in areas such as trade, copyright, patents, standards, openness, access to knowledge, pharmaceuticals, and innovation.

It will be very important for civil society to engage with the new government, and make clear and well supported “asks” in terms of policies and appointments.

For now, we are very optimistic about the future, but there is also much work to be done.

James Love