EDITORIAL WEDNESDAY 21.01.09.
The long path from obscurity to the White House for Barack Obama has been signposted with symbolism at every step. It is also a path which he has seemingly traversed quickly, despite the rather drawn out process of an American Presidential election. Four years ago he was a new senator, now he is the President before having even completed his first term in the Senate. By any measure it would seem to be a meteoric rise to the top. His natural talent for eloquence, along with his clear intellect, as well as the orchestrated use of symbolism has no doubt helped to propel his success. History and circumstances have conspired to make Obama the right man in the right place at the right time, making him a symbol in his own right.
And all that before the sound of his voice uttering the oath of office has finished reverberating around the Washington Mall. But rapid success and a smooth tongue are often seen as signs of a hollow man, a snake oil salesman whose patter is more impressive than his product. Is it possible that all of the symbolism, the fine words, the confident demeanour, are nothing more than the products of a well crafted marketing campaign? Or is President Obama really as good as he looks?
His inauguration speech has pushed all the right buttons, addressing the obvious challenges of our time right off the bat. The catchphrase that “We have chosen hope over fear” will be remembered in history for centuries, and the renewal of the recognition that “All are equal, all are free, and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness” has been designed to inspire hope and confidence in the face of looming adversity. These things are important components of leadership, and rightly belong in such a speech. But these things are also vague generalities which offer no specifics for the years ahead.
Now of course the real work begins. It’s time for the rousing rhetoric to be accompanied by decisive action. It’s time for specific measures to be articulated and implemented to achieve these high minded aims. With the raging Obama-mania, and the overwhelming tide of goodwill which exists, comes the opportunity to introduce those measures. But the task ahead is to not only meet the challenges of the times, but also to meet the expectations which have been heaped upon one individual.
From the lofty heights of President Obama’s current popularity the risk of disappointing expectations is all the greater. Like a movie which has been over-promoted, just being good won’t be good enough. The task before Obama is to be great. Can Obama do it? At this moment in history millions of Americans are responding “Yes he can.” Whether they are right or wrong is history which has yet to be written.
While it is easy to be cynical and remember that all politicians are human, and therefore prone to the same flaws and failures as all of us, now is the time to be hopeful for the future. Not because we should place all our faith in President Obama, but because we must have faith in ourselves.