Obamania Worldwide – The Dreams & The Reality

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Obamania and other reflections on a Sunday morning

The effect of the Obama victory overseas has been impressive. Much like the initial outpouring after September 11th, 2001, since November 5th, 2008, I have come across a newfound sense of support for the US from many different corners of the world, and the support is quite similar in intensity. For most foreigners with whom I speak, the sentiment goes along the lines: You, Americans (at least on the coasts), faced with the biggest worldwide economic crisis in a century, 2 long unfinished wars, an Osama Bin Laden still on the lam, the prospect of ecological disasters and the risk of more voter scandals (untested new urns), overcame the urge for a recidivist reactionary vote, to adopt and hail its base values by electing Obama.

What is driving this support around the world for Obama? In part, I detect an enormous feeling of hope, like the release of a good dream. He represents hope that change is truly going to come. What is said can be done. That diversity is not just a buzzword. I also detect that many are putting their hopes on the shoulders of Americans to re-bolster the world, a world that is increasingly rocky. Beyond the economic crisis and environmental concerns, the Western world is worried by the deeper, structural issues including the rise of China, the Russian renaissance, the continuing splintering of nationalities and ethnicities as well as the omen of global terrorism. I don’t mean to have visions of grandeur for the Americans, but we all need to dream and many people seem to have tied up their dreams with Obamania. Aside from the 66.7 million American voters, Muslim communities around the world, the African community (well beyond Kenya), even a town in Japan have identified or associated themselves with Obama. And in the “If the World Could Vote” site, 87.3% of the nearly 900,000 people (up from the 49,000 I wrote about in my September post) casting their online selection for Obama.

Few would doubt that Obama’s plate is eminently full. As a black Parisian radiologist, Maxim, said to me, “it is a poisoned gift.”

For Obama and the Americans, all the real work is now ahead and it will be important to observe (a) the level and effectiveness in the bipartisanship — I have been positively impressed by the effect of President Sarkozy had in bringing in several valuable Socialists into his government; and (b) how Obama manages against the oh-so-high expectations. If the Democratic party were to get a filibuster-proof 60 seats in the Senate (3 seats still undecided) and with the strong House representation (between 255-259 seats), there is a chance that Obama will be able to put through a good portion of his vision. But, what happens systematically — it seems no matter the president, the party or the country — is that there is a boomerang effect some 12-18 months after induction into office. The dissatisfied electorate then “punishes” the standing leader, curbs his or her power and the result is a near lame-duck experience for the remaining years. I have started to think that this is just a natural cycle in democracy. More likely than not, an external and/or unexpected event will likely occur that will unbalance the apple cart and, whether or not his policies have had time to work, will have a material impact on his presidency. It does seem ironic that an unexpected event will be likely. But, this, too, seems to be a part of the natural cycle.

Four More Reflections

As I ponder this Sunday morning, there are four more things I would like to say about the past couple of weeks.

China Flag1/ Don’t you find it symbolic that the Chinese bailout plan at $586B is just below the US one in size ($700B)? Although, compared to its GDP (China’s is estimated at US$3-4 trillion versus $14 trillion for the US), the Chinese effort is far more seismic. You get the feeling that the turning point is around the corner. The burgeoning question for me is how will we, Americans, manage to alter our mania for consumption, so much a fibre of today’s US society?

2/ Forty’s are in. Obama, at 47 years old, joins a healthy stable of “forty-something” leaders. Georgia’s President Mikheil Saakashvili is the youngest I could find at 41 years old. Russia’s President Dmitri Medvedev and Sweden’s PM Fredrik Reinfeldt are 43. Ukraine’s Yulia Tymoshenko, Ireland’s Brian Cohen and Spain’s Jose Luis Zapatero are 48. Canada’s Stephen Harper is 49. I am sure that I have missed out a few others — but these are all (with the exception of Harper) leaders born in the 1960s. [Note, among other notables, that Sarkozy (53), Merkel (54), and Putin (56) are, with the majority of other leaders, in their 50s.]

3/ Seeing that Obama is a Web 2.0 President-elect (he has his own Twitter, MyBarackObama blog, YouTube, etc), how far can he be a Sustainable Development-President as well? See here for a prior post on the relatedness of web 2.0 and sustainable development. Certainly, this article by Thomas Claburn at InformationWeek would seem to back up the possible correlation. ADDED 22 NOVEMBER: I was turned on to this NY Times article, “Generation O get its hopes up” (Nov 7) after publishing this post. Obama communicated in a way that “spoke” to people. As the article writes, “Government under Mr. Obama, they believe, would value personal disclosure and transparency in the mode of social-networking sites. Teamwork would be in fashion, along with a strict meritocracy.”

4/ Did you realize that within two days of each other, Obama won the US Presidency, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga won the Paris Masters 2008 and was crowned #1 for France, while Lewis Hamilton became the youngest ever Formula 1 Champion? As both Hamilton and Tsonga are 23 1/2 years old, Obama at 47 is exactly double their age. And all three of them are métise (specifically a black father and a white mother). Rather remarkable, no?

Your thoughts?

8 Comments, RSS

  1. Ron

    All well spoken. No complaints or corrections. Never has a president faced such a pile of crap on his desk the first day but I believe he will get it done.

  2. Gonzalo

    I believe it is a tremendous opportunity for a new start for the US with so much influence elsewhere…
    There’s plenty of excitement and when that is over the tough measures will come, let’s hope it works!

    I like the web 2.0 part!

  3. Brad

    I agree on your two main points – that Obama has succeeded in restoring hope over cynicism, and that he will have a very difficult time maintaining that momentum in a very difficult environment that is largely out of his control. It will also be very interesting to see which of his promised policies he actually adopts, given that many of them (trade restrictions, abolition of secret ballots for employee unionization votes, carbon taxes) would likely exacerbate the current downturn. I also have to disagree with the characterization of the alternative as ‘recidivist’ given that the opposing ticket was led by the most vocal and effective critic of the current administration that their party had to offer.

    So while I (along with your voters) applaud the symbolism of a definitive ‘rupture’ from the past, and share their admiration for a truly remarkable person in our future president, I remain gravely concerned about the mis-match between his stated policy approach and the needs of the country – particularly in areas fundamental to the economy.

  4. Betty

    I was thoroughly impressed by the Obama campaign. I called them a few times to discuss my concerns of the moment (excess leverage in the markets, particularly the commodities market, which was really hurting the little guy)– way back during the primaries before it was being discussed)…. recently about to get the housing market going you need to guarantee realtors who bring buyers to foreclosures or short sales their commission and it cannot take weeks for the banks to make a decision…. otherwise we will have our clients look elsewhere if it means getting paid 1% instead of 3%…. The system that they have in place is extremely well organized and a live voice picks up on the phone and emails are returned. I also pointed out the part that McCain had said “the economy is not my strong suit” and the next week the ads were out!! I think he has an amazing approach to the job that will hopefully serve us all well. We can all be once again proud to be Americans….

  5. Kathy

    I remember my first communications class in cegep dumstruck that when Reagan is being filmed and the scenery is of perfect blue sky and lush trees with a perfectly flapping flag in the background that this is not just capturing the moment but staged by publicists and campaign teams. Ever since I’ve been obsessed with the careful inspection of photos to find the x marks the spot on stage. Looking for all the visual cues, so carefully captured in the frame for effect. I tend to delight in the staging. I’ve moved passed criticism of this seeming manipulation and believe that the public like a good reader actively participates in the suspension of disbelief if it’s well done.

    While I don’t know my political platforms or what plans are truly good for the economy I do know that Obama has re-awakened American myth making. Maybe it’s that the shorter the history the easier to identify and align a cohesive unwavering myth. I think it’s a paper waiting to happen, how Obama skillfully tapped into all the American touch points; manifest destiny, the dream, the frontier…

    To be fair you can’t of anyone or anything make a symbol. Sure you can stage, dress with all the right cultural references, be endorsed by celebrities with flapping flags in tow but there still has to be that vital ingredient that makes us adamant about the belief- willing participants in the suspension. It has to come, even if in a small dose, with that ingredient we identify as authenticity. In our information saturated world, where cynicism and skepticism is a form of protection we still all want to believe which is why authenticity is our communications world greatest currency. As soon as we feel it, even if its just a dash (like truffle its enough) instantly, viscerally identified we’re relieved because the questioning, the critiquing gets exhausting in its reminder that as much as we want to its just missing that something to bring us over to the other side.

    Enough of my rambling and on to my point…

    Minter, when you write “don’t you find it symbolic” the link of the fortysomethings from an era that by all rights should breed progressive leaders, the remarkable events only two days after the election, I think that captures it perfectly. Like the cycle of democratic office (which I don’t know much about), like the cycle of fashion (which, much to my parents chagrin, I know too much about) we too live cultural cycles. As we enter this economic downturn, environmental instability, after an era of “me” and borderline scientific fundamentalism, I think we’re at the dip in the cycle and that the situation is such that we’re ready for that unscientific almost mystical thing called hope. At the end of the day no matter how hard we try to rationalize I think we all love a good dose of meaning, where nothing is coincidence and everything is connected. And so to address the title of your post “the dreams and the reality”, lets hope (no pun intended) that for the next little while, the dreams will dictate and not the other way around. I think we all saw a window for change after 9/11 and for some reason it didn’t take. Authenticity anyone? Now that we have a second chance maybe we’re ready to claim it. Missing ingredient, check.

    Then again, to draw a parallel from the fashion cycle… This week I got into a debate with a friend on whether there is a link between fashion and the economy (we all know of the famed 20’s hemline). After a lot of back and forth, my friend observantly concluded and exclaimed “you know why we’re doing long pants and skirts this season?! Because we did short one’s last season. We just needed something new that wasn’t done recently.”

  6. Minter

    Much appreciated all your comments.

    @Brad, my comment on the recidivist tendency was a reflection of what others here were saying about McCain. But in general, it is true that in “tough times” you tend to go back to what you know best. As far as what works for the economy in this period of crisis, I plead innocent at the moment in light of the changing tectonic plates. One thing is for sure, this crisis will definitely impact our behaviour en masse.

    @Betty: nice to hear about some real work on the ground!

    @Kathy: politicians are now all adept at working on the symbolic imagery behind each speech in its content and context (Saakashvili is major example).

    And, particularly enjoyed your comments and quips on the links between hems and the economy. Whether it is a cyclical phenomenon or not, we all need to dream and hope — for at least a part of our time and certainly as part of our childhood!

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