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.
1/ 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?