President of the World?
President of the World?
President-de facto Obama hit the ground walking on his first news conference three days after his stunning victory. Surrounded by a dazzling array of economic advisors representing the business elite, he said, “I’m going to confront this crisis head on.”
The problem is, as Barack said in passing during the news conference, “The financial crisis is increasingly global, and requires a global response.” And there’s the rub. Barack Obama will be the President of the United States, which means he is bound by oath and office to serve the national interests of the United States. He is not, and cannot be what millions, if not billions of people around the world want him to be: President of the World.
For a few days after the election, one had the distinct feeling, in an America as stunned as the rest of the world, that people woke up and realized that nothing had really changed. Indeed, the day after the election the atmosphere locally was positively surly in Starbuck’s and other places.
And then there was this. Standing in line at the grocery store, a woman giddily turns and says, “are you as happy as I am about the election?” “I’m happy about Obama, but not about the California proposition that discriminates against homosexuals.” To which the Hispanic checkout clerk says, “I’m really happy about the election myself, but I’m not supposed to talk about it at work.” Then, weirdly, a half dozen people in line spontaneously broke out in applause.
The sleepers are clapping, but they want to remain asleep, since they know it will be painful to wake up, like when you’ve slept on an arm too long and it hurts like heck when you awaken. But it’s beginning to dawn on the numb that however painful it is to feel the blood flow return, they can’t remain asleep.
Moreover, the sleepers haven’t been simply asleep; they’ve been asleep for a reason. Their self-made numbness is how and why Bush and Cheney were able to rule for two agonizing terms. Even so, America has shown that it still has a ventricle pumping life through the body politic.
Contrast the joy and painfulness of awakening with George Bush, who could barely hold back his crocodile tears when he gave his farewells and instructions regarding the transition to hundreds of government workers at the White House. Sentimentality often passes for real feeling, but it is the mark of a hollow heart. Obama has little of it, while Bush, and the American people I’m afraid, overflow with it.
From the time he takes the oath of office, Obama has 100 days to put the stamp of his presidency on the hearts and minds of America and the world, or American policies and world realities will begin to squeeze his presidency like a python.
Confidence can come from power and pride, or from clarity and conviction. Since the end of the Cold War, America’s confidence has flowed falsely from the first kind. Now it is gone.
A true kind of confidence has yet to emerge, except, to some unknown degree, in the form and figure of Barack Obama. But he is leading in a way he may not want to lead, since in some ways he is ahead of the people.
His first priority therefore is a purely internal one, stemming from a question that Lincoln, who in political talents, personal traits, and historical aspirations Obama resembles, did not have to grapple. Will President Obama educate, or prevaricate? As Lincoln said, “With public sentiment, nothing can fail; without it nothing can succeed. Consequently he who moulds public sentiment goes deeper than he who enacts statutes or pronounces decisions.”
Will Obama see that within the shifting limits of the presidency, he has to tell Americans things they don’t want to hear, not just give platitudes about how tough the going will be, how steep the climb is, and how much sacrifice will be required? If so, he has to stop preaching the falsehood, which he knows is a falsehood, that “America’s beacon shines as bright” in the world.
The change Obama speaks of is not yet defined. Barack’s election, while a great thing, is not it. He has promised a new direction, but the first thing he does as America’s de facto president is trot out after a phalanx of economic luminaries to stand behind him as he talks in the same old terms about ‘getting the economy going again.’
The milestone of electing the first person of color will become a millstone around Obama’s neck unless he is capable of both pressing the levers of power in Washington, and teaching without preaching to the sadly lost and childishly hopeful American people.
I believe Barack can be the barometer for America, but only if he and his administration think in larger and longer terms, reach for higher goals and risk failing, and place America in the context of humanity rather than the other way around.
As one commentator put it, “even if President Obama does very well, it is not transforming the world.” Without a revolution and manifestation beyond Obama’s election, flowing from a deeper transformation a sufficient number of world’s people, national interests will continue to run roughshod over the interests of humanity as a whole.
- Martin LeFevre is a contemplative, and non-academic religious and political philosopher. He has been publishing in North America, Latin America, Africa, and Europe (and now New Zealand) for 20 years. Email: email@example.com. The author welcomes comments.