Saturday, January 24, 2009

Obama: Do we expect too much?


No American President in living memory has generated the kind of international excitement that Barak Obama has. We can almost say that he has assumed office not as President of the United States of America but as President of the United States of the World.

This is risky for him. When expectations are so high and so many, can any human being meet them? When the world is in such a complicated mess, can any one person solve even half its problems? When hopes are too high, disappointments come too fast. Will the world’s honeymoon with this new kind of leader prove to be just that – a honeymoon?

Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt are the two American presidents with whom Obama has already been compared. There is good reason for that. In their time, Lincoln and Roosevelt faced unprecedented challenges and rose to the occasion. People wanted a healing leadership after the civil war that devastated America; Lincoln provided it. People wanted visionary initiatives to save the country from the catastrophe of the Great Depression; Roosevelt provided them.

Obama faces both these challenges. Americans today want a unifier and healer after the terribly divisive war years of George Bush. They also want a saviour who would lift America from the mounting misery of the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. In other words, Obama has to be a Lincoln and a Roosevelt rolled into one.

As if that’s not hard enough, he has to be more. The problems Lincoln and Roosevelt faced were entirely domestic. Bush’s America has erased the boundaries between domestic and foreign. Solving American problems today is not separated from solving world problems, and vice versa. Which means that Obama faces challenges no government leader in modern history has faced.

Will he succeed? To put the question in sharper perspective: Will he be superhuman enough to succeed? The short answer is that if anyone can succeed, he will. But that may not be saying much. In today’s chaotic, anarchistic, violent, lawless, madhouse of a world, can anyone succeed?
Two words summed up both the campaign and the presidential profile of Obama – Change and Hope. These two simple, monosyllabic words must be the reason that all countries in the world joined America in its excitement over Obama. For every country in the world wants change – from the politics of corruption, the economy of the rich and poor, the social systems of discrimination. And every country welcomes the slightest glimmer of hope because hoping for a better tomorrow has become the only way to survive.

Obama, unlike any other leader in our times, has held up the message of Change and Hope in a credible manner. People in Japan and South Africa, in Indonesia and Brazil think that Obama’s success will somehow be their success. This is not entirely a reaction to the Bush years of deception and cruelty. It is rooted in the fact that Obama is a fresh breeze, a man whose sincerity is as impressive as his intellectual talents.

He still has to work under an entrenched system of lobbies, political pressure groups and manipulative power centres such as the Jewish caucus and the evangelicals. His climb will certainly be steep. But he will have one incomparable strength: the backing of Americans, and the people of the world, in greater measure than any American President before. To wish him success is to wish ourselves success.