It appears to be the dawn of a new age, with the hopes of humanity seemingly resting upon one mans back: Barack Obama.
In the United States in particular, the current economic crisis has been even more severe than here in Canada, and there is a sense that on the darkest day a hero shall emerge. Broadly wielding the sword of change, Obama has charged into this environment, both by appealing to everyone and their uncle while simultaneously avoiding any attachment whatsoever to a particular group.
That Barack Obama is African-American would seem to be a major aspect of his presidency, seen by many as a step forward for civil rights and a monumental turning point in American history. Yet Obama has received mixed support from traditional African-American representatives, such as Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, and even Oprah who was late in coming to the Obama camp having supported Hillary Clinton during the initial phases. As for Obama himself, he has steadfastly refused to even address the issue of his race. It is interesting how in this situation Obama enjoys support for being a certain thing — in this case, African-American — to a group of voters, yet avoids any attachment to that groups present political leaders.
The unexpected ascendancy of Barack Obama, who was a junior Senator from Illinois when elected last November, turned out to be a major upset for Clinton who was widely expected to win the nomination for president from the outset. Many ask how he accomplished this improbable feat so quickly and so effectively. The election last November was not close: McCain won only 173 electoral votes to Obamas 365. America is clearly in the grips of a love affair with Barack Obama — to say nothing of other countries, Canada included.
As a young man, Barack Obama was faced with the issue of connections and attachment over and over, such as when his father left his mother and when he was later sent to live with his grandparents in Hawaii. His early years are marked by constant changing family structures and living environments, from Hawaii to Indonesia, to New York, to Chicago, to Los Angeles — the list goes on. In adapting to these challenges, Obama shows he is able to set aside personal issues in order to focus on greater goals, by willing to compromise in order to move forward.
His first major achievement was his election as the first African-American editor of the prestigious Harvard Law Review in 1989, in his first year at the school no less, and this event captured national media attention at the time. It led to Obama receiving a book contract, which eventually became his autobiography, Dreams From My Father. He later settled into teaching constitutional law at the University of Chicago while involving himself with politics at the same time.
Slowly becoming established in the predominantly black community of Chicagos south side, Barack Obama won election to the Illinois State Senate in 1997, where he remained until he was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2004. He failed to win an earlier 2000 bid for the U.S. Senate however, which is hard to believe given the Obamania that exists in America today. When Obama delivered the keynote address at the Democratic National Convention in 2004, the entire nation was introduced to the man who would be president, and the love affair began.
It is truly Obamas oratory that draws people to him more than anything else, the way that his words appeal to every listener and how he gently weaves together Americas proud history and traditional values with current economic crises and social challenges. And the problems he faces are significant, greater than any U.S. President has faced in recent times: two wars, growing debt and unemployment, and environmental disaster, to name a few. The world today seems to hinge on that one all-important question: Will Obama make things better? It will certainly take more than appealing words to do so.
There have been a number of welcome changes within the first few days of the Obama Administration, such as the closing of the Guantanamo Bay terror prison camp and changes to lobbyist activities within his purview. These small steps will go a long way to restoring Americas image in the world, to winning back old friends and maybe making new ones. Making bigger changes, like creating environmentally-friendly corporate practices or instituting public health insurance in the United States, may prove considerably more difficult.
Although Obama ran on a campaign of change, and most Americans do want to see change take place, the fact is very few important people are willing to do anything differently. Corporations want to get back to tax cuts and profit making and consumers just want to know when the big bad recession is going to be gone, so that they can get back to watching television and eating nachos on the couch. The changes that Obama has promised and campaigned on, and the changes that might actually be possible, are two very different things.
Few, if any, guarantees exist in the foreseeable future. Will President Obama be able to pass legislation that makes a significant difference in the lives of Americans, such as public health insurance? More importantly, will President Obama prove able to rein in powerful corporate interests who resist any changes that might threaten their existing profit models? These are important questions, but it is nearly impossible to tell what will happen.
The reason this is all hard to predict is down to the nature of Obama himself. His record of political accomplishments is short; his background relatively unknown; and although he currently has few enemies, it is not clear who his close friends are either. In a way, Obama is a lone wolf — one that brings people together, oddly enough — but his success or failure as president and his ability or failure to live up to the massive expectations placed upon him will depend on those people around him, as well as in the international community. It is the hope of many that he will ultimately be known as more than just the first African-American President.
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