Wednesday, November 05, 2008

The Obama Moment

As the impact of last night's historic US election victory settles in, it is worth considering the huge task facing the President-elect as he prepares for four years as the world's most powerful man. That in itself is an odd - if regularly given - sobriquet, given the number of issues that are beyond the control of the US president, but I digress.

First, Obama's acknowledgement of victory. His speech from Grant Park in Chicago was another rhetorical triumph. And such rhetoric should not be despised. The right-wing commentator Douglas Murray was scathing about the 'pretty words' used by politicians such as Obama and Cameron in an article for 'Standpoint' magazine; but is ire is misdirected. He dislikes their political stance, and thus loathes their ability to articulate it so effectively. The ability of political leaders and would-be leaders to inspire us, and articulate fine ideals, has always been a mark of some of the greatest figures in history, and should not be despised now. After eight years of a president who can barely articulate his own name, it was somehow refreshing to hear the soaring cadences and promises of Obama on his night of victory. For a while, the listening millions heard their own aspirations being vocalised, could empathise with the desire for new goals and could admire a leader who sought to achieve these whilst acknowledging the tough road ahead. Words do inspire - look at Churchill - and this is a time for a renewal of such inspiration. Obama has provided that. It is one reason why he has been rewarded with the high office he will soon hold. And if that's what he says on his victory night, I look forward to his inauguration speech in January.

But the hope that Obama inspires also carries within it the seeds of his failure. Many people, not just American electors, have invested considerable hope in the freshman senator from Illinois, in the belief that he can find a new way of doing business, can see them through an economic crisis, can identify a way to end a wretched war, can bring reconciliation to a divided society, can reach across the globe in a new American partnership. Such soaring ambitions too often fail, and Obama's road - as it would be for any president - will be a rocky one. We expect him to stumble, but should he fail on a greater scale it will not just be the failure of his politics that matters, it will be the dashing of hopes that may not again be resurrected. Obama carries a huge burden of expectation, a burden he has hoisted himself, and the consequent need to keep it in the air and diminish it properly is his to undertake; it is an enormous task. For now, though, it is worth relishing the excitement and fascination of history in the making - let us keep cynicism at bay, at least for a while.

4 comments:

The Idle Wanderer said...

He's got Joe Budden on his team. A hip-hop legend. How can you not be inspired by that?

GM said...

Very droll!

Pier said...

Have you seen these photos?

http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/pictures/2008/11/07/barack-obama-115875-20876298/

Matt said...

Isn't he a terrorist?