If anyone had had the audacity four years ago, to put forward the notion that four years hence, an African-American man, would stand on the steps of the US Capitol, and have administered to him, the oath of office of president of the United States of America, not a few, I think, would have questioned the mental competence of such a one. Indeed, had anyone mooted such an idea just a year ago, such a one would have been laughed at to scorn.
But as a former British prime minister once remarked rather memorably ‘a week is a long time in politics’. A period, within which, all manner of political eventualities are conceivably possible. Now ff a week is considered a long time in politics, then a year, or four years, by comparison are an eternity, within which the improbable can happen, and as it happens, did happen.
It is difficult to imagine the sort of emotions going through Barack Obama’s psyche at this time. Without a doubt he must feel waves of excitement and exhilaration, effusive emotions, which are perhaps only tempered by a competing sense of apprehension, as his presidency impends with all it entails. It must be a daunting prospect to be the first of his kind to attain to such office; a fact and feat, which by themselves guarantee the closest of scrutiny to his performance in office.
But even much more daunting than this, is the fact that he assumes office in the face of the most inauspicious of political and economic circumstances. His predecessor in office hands over to him a poisoned chalice, rather than the Holy Grail. A rather disappointing bequeathal of a tarnished legacy by a predecessor to a successor in recent times. This is even more so, because the outgoing president, on his controversial assumption of office eight years ago, was touted as being one of the best schooled presidents ever. And this, based on his having attended both Yale and Harvard, and for being the first Chief Executive of USA Plc to hold an MBA. In retrospect, it seems that his elite schooling had very little impact upon his education.
There can be no doubt that Barack Obama or anyone else for that matter would have much preferred to inherit a more auspicious set of political and economic circumstances. Indeed, the circumstances are of such a nature and magnitude that they have the potential to alter inexorably (whether for good or bad remains to be seen) America’s leadership role in the world. But no matter how wretched the circumstances he inherits at this time, I suspect that not even he would trade his good and historic fortune for any other substitute.
The difficulties which his nation and others connected to the Western capitalist grid face at this time could easily prove to be the making or the breaking of the man. This is no time for the fainthearted. And Barack Obama will be best advised to regard his presidency, as something of a crucible, into which the problems, failings, and excesses of a system run amuck, can be poured. A melting pot, in which these thorny issues will be dissolved, refined, and purified to re-emerge as a re-forged template upon which the terms of a new engagement of transparency and accountability, in business and politics, at home and abroad, can be engraved.
During and ever since his historic and successful quest for high office, Barack Obama has made much of evoking the memories of some of America’s best loved inspirational figures. At different times he has recalled and recited the finer aspects of men like John F. Kennedy and Abraham Lincoln, and reproduced to great effect, the rich, meaningful, and poetic cadences of speech of Dr. Martin Luther King.
No nation does, or responds, to sentimentality better than America. The very notion of the great American dream a cornerstone of everyday American life is based in large part on the sentiment that nothing is impossible. But in these challenging times, Barack Obama’s cause will be better served by resurrecting the memories of the presidency of Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) in his search for a new template for his nation. FDR also took the reins of power in difficult times.
For right from his first inaugural he demonstrated his adeptness by getting to the crux of the matter and placing his finger on the pulse of what was wrong with his nation and who, in his opinion, were responsible for its condition. He said, and I quote verbatim (as a paraphrase will not do justice to the bold insights he displayed).
In every dark hour of our national life a leadership of frankness and vigour has met with that understanding and support of the people themselves which is essential to victory. I am convinced that you will again give that support to leadership in these critical days. In such a spirit on my part and on yours we face our common difficulties.
They concern, thank God, only material things. Values have shrunken to fantastic levels: taxes have risen, our ability to pay has fallen, government of all kinds is faced by serious curtailment of income, the means of exchange are frozen in the currents of trade, the withered leaves of industrial enterprise lie on every side, farmers find no markets for their produce, the savings of many years in thousands of families are gone.
It is hard in reading the above not to feel a sense of déjà vu; but FDR was not finished, warming to his theme, he went on to say that:
Primarily, this is because the rulers of the exchange of mankind’s goods have failed through their own stubbornness and their own incompetence, have admitted their failures and abdicated. Practices of the unscrupulous money changers stand indicted in the court of public opinion, rejected by the hearts and minds of men.
True, they have tried, but their efforts have been cast in the pattern of an outworn tradition. Faced by failure of credit, they have proposed only the lending of more money. Stripped of the lure of profit by which to induce our people to follow their false leadership, they have resorted to exhortations, pleading tearfully for restored conditions. They know only the rules of a generation of self-seekers.
They have no vision, and when there is no vision the people perish. The money changers have fled their high seats in the temple of our civilization. We may now restore that temple to the ancient truths. The measure of the restoration lies in the extent to which we apply social values more noble than mere monetary profit. Happiness lies not in the mere possession of money, it lies in the joy of achievement, in the thrill of creative effort.
I have no doubt that FDR’s profound words will not have escaped Barack Obama’s attention or that of his meticulous team; neither do I doubt that he will draw immense wisdom from them. He must lance the dragon just as FDR did.
Since his election in November, to his credit, he has taken to tempering his rhetoric and telling his people how things really are. And in response to this, like most people in his nation and across the world, it is hoped that he can make a lasting and positive difference to his nation and the world.
A week is indeed a long time in politics and four years is an infinitely longer period. His main enemy, he will find as he takes office as president, is time itself. He won’t have enough of it to do that which he wants to. But should he make a lasting difference in the next four years, then four more years in office may yet beckon.
Like many across the world, I shall sit and watch and listen with rapt attention as he delivers his inaugural address. Given his pedigree,
I have no doubt that he will inspire and lift the spirits of his nation. He has the enormous goodwill of people around the world and I hope he does not squander it.
Barack Obama: ‘Yes You Can’ make a difference, because you are standing on the shoulders of giants gone before!