Wednesday, January 21, 2009

A new president

For a moment I’ll let the cynicism wash over me, I’ll set aside how much hype has been generated about someone who has said so little of substance, but says it so well. There are reasons to be optimistic, yet the first reason will be dramatically eroded if the second one fails to pass.

The first is the symbolism. One of the recurring messages of the election of Barack Obama, and one that perhaps those of us not of African-American identity notice, is that it says to that community, and most importantly to young black boys that yes, they too can aspire to be President. Setting aside why that should be seen to be the epitome of achievement, compared to being an entrepreneur, inventor, scientist or the like is another issue. However it is important to remember how recent the racist past of the USA is – a past that was legally enforced by many states. The 1960s are too recent and too many African Americans today remember what that era was like, and that is what makes Obama’s election significant for optimism for them. Indeed, no longer can the excuse be easily made that the odds are stacked against African Americans because of race, whereas it is far more important to look at family, education, ambition and determination.

However, once one goes beyond that, what basis is there for optimism?

Only one, that a man who is not born of a political dynasty, unlike his Secretary of State or the last President, may be able, with such a ringing endorsement of support, to undertake reforms and changes that hitherto would have been too hard. That he may, just, take the best people he can and listen to advice, and not follow his past of voting almost always with the Democrats, almost always for more government, and never challenging leftwing Democrat orthodoxy. Taking on Hilary Clinton showed he can do that, yet he has taken her on board his team, despite her abysmal lack of experience or knowledge of international affairs.

The almost frenzied adulation of Obama is a sad testament to an age where style and symbolism matter more than substance. He has been made a superstar by a media largely supportive of him, and the expectations people have of him are remarkably vague. Sadly those expectations show a ridiculously strong belief that government can make people’s lives better, and even more that one man can do it.

History is littered with examples of men who have cultivated such adulation and not only failed, but have left rivers of blood in their wake and contempt. Barack Obama wont do that, but he will, in due course, prove that he is only human, that he is not the saviour and that, once again, government is not the solution to most of the problems of a country or the world.

However, it is a new chapter. I will watch and hope that he doesn’t increase taxes, doesn’t increase protectionism in trade, doesn’t withdraw from Iraq in the short term, doesn’t pander to Islamists, dictators or kleptocrats, and isn’t going to worship at the altar of envirovangelists without reason.

It will be interesting to see how the left, which has relentlessly attacked the Bush Administration, acts when Obama doesn’t radically change as much as they may hope. I can only hope the optimism of so many Americans, an optimism born perhaps of little more than blind hope, can spur more than just adulation, but a desire to motivate themselves. If Obama can simply stir the spirit of would be entrepreneurs, inventors and creators to live life and pursue their dreams, then it may be more good than any of the state programmes he endorses.

Perhaps though, the main recollection four years from now will be this - that Barack Obama, was just a politician. His election was historic because of race, but what he does will be judged regardless of it.

No comments: