There are moments etched in time, indelible to all who bore witness. The assassination of JFK. The death of Princess Diana. 9/11. Some are much more joyful, like the release of Nelson Mandela, or the too-aptly named Bolt’s 9.69 second 100 metres in the 2008 Olympics.
January 20th 2009 was another such event, one of monumental historical significance. With a resounding response that transcended all variables – multi-ethnic, multi-cultural and multi-generational – it was perhaps the finest seal on the most prolific rise in politics that has ever transpired upon the world’s stage. Barack Hussein Obama became the 44th President of the United States of America. It is important to remember the relative speedy trajectory of what has transpired in a nation’s lifetime and, to quote an unknown: “Rosa Parks sat, so that Martin Luther King could dream, so that Barack Obama could run, so that his children can fly.” The emotion intrinsically entwined in this election was extraordinary, and has fuelled hope that a nation and a world may be on the dawn of a new age.
For, along with his official role of government, many have also placed upon Obama’s shoulders the unenviable and impossible task of healing the entire world, a job beyond even a god. A visionary he may well be, but unfair to believe him a deity. Indeed, with his seemingly effortless ‘cool’, he is very much the “people’s president”, one who as Commander-in-Chief you could also imagine happily chatting away in a coffee shop to everyday folk, who breaks free of the inevitable White House bubble each night by reading 10 letters selected by his staff from the some 40,000 received daily. He was needed, a leader with the ‘common touch’. So he embarks on reshaping his country as best he can, leading it anew in to a new era, that, if it works, this will surely only serve to ripple further afield, his outlook and outreach, perhaps more than any of his predecessors, world-encompassing. Damage to America’s international reputation was considerable under Bush, and Obama is committed in making it be known that the US is ready to re-engage and restore responsibility, to break down walls of mistrust and resentment and to become a true global leader.
The man doesn’t have it easy, beginning his term as he has with much of the world in economic crisis and his own country embroiled in two wars. When he began his run for office, the latter he knew of, though none could have forseen the biggest economic downturn since the Great Depression that would have to become his priority, and it is perhaps unfair that the recovery of this is what he will be marked upon. But to have witnessed his hugely motivating and soaringly moving inaugural address, one may well believe if anyone can achieve this, achieve true greatness, Obama can (in some ways, by his very taking of office, he already has).
His power as an orator undoubtedly fired his rise in prominence, and though some have dismissed such skill. Yet rhetoric is an art, studied as a central part of Western education since ancient Greece through to the 19th Century. In this recent age, many of us neglect the wonder of word. The beauty of language is not to be underestimated – to paraphrase Rudyard Kipling, words are the most powerful magic we possess; to inspire in such a way, to bring about the passage of ideas, this can indeed bring about revolution.
Obama has just passed the 100-day marker, which is the first full examination of a President’s progress. Of course, it is too early to say much, though this is seen as a barometer and, for the most part, the reports are favourable: the sheen is not lost. To quote the 35th President, who equally mesmerized with charisma and eloquence: “All this will not be finished in the first one hundred days. Nor will it be finished in the first one thousand days; nor in the life of this Administration; nor even perhaps in our lifetime on this planet. But let us begin.”
What precedes an external revolution? An internal one. The very ethos of his approach is that we all can change, and for the better. What happens from herein we cannot know, but to be fuelled with hope, to believe that now famed chant of “Can we change? Yes we can!” has to be a good thing, doesn’t it? We have to be hopeful in our endeavours, to be bold and daring in faith that things, all things, can be better. This is a cynical age we live in, where idealist thought is often frowned upon, laughed at, derided. As some did with Obama, though he silenced those critics (for a while at least). To have hope, to inspire others, this is greatness. It is perhaps too simple to say that a revolution has begun, that we are in some new age dawn, but is it not plausible that each of us can try, that we can reach high with our head in the clouds and our feet on the ground? We must do that for ourselves, and so for those we love. Let us make the rhetoric work. For like every stone thrown into the pond and rippling out, may it reach ever further, so that we “cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve; that as the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself.”
Giles Addison – April 2009.