Citizen Obama

By Beryl Wajsman on November 13, 2008

He started by testing the waters. That was what his campaign was all about at the start. Barack Obama burned with ideas and ideals, but he knew as a junior Senator with relatively little national exposure, that his 2008 campaign would probably be all about positioning. Positioning for the next time. But then something happened. Iowa.

An urban liberal of color ignited a rural conservative overwhelmingly white state and stopped the vaunted Clinton machine in its tracks. What was this connection that turned into a juggernaut? Well, he gave people hope. At a time of crisis he gave hope in the only way that really matters. He made people feel better about themselves and more confident in the surety of their own possibilities. He opened up a generosity of spirit. And that is no small matter.

In fact, amidst the criticisms of inexperience, it is important to remember that the marshalling of national resolve has been the hallmark of many great Presidents. At times of despair that may very well be the defining characteristic of leadership.  In an era of bean-counters, poetry may be just the tonic we need. And it is about that too.

Tone and temperament. Yes, Obama will be judged on whether he is tough enough to defend the free against an existential threat. He will have to prove that his solutions to the current systemic economic challenges are more creative than tax and spend liberalism. He will have to demonstrate the savvy to push through his agenda to help the vulnerable through congressional snakepits. And he will finally have to  account for some very troubling alliances.  But if he succeeds, one of his greatest weapons will have been his tone. Call it Obama cool.

A brilliant tactician and inspiring orator, Barack Obama has been a master at leveraging good into better. But he has not pandered to one group or another that has tried to appropriate him. When the anti-war left pushed, he pushed back by making it clear that though he opposes Iraq, he will ratchet up Afghanistan. When black militancy demanded obedience, he responded that being black was part of what he was but it did not define who he is. When the unempowered and disenfranchised tried to pour their understandable rage into the vessel of his persona, he reminded them that with rights came responsibilities and that even from them the nation would demand sacrifice. Obama keeps things in check. Not only his own emotions, but those of his followers. Even in Grant Park on the night of his election, you could feel him reigning in the crowd with his rhetoric. Obama’s is a cool of substance not just of style. A temperament of disciplined tenacity.

He is neither the messiah that some have hailed nor the devil that others have denounced. He is a leader who inspires courage through gentle passions at a time of so many harsh policies. A post civil rights era product of change who has not been formed from what Dr. King called “the redemption of unearned suffering”, yet is empathetic to the victims of that suffering. He understands, intuitively, that the vulnerable are no less human, and the poor no less worthy of our compassion. As the Rolling Stones sang so many years ago “You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes you’ll find you’ve got what you need.” Obama satisfies no one totally, but that may be just what we need.

As Anthony Philbin has written, “It is a small leap from race to creed, and from creed to nation, and if we’re lucky we’ll all live to see those false differentiations fall to the wayside like the hollow and meaningless relics  they are.” The choice of a national population to elevate a member of a minority race to  a nation’s leadership is no small feat. The fact that it has occurred in the most powerful country in the world is that much more relevant still. We could learn that lesson here in Quebec.

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Editorial Staff

Beryl P. Wajsman

Redacteur en chef et Editeur

Alan Hustak

Senior Editor

Daniel Laprès

Redacteur-adjoint

Brigitte Garceau

Contributing Editor

Robert J. Galbraith

Photojournaliste

Roy Piberberg

Editorial Artwork

Mike Medeiros

Copy and Translation

Val Prudnikov

IT Director and Web Design

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