SALUTING AN APOSTLE OF ‘CHANGE’

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AND so it has happened: On the 20th day of January, in the year 2009, Barack Obama, the 47-year-old son of a black Kenyan father and white American mother -both deceased–embedded himself in 21st century history as a unique world leader when he became the 44th President of the United States of America. It was as much a magnificent moment for the multi-ethnic people of superpower America, who have travelled the long, tortuous journey away from a history tarnished by genocide and slavery, as it would have been for the mere two-year Senator of Illinois who had dared to engage  in “the audacity of hope” to conquer racial and ideological bigotry to majestically enter The White House yesterday as President.

From humble origin he has arrived as a political colossus  at a time of financial and economic challenges unknown to America since the last ‘Great Depression’ and which have sparked global financial crisis currently afflicting economies like our own.

His nation’s moral standing has also been significantly diminished by the reckless abuse of political power during eight years of a Republican President whose passion for conflicts explain so much of today’ disaffection in the world for America.

Jimmy Carter, reflecting on his term as the 39th President in his “Our Endangered Values–America’s Moral Crisis”, recorded how pleased he was to receive a plaque from a member of his cabinet on the day he left office. The plaque had the following memorable quote from Thomas Jefferson

“I have the consolation to reflect that during  the period of my administration not a drop of the blood of a single citizen was shed by the sword of war”.

Carter  then noted that “current US policy is threatening the effectiveness of international agreements that have been laboriously negotiated by almost all previous Presidents. Perhaps even more disturbing as a threat to the maintenance of global stability is the unprecedented adoption of a policy (by the George Bush administration) of preemptive war…”

For his part, the charismatic Obama, whose oratorical skills have fuelled an unprecedented 80 percent popularity rating for the inauguration of a first time US President, has promised to pursue the path of dialogue and avoid conflicts that endanger peace and create problems for America and nations of the world.

Having raised expectations so very high with his commitment to be the “President of change”, he now has the enormous challenge to cope with rising hope at home and abroad.

For sure, our Caricom region has its own agenda for improved relations  with Washington but understands that given the enormity of  domestic and international priorities facing Obama, it would take some time before our region gets some attention. Fair enough, providing the attention is of a quality that respects Caribbean dignity and sovereignty.

The fact that some have been emotionally promoting excitement over the fact that a few of Obama’s appointees have Caribbean roots–including his Attorney General-elect (Eric Holder), son of Barbadian immigrants, should not overlook the reality of the little difference experienced in US-Caricom relations while Colin Powell, of Jamaican roots, was the first African-American to serve as US Secretary of State.

Obama’s rise to the Presidency of the USA is a great time for all regions of the world, and the non-white world in particular, to bear witness to a unique moment in history. But it will be a disservice to the man and his ideas were Barack Obama to be lavished with praise and uncritically embraced, simply on the basis of his ethnicity.

In  his  “Audacity of Hope”, published  in 2006 as part of his preparation for what has turned out to be his magical journey to The White House, Obama was quite eloquent:

“I can’t help but view the American experience”, he wrote, “through the lens of a black man of mixed heritage, forever mindful  of how generations of black people who looked like me were subjugated and stigmatized, and the subtle and not so subtle ways that race and class continue to shape our lives…”

At the same time, he was emphatic in declaring his “rejection of  a politics that is based solely on racial identity, sexual orientation, or  victimhood generally…”, and  pointed to an intimate theme in his “Audacity of Hope”, namely:

“How I, or anybody in public office, can avoid the pitfalls of fame, the hunger to please, the fear of loss, and thereby retain that kernel of truth, that singular voice within each of us that reminds us of our deepest commitments…”

Well said ex-Senator Obama, now the 44th President of the USA. You deserve the best wishes, the prayers and hopes of peoples everywhere who want you to succeed in making that qualitative difference as a “political apostle of change”.

The massive, costly (US$150 million) inauguration celebrations have officially ended. Having awakened into your first full day as President, we  await the unfolding of your stewardship as the world’s most powerful politician.