08 November, 2008

The Next Great President

Sushma Joshi
Kathmandu Post, November 7th, 2008

I admit it—I cried. Watching Obama's victory speech, I was reminded
again that America's power lies not in its military might but in its
ideas, not in its financial currency (now at one of the lowest points
in history) but in its symbolic currency of democracy.

I have lived in America for ten years of my life, and at times the
division between the rich and the poor, and the division between white
and black, appeared intractable. This would never change, it seemed.
After Al Gore's loss, America dragged along like the rest of the
world, pointing to faulty electronic voting machines and the
inevitability of discrimination to keep electing the same old faces.
Quite a few of us thought the "hanging chads" would come back to haunt
this election. Some papers wrote about the "The Bradley Effect", in
which white voters lied about their intention not to vote for a black
man. So it was still a surprise, despite all information to the
contrary, when Obama won.

The recent financial crisis had the media all over the world
declaiming the end of America. But America is not that easily laid to
rest. And with Obama as president, America is back in business, doing
what it is good at doing best—exporting not just Hollywood and
Starbucks but also dreams and hopes, hard work and ethics, idealism
and possibility.

People tell me that Obama doesn't have the experience to be a
president. He is young, they say, as if this is a liability. Yes, he
was a senator but he never had to run an office. He has no experience
in leading institutions. Just because he's a great orator and a great
writer doesn't mean he's going to make a great president. And yet,
reading through the speeches he's given on his website, I am struck by
the simplicity, clarity and grace with which every issue is given
great consideration, from America's ailing infrastructure to the role
of fathers' in raising their children, from America's role in the
world to its responsibilities at home. This is a man who has thought a
great deal more about governing an entire planet than any other man in
the running.

And point after point, he strikes the chords of those who feel
disheartened and alienated in an interdependent planet. Clearly an
administration which denies the existence of climate change is out of
touch with reality, and yet one such administration controlled the
most influential country in the world. The world headed in one
direction, America headed in the other in the last eight years.
Unnecessary divisions were created between people, unnecessary wars
were fought, and unnecessary barrels of oil lit and went up in smoke
in places as far afield as Afghanistan and Iraq. Muslims, all 1.5
billion of them, suddenly became enemies. Terrorists stalked each
major city. As in a fairy tale, nasty demons and genies benignly
napping during the Clinton era decided to come out of the bottle and
bomb major metropolitan areas. Perhaps with Obama at the helm, the
threat level that the United States posed to the rest of the world,
and the rest of the world posed to it, will now go down, and we can
all take a rest.

Obama has tough work ahead of him. But lets take an American view and
see the global financial crisis as an opportunity rather than a
threat—one in which the playing field has become a bit more even, the
rich have become a bit more humble, and everybody is more aware of the
delicate vulnerability of an interconnected planet.

Obama will undoubtedly have to make tough and unpopular decisions in
the years to come. Being at the top is a lonely job, and watching his
face the audience knows this guy is up for a tough time. But as with
all great leaders—Lincoln comes to mind—a little adversity never did
any harm. The harder the job, the more a man learns and the more he
can test his own character and come up with transformative changes.

Tougher immigration laws and restrictions on outsourcing will hit
economies like Nepal harder, but let's put our own interests on the
backburner for a moment. And lets face it—having a few of our software
engineers return home instead of leading the good life in Napa Valley
might not be so bad for Nepal either.

Obama's victory is significant not just for America but for the world.
It proves once and for all that we live in a world in which democracy
works. Now let's give this man a hand during the next few years and
see what he'll do to transform the world.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

great reading Sushma, very interesting material there, just wondered whether you may have time to write a book with me? neela@london.com