Saturday, January 10, 2009

Obama and the Presidents

I woke at 6:30 am. I didn’t feel at all like getting up – one of those mornings when I just want to stay cozy and drowsy in bed (which almost never happened before ME) – so I played a podcast of The Strand, the BBC World Service arts program. I listened to an interview with Tarell Alvin McCraney, who’s apparently got three of his plays all running on the London stage at the moment (if I heard right); he’s American, he’s black, and he’s gay – and I’m clearly way out of touch with the London theatre scene, because I’d never heard of him. Times have changed; but what I noticed most about the interview was people’s attitude towards him as an American in London – and this is what has really changed – people smile when they ask him if he’s American, and then ask what he thinks about Obama, and he (McCraney) has noticed how happy people in England are about the new US president; they are happy (and they show it!) that Obama won.

How long has it been since the Brits were truly interested in who became president of the US? Clearly I’m not the only one who is thrilled at what we’ve just experienced. And I don’t think it’s only because Obama is African American – it could have been Condoleezza Rice who got elected, and I doubt that people would have been so thrilled; it could have been Colin Powell, or Jesse Jackson, and the reaction would have been far less enthusiastic. There is something special about Obama that is a combination of everything about him, not just one single element, that appeals to many people. As a young boy he lived for a couple of years in Jakarta, and his step-father was nominally Muslim. I know from my own experience (two years in Surabaya, East Java) that living there one becomes accustomed to hearing the call to prayer five times a day, to seeing everyone head for the mosque at 11 am on Friday mornings, and that the rhythm of Islamic life becomes an everyday thing, something positive; one associates it with life, with routine, with normality. So Obama is the first US president who has a personal experience of life in an Islamic country. For him Muslims are not “other”, they are not strangers. And this is what we need now; this is the kind of person we need who can help bridge this gap between the Judeo-Christian and the Muslim world.

On January 7th the former living US presidents all met together for lunch at the White House, a meeting that apparently Obama initiated, and GW generously agreed to host. Bush Sr., Bush Jr., Clinton, and Carter were all there. It is unusual for such an event to occur before a new president takes office. My impression, from the brief media film clip, was of the senior men all handing over the torch to a younger man, and wishing him well; but at the same time, for me, there was a sense of Obama’s seniority – a sense that here is a man who has the combined intelligence of all who have preceded him, with an additional dose of emotional intelligence that is exceptionally (and sadly) rare in senior officials. I’m not saying that Obama won’t make mistakes. How could anyone take on such a job as this and not make mistakes? But I don’t foresee him making any of the terrible gaffes that dogged presidents Carter, Clinton, or (worst of all) GW Bush.

1 comment:

jennyanna said...

Dear Nikki,

Just happened to read this, since Patrick is watching (GRRRR) US Football, which still cannot charm me after all these years. Shocked to hear that you have ME. My previous sister-in-law, Joan, has it, too, and from having seen her struggle, I know how awful this can be. Poor you. Don't be too brave and let others take care of you, if you need it. You're welcome here anytime.

I couldn't agree with you more on the Obama thoughts. We were lucky enough to see him here in Asheville last year. Truly a magical day. He has something about him, a serenity, that is palpable, even if you are not in close proximity to him. He is such a great him there is some white, some black, some Asian culture. Perfecto!He has already been the "acting" president,no matter what anyone says.... but Tuesday will be the official inauguration. One man cannot change the US or the world overnight, but I think he will sincerely try to put things right, because he is not caught up in an ego thing. He knows he is smart and has vision, but he doesn't dwell on it. I and everyone around me here is absolutely thrilled. There is hope, at last. Americans are better people than the world has so long believed. Now we all get a chance to prove that under this inspiring new leadership. More power to you, Barack! And more power to you, Nikki for a healthier you in 2009!