Obama: Myth, Mutt and Man

Imagine you went on a holiday – a long holiday. Maybe you went to Venus, or some Antarctic research station because you have not been keeping up with the news. You just got back after leaving exactly twenty-two months ago. You get back, switch on the TV news, and ask yourself… “so who is this Barack Obama guy?

It is not like you are angry at yourself for not knowing who Barack Obama. You like to stay informed of what is going on in the news, but you have been away for a while. You left on February 9th 2007, the day before the junior senator from Illinois announced his candidacy for President. You do not live in Illinois, so it is not like you have been following Obama’s career, but perhaps you did see his keynote address at the Democratic National Convention in July 2004. Maybe you wondered at the time how a complete unknown from Illinois local politics had secured the opportunity to speak on such a lofty national platform. That morning the Philadelphia Daily News ran its story with the headline “Who the Heck Is This Guy?”. Today, you are just bemused. When you left, Obama was a pup, a whelp, who showed promise but was still wet behind the ears. Now you are back, Obama is not just the hope, but also the choice of America. People talk about him like he will be the saviour of the whole world. So who is this man, Barack Obama?

You can think of two people that Barack Obama is not. He is not John McCain, the defeated Republican candidate. And he is not George W. Bush. John McCain is George Bush, at least according to Obama’s campaign. How very surprising. When you left, it was McCain the maverick, the man who is despised by large sections of his own Republican Party. In the meantime he not only gets selected as candidate (the GOP must have been desperate, you think to yourself) but then turns out to be nothing more than a puppet of the Bush family. Pretty unlikely, but there you have it. Obama says so, and people seem to believe him.

Come to mention it, Obama is not Hilary Clinton either. When you left, people were worried if America was ready for a female commander-in-chief. They sure called that one wrong. There are more women than men in America, and most of those women voted for Obama. Men, in contrast, were evenly split. If women were prepared to vote Obama, you might hope they also have some faith in their own gender. For all the people who did not like the former First Lady, it seemed her enormous fund-raising machine would guarantee the nomination, if not a return to the White House. You start to investigate what happened during those twenty-two months. It turns out this Obama, this unknown, outspent Clinton! He energized the African-Americans and the anti-war movement, and built a strong organization on the ground. That was all held together with an internet fund-raising and mobilization operation that looked like Howard Dean 2.0 (but minus any crazy shouting antics).

Obama only just beat Clinton, it turned out. Usually the primaries are over by the half-way stage. This nomination race went all the way to the wire, with Clinton doggedly snapping at Obama’s heels all the way along, and even closing the gap slightly in the final stretch. But Obama won, and secured the nomination. There was a lot of mud-slinging between the candidates. Some of the most venomous attacks were not about the race, but about Obama’s race, or whether it could be commented upon. However, when it came to the national convention, the Clintons did their duty and became Obama’s biggest cheerleaders. They did so much cheerleading, that some were worried it overshadowed the man himself. That turned out to be only temporary. Before the race began, a lot was said about Bill Clinton’s charisma, and whether it would soften Hilary’s hard edges just enough to win her the trust of the American people. By the end, nobody was talking about Bill Clinton’s charisma. Now the Democrats had an all-new superhero to fight the prolonged charm offensive of a Presidential campaign: Barack Obama.

Not many men attain mythical status in their own lifetime. Fewer still get to manufacture it for themselves. But Obama had, thanks to his books. The books were very good, per the reviews. Who actually reads these things, other than the fanatics who have decided which way they will vote? So why were these books so important to the campaign? Then it dawns on you. This man was unknown – where would the press look for information about Obama, other than his own books? What better way to introduce an unknown candidate to the people, than in the form of books: inspirational memoirs and aspirational agendas that can be used as reference guides. Every lazy hack could simply dive into them and recite chunks to spin out a threadbare story. Is anybody naive enough to expect a politician to write a balanced account of themselves and their lives, even if they do their utmost to make it seem balanced? You would hope not. But when deadlines loom, and there are few alternatives, news organizations have a lot inches to fill and minutes to occupy. The swiftboats sunk Kerry’s campaign by making assertions that were widely repeated. Obama’s campaign learned that lesson well: always launching their own messages first, and quickly torpedoing any hostile claims that surfaced. No, you might research the campaign and the man, but of course, you had not going to read Obama’s books. Only simpletons prefer propaganda to the real story. Anyway, there is no need to read them, when so much of the content is repeated in the news.

You think back, and try to think of men like Obama. Ronald Reagan was the last President to have acquired a personal mythology whilst in office. The seeds was of Reagan’s mythology were sown during his movie career (“win one for the Gipper!”) but truly blossomed as a result of the events of his Presidency. Take the collapse of your cold war enemy, throw in a failed assassination attempt and top it off with a generous spread of military interventions worldwide, and any President would attain an enviable grandeur. Combine that with confidence, and the priceless training of a life spent reading lines in front of cameras, and legends will inevitably follow. With all that going on, it was little wonder that Reagan could not remember if he ordered the selling of arms to terrorists. Yet Obama’s mythology already transcends Reagan’s and he has yet to actually do anything. His lustre comes from something else – the promise of change. It is an all-sweeping, all-embracing change, that promises to set the world to rights, whilst never threatening to upset the apple cart. If it takes broken eggs to make an omelette, Obama is the greatest celebrity chef, promising to remix the economy and give everyone the opportunity to taste the good life. It is best that Obama avoid being photographed with fishes and loaves, lest the religious overtones become too obvious.

What were the ingredients that made up this Obama? At the heart of the myth lies the greatest trick of all: transcendence. He is black, if you want him to be. He is African-American, if you want him to be. Try to pin him down and confine him, and his essence evades the traps set for mere men. He is defined by race, he redefines race, he rewrites the history of race and he is above race, all at the same time. Suggest that his popularity is linked to his race, and like Geraldine Ferraro, you risk being accused of racism. We are told that some voted against him because he is black, but few have voted for him because he is black. What an incredible claim to make! Do pollsters and pundits really presume to get inside people’s heads and determine the subtleties of subconscious prejudice therein? Obama has a white parent, and a black parent, yet oddly enough gets lauded for being the first ‘black’ President, just like he was the first ‘black’ to be elected President of the Harvard Law Review. You muse whether you can you be black on a part-qualified basis? You look it up on the internet. According to the US Census you can, because the rules they employ reflect

“…a social definition of race recognized in this country. They do not conform to any biological, anthropological or genetic criteria.”

So, Barack Obama can simply chose which race he is when he submits his own census return, and nobody else can say he is right or wrong. It does not depend on the way he looks, or his genes, or who his parents were. Could it be that Obama has more than one race? Since 1997, the answer is ‘yes’. Back then, a decision was made with the intention of better reflecting diversity and, in particular, the increasing numbers of children from interracial unions. That manifested itself in 2000, when the US Census permitted respondents to identify themselves with more than one race. So Obama could be black and white at the same time. A bit like a panda, or a zebra, you chortle to yourself. It is all up to him.

There are many politicians who have been chameleons – able to morph to suit their audience. Obama looks like he might be the ultimate chameleon. He can even change colour when necessary. Or rather, it is not Obama who changes, but the eyes of the audience that see in Obama what they want to see. ‘Change’ and ‘hope’ are powerful. They permit every Obama supporter to see the Barack Obama they most desire. He is black and white, educated and in touch with the people, liberal and moderate, all at the same time. His opponents missed the point when trying to attack a Chimera like Obama. Whatever you accuse Obama of, half of his supporters will disagree with the attack because they believe it is untrue. The other half will believe the accusations are true, but like Obama all the more because of it.

Looking at the reactions on election night, it is little wonder that so many got some stars in their eyes. History was being made. Here, they all proclaimed, as if with one voice, is the first black President. It would have been a little trite, but still true, to point out that Obama will also be the 44th white President. Arguing the point is as futile as telling a Kenyan mother that naming her child ‘Barack’ does not improve his chances in life. Because it is up to him, this confusion of black and white could be resolved, if Obama came out and told us what race he is. You remember that golfing genius Tiger Woods settled the issue of his race with great aplomb, when he proclaimed himself a Cablinasian – Caucasian, black, Indian and Asian. Obama, however, prefers to be ineffable. He gives away some clues. For example, he is a member of the Congressional Black Caucus, the blacks-only club of the US Congress that bars entry to whites. This same Caucus was described as “race-hustling poverty pimps” by J.C. Watts, the Black Republican and former Representative for Oklahoma. At a Caucus meeting in 2004, the independent (and white) campaigner Ralph Nader claimed to be on the receiving end of racist insults from Representative Mel Watt of North Carolina. In his letter to the Caucus after the event, Nader stated the following:

I do not like double standards, especially since our premise for interactions must be equality of respect that has no room, as I responded to Mr. Watt, for playing the race card.

But you digress. Obama had not been elected a Senator at that time. And whilst the Caucus bans whites, it admits blacks. So perhaps Obama gets special dispensation to allow his white half to attend in conjunction with his black half – a bit like conjoined twins. Of course, had Obama been in the room when Nader spoke, we can only hope and assume he would have been active in protesting about the racial slurs. After all, he should have a special ability to empathize with his fellow black, Mel Watt, who used the foul language, and his fellow white, Ralph Nader, on the receiving end.

You keep searching, but to no avail. In the end, it looks like people are allowed to decide Obama’s race for themselves, in contravention of the census rules. Obama, the consummate wordsmith, declines to define his race, so leaves the rest of us to do it for him. Because the term ‘mulatto’ is out of fashion with some because it stems from the language of slavery, and ‘half-caste’ suffers the same connotation, we are left with ugly and bland epithets like ‘bi-racial’ to describe a personal background that Obama seeks to celebrate. When left with that meagre choice, just calling him black has some advantages. To call Obama black is to be positive – to affirm something about not just the man, but about black people. To many minds, it is all the better that Obama should be a guiding star for all blacks, a shining inspiration for everyone with roots in sub-Saharan Africa. They were rushing to celebrate, but here, after the event, you have time to ponder. Surely, whatever can be affirmed can also be denied? A black man and a white woman make a black child, and he becomes the first black President of the USA. In another age and time, a Jewish man and an Aryan woman have a Jewish child, who is condemned by the holocaust. The oft-repeated proclamation that Obama is the hero and representative of blacks is just a broken mirror, reflecting the same racial distortion as Nazi zealotry and the Nuremburg Laws. The urge to categorize and pigeonhole is, by turns, human, understandable, lazy and dangerous. You notice there has been a lot of talk about the symbolism of Obama’s victory. Obama should be wary of becoming a symbol. Prince, the eccentric music legend, tried being a symbol for a long while, and it did him no good. Obama would be better off playing it humble, especially now the election has been won. You scan forward, and notice Obama did this well at his first press conference after the election. When talking about buying a dog for his daughters, Obama called himself a ‘mutt’. In the end, we are all mutts to some degree. If he is to govern well, Obama must represent his whole country, and not just a minority. Being top dog amongst a band of mutts will be much easier than pretending to be a breed apart.

Not satisfied, you keep trying to unearth the mystery of this Obama. This mystery surrounds and pervades the man on all levels, not just his race. At times, he appears to be the greatest magician of all time, able to escape traps that would have defeated Harry Houdini, and amaze crowds that are bored to tears by David Blaine. His greatest trick is the promise of change. Everybody knows he stands for change, but how many can say from what, and to what? Perhaps some supporters see change when looking at the colour of his skin, or the change of colour from Republican Red to Democrat Blue that swept across the electoral map. Look again, and this is a lawyer. So much for a change in how the country is governed. Just in case some people think electing an inexperienced Harvard lawyer is too radical a change, it gets further watered down by adding Joe Biden to the ticket, a man so steady that he campaigned for the Democratic candidacy in 1988 and waited twenty years before he risked having a second go. Biden would be the worst dinner part guest imaginable. He never stops talking. When he is talking, it is probably about how he rides the train to work every day. Lucky him to have the same cushy job, year after year. The rest of us need to move with the times. Of course, half of the words that come out of Biden’s mouth are not even his own. Forget speechwriters – in 1988, Biden demonstrated his own special aversion to change, by copying good political speeches by others, and forgetting to mention he had plagiarized them.

Skimming back over the campaign, and you notice that imbeciles on all sides were falling over themselves to endorse Obama. In doing so, all plaudits were taken to be good, no matter where they came from. Edward Kennedy compared Obama to his brother, John. Presumably the analogy stops short when thinking of how JFK’s hawkish tendencies lead to the Bay of Pigs, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and ultimately the Vietnam War. One hopes that Obama is also a better family man than JFK, and is less indebted to organized crime for his victory. Obama is not at fault if he gets the approval of his former pastor, Jeremiah Wright, whilst Wright was simultaneously giving racially divisive sermons. However, you are surprised that Obama came off so unscathed from the relationship. Obama must have thought that Wright was talking sense most of the time. This lawyer, who so carefully plotted his rise, had taken a quote from Wright – “the audacity of hope” – and used it as the title of one of his books. Obama also showed himself to be made of a mixture of teflon and granite, as he was unscathed by his wife Michelle’s ill-advised comments about being proud of her country for the “first time in her adult life”, the implication being that it had hitherto been a source of shame. In the greatest act of collective amnesia, by Obama, media and all, Colin Powell endorsed Barack Obama because the Republicans had moved too far to the right. Come again? The Republicans moved to the right at the end of Bush’s Presidency, but not at the start? And Colin Powell now has sound judgement? You can spot that there must be anomaly somewhere in this story. When exactly did Bush move too far to the right? Was it during the time that Powell served the Bush administration? Or was it after Powell stopped being useful to the neo-cons and got kicked out? Most of the really bad redneck stuff was done in Bush’s first term. For most of the second term, Bush was just mired trying to minimize all the damage he had caused. It was Powell, after all, who went to the United Nations to prove, to the whole world, the following equation:

(satellite photos of moving trucks) + (bugged conversations of people coughing down telephone lines) = irrefutable proof that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction

Now, we are supposed to believe that Obama, who always opposed the war in Iraq, can be relied upon to be a good commander-in-chief because he has the endorsement of one of the patsies who started that same war? One of these men may have sound judgement, but not both of them. Nothing succeeds like success, and a lot of Obama’s approvals come from politicians, American and overseas, hoping his popularity will rub off on them. After winning the election, even the Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad congratulated Obama on his victory. If a man is judged by the company he keeps, then Obama the man continues to evade you. Neither the history of personal relations, nor the throng of current well-wishers, can be used to define this man.

You note that inexperience was Obama’s greatest weakness as a candidate, but it hardly mattered. If anything, his clean slate helped to affirm his message of hope and change. When it came to difficult topics, it also helped him avoid being pinned down. The best evidence offered for his readiness for executive office was the size and success of his massive campaign – a circular logic if ever there was one. How much that campaign is down to Obama, and how much down to talented individuals who aligned themselves with him out of principle or opportunity, you can never be sure. Either way, a President is not a man alone but the leader of a team that he selects. If the team is successful, it reflects well on the man. That said, too much can be read into his victory. Obama is lauded for his accomplishment in winning the election – an achievement that is seemingly on a par with a disabled man climbing Everest. Any idiot can win the US Presidential election: his predecessor did it twice. When George W. became President, he had to overcome plenty of prejudice. That prejudice was about the way he thought and talked. Compared to those natural infirmities, Obama had it easy.

You look at the results. Obama’s victory was good by Democrat standards, but not the marvel that some had hoped for. A lot of people that will remember, for decades, the hoopla of election night history will probably have missed the cold reckoning that belongs with the day after. Obama won 52% of the popular vote, a tremendous result for a Democrat. Bill Clinton did not break 50%, and Jimmy Carter did well to get 50.1% in 1976. Even so, it means only slightly more than half the voters preferred Obama to McCain. Turnout was up, but at a little over 60%, was not enough to break any records for the proportion of eligible voters who made the effort. Combine those numbers, and you realize that, even after the huge voter registration drive and the massive spending, Obama got the support of less than 32% of the eligible electorate. The Federal Election Commission states that, at 15th October 2008, Obama spent US$573M on his campaign. Probably by election night on November 4th, he had broken US$600M. That is more than double his opponent, and equates to well over US$8 for every vote he gained. If Obama needs indicators of the need for change, he need look no further than his own campaign finances. And in a final little story that passed with little remark, Obama’s campaign did the decent thing a few days before the election, when it returned the ineligible donations made by his aunt, who is living in the US illegally. You marvel at Obama’s fund-raising accomplishment, but are still left bemused that, even for Barack “Change” Obama, the golden rule is to get the money in first, and worry about where it comes from second.

You give up, in frustration. There is no point trying to learn about Obama by looking at the surface. Occasionally he gives away snippets of information about himself. Some of it suggests he may be a poor poker player. Refusing to wear tiepins that sport the American flag was not just petty and counter-productive – it needlessly offered a target for his attackers. Good poker players do not make small statements like that; showing your cards only helps your opponents. But Obama learned from his experiences, and now keeps his cards much closer to his chest, at least most of the time. Only a thorough dissection will reveal who Obama is now. The dichotomies of political life will soon put Obama to the sword. Whilst he rode high expectations to election victory, he now knows to dampen those expectations, and not just when it comes to the state of the economy. Obama’s term will be defined by how he handles conflicts and builds and maintains the consensus he has promised to deliver. The battle lines were submerged by his campaign, but they will resurface.

To begin with, as some commentators have already noticed, having a black President begs the question of affirmative action and racially-targeted assistance from government. If Obama supports money for blacks then he could be accused of looking after his ‘own’, at the expense of all the poor whites who will also feel pain during a recession. If Obama does not target assistance for blacks, he risks losing support with the black politicians and voters who favour it. The next dilemma links to unions, healthcare, taxes and employment. Obama is backed by the unions. Union leaders were vocal in giving Obama their support. One of the key benefits which unions secure on behalf of workers is healthcare rights. However, healthcare costs are killing the American economy. Unless Obama can find a way to make healthcare cheaper not just for those who lack it, but also for those unionized workers who already enjoy it, he will be unable to liberate the American businesses that are crippled by the cost of providing healthcare benefits. It is little wonder that they struggle to compete with overseas rivals. The American population is ageing, which will only make the problem worse with time. Ongoing benefits for retired workers poses more and more of a burden on businesses that are trying to downsize because they are failing, and trying to get lean to stay competitive. The American car manufacturers, for example, could easily fall into a rapid death spiral. Government money cannot help, because tax money has to come from somewhere. It will not help to shift the burden from one part of a flagging economy to another. As businesses start to struggle, the only solution is to cut the cost of healthcare across the board, which will be no small trick except by cutting the numbers of workers in healthcare, or by reducing the provision of healthcare enjoyed by the average person who already has it.

You read over Obama’s manifesto, which seemed the standard litany of promises, waiting to be broken. It was long on spending promises, and short on explanations of where the money would come from. Though Obama will doubtless blame the economic malaise, he was always going to have a tough time ticking all the boxes on his wishlist. If anything, the crisis might help Obama. It could buy him time, but only at the cost of making his choices a lot starker. For instance, Obama has already signaled he would like to see a speeding up of the government aid for ‘retooling’ US car manufacturers. These tools are supposed to help make environmentally-friendly cars. You wait to see how eco-friendly the US car industry will really become – it is not as if they ever fought to save the planet before. However, it is safe to say that this ingenious but disingenuous retooling subsidy will only scratch the surface of the automobile industry’s problems. Jobs will be lost. What is more, Obama cannot afford to give state bailouts to every industry. Pumping money into Wall Street leaves little spare for anyone else. So whilst he may favour the retooling program, Obama quickly needs to discover alternative answers than the hollow promise of money from the government’s ever-growing borrowing.

You agree that America needs change – deep, fundamental change. But from what you see, Obama has carefully talked around the nature of the economic change that is needed. Government R&D projects may raise the hope of a better future, and maintaining expenditure on road building will help keep jobs today, but neither represent a deep-seated change. To get America back on a sound economic footing, American goods and services need to be provided to the same quality, whilst costing less. That means cutting out waste. You go back over your previous example, healthcare. In the US, healthcare is expensive. One of the reasons for expensive healthcare is the cost and complexity of the insurance industry because people need insurance to pay for healthcare. One of the reasons for the cost of healthcare insurance is the cost of the legal sector, because of the complexity and costs involved in legal liability. Healthcare, finance, law – all nice professions. A surprisingly high number of these professionals voted for Obama. Obama is a lawyer after all! All of the industries run by these professionals need to be made a lot more efficient. That means better returns and better products at lower price. And that probably means job cuts, or at least pay cuts. America cannot afford to allow the disease that has plagued its airlines to consume every other sector. Some of the people who will lose their jobs will have voted for Obama. That adds even more pressure on Obama to preserve American jobs. Yet one obvious way to keep down the amounts spent on these professions is by offshoring the work to highly skilled and well-trained people – accountants, engineers, even lawyers – in places like the Philippines. The one thing Obama cannot afford to do, is to do nothing. Keeping the richer professions protected only adds to the costs of the poor. Blocking offshoring adds to costs. Preventing simplification adds to costs. And allowing well-off professionals to suffer a decline in living standards will also lead to a cut in the size of the economy, albeit the right one. The question is whether Obama will be ruthless enough to start challenging the professions, like his own legal profession, that are costing America too much.

On foreign policy, Obama kept showing a penchant for foolishly showing his hand. After your long time away, you feel you are a traveller, and can empathize with culturally and nationally diverse points of view (however wrong they are). Obama fell into the great trap of thinking the American media is the only one that listens to an election campaign. Okay, so foreigners do not get to vote (not all Americans get to vote for that matter – Puerto Ricans picked Clinton over Obama in the primaries, but are excluded from the Presidential election itself.) It can seem, to a politician worried about what American voters think, like a good idea to share your ideas on how to deal with the rest of the world. However, if you tell American voters, you tell the rest of the world too. And Obama should have appreciated that it is unwise to announce how he intends to negotiate, before his negotiations even begin. Unfortunately, he kept falling into that trap. To begin with, he announced he would negotiate without preconditions. Though it signals a positive shift in approach, and makes for a snappy campaign message, it is also wrong. American negotiators can will all sorts of concessions just by laying down the conditions for a meeting to happen. It is more evidence of a bad poker player – Obama gives up a bargaining chip for nothing in exchange. Worse still, every crumby dictator’s regime is legitimized by a meeting with the US President. That means if Obama keeps his promise, he risks becoming an impediment to change all over the world. But even when Obama gets tough on foreign policy, he talks too much. During the Presidential debates, Obama insisted he would send troops into Pakistan to finish off the Taleban, if the Pakistani government could not get the job done. He would have been better advised to send the Taleban a special delegation from his campaign, offering advice on how to recruit more supporters. Obama’s rash comment will have sent a message to every America-hater in Pakistan. That message reads: “we know you hate America, and we do not care.” Pakistani governments regularly get criticized by the citizenry for doing too much to placate the US. When the ‘leader of the free world’ announced he will send in troops if a sovereign government cannot get the job done, he just encourages all those suicide bombing fanatics who feel that American values are there to be imposed by Americans on everyone but Americans. Looking at the video of the debate again, you could see from McCain’s reaction that he thought Obama had made a howler, but was caught between two stools. He wanted to lambast it, but commenting on it would only repeat and exacerbate the mistake. How funny that even big mouth maverick McCain (“bomb bomb bomb, bomb bomb Iran”) could teach Obama a lesson in diplomacy.

For all the talk of change, Obama shares all the traditional attributes of men who reach high office. Extraordinary self-confidence is one them. Obama has it in buckets. His self-confidence may inspire support and devotion, but could be dangerous if it encourages him to pursue mistaken policies. Bush, like many before, suffered from the flaw of believing his talents were greater than they were. He was an oaf – hailing the UK Primeminister with “Yo Blair!” and trying to give neck massages to German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Obama may be more reserved, but may suffer from blind spots about his own weaknesses. At least when politicians tend to err towards a laissez-faire philosophy, the risk of catastrophic error is less. Bush made his greatest mistakes when he took charge and made decisions. His best moments were when he shut up and did nothing. Except when he sat doing nothing during 9/11, or when he did nothing about Katrina.

There is little doubt that Obama is a doer, but he may do too much. At times, he conveys an almost naive belief in the power of government to make the world better. When Obama said, during one of the Presidential debates, that the computer had been invented by the American government, it was as much a Freudian slip as it a misremembering of his debate preparations. Perhaps Obama meant the invention of the internet, but even that skirts around the fact that the invention of the internet was driven by military needs, not civilian R&D. The US defeated the Soviet Union in the Cold War not by having the better military, but by having the bigger economy that could pay for the better military. And the US had the bigger economy not because the American government was better at R&D than the Soviet government, but because American businesses were better at R&D than either government. In the 80’s, Reagan’s economy was lucky to enjoy an unforeseeable boost from Silicon Valley, not from some monolithic Federal research program. Perhaps it should be no surprise that Obama has no feel for this – he is a lawyer, organizer, academic, and apparatchik, not an entrepreneur, technologist or businessman. It looks like he also has a better understanding of culture than he has of history. If the cold war is too far back, perhaps Obama should look at the last eight years and the very mistakes he railed against. Even if the Republicans were evil and stupid, they had a government infrastructure that encouraged and enabled them, with devastating consequences. Bush’s administration had spy satellites, and wire taps, and intelligence operatives. They had administrators, managers, analysts and even Obama’s new best friend Colin Powell. Yet on one simple question, whether to go to war in Iraq, they reached, not least according to Obama himself, the wrong decision. All of those governmental assets, human and technological, were fielded in the cause to deny UN’s weapons inspector, Hans Blix, more time in his search for those apocryphal WMD’s. They were all part of the US Government. Can Obama really be so naive to believe that, by changing the man at the top, the rest will just become a factory for creating good?

So here you are, and after your long meditation upon Obama, are you any closer to knowing who he is? He is personable but undefinable, steely yet flexible, poetic yet approachable. He has an odd name, but people name their children after him. He invokes fear amongst some, hope amongst more. He is a visionary, but promises to embellish the vision with detail. People obsess about his skin, and laud him for his brain. For all the talk of colour, Obama’s brain is the same colour as everyone else’s (pinkish, not grey, as most people wrongly believe). He is of history, but has not made history. On election night, history was made not by the candidate but by the electorate. They were the ones who made a historic decision. Whilst photos of a smiling Obama will stick in the memory, the real images of change should be of the unexpected people – the rural whites, the blue-collar anti-intellectuals, the bitter gun-owners – who went against the supposed grain and voted for him.

Now imagine you are going on holiday again. Once more, you will be out of touch, with no idea what is going on in the rest of the world. You will be gone for a long time – about four years. When you get back from that holiday, that is when you will find out who Obama, the man, really is.

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