Even before its launch, the Obama presidency is larger than life. There’s no arguing its symbolism is the bearer of its own legacy. The world’s nations, regardless of their histories or systems of government, have put their ancestral loathings on hold and are sharing the exhilaration. It’s like the whole planet is an athlete high on endorphins. It is spectacular for Americans especially as we have by this election distanced ourselves just a step from the morally felonious exclusions of the past. By our votes we have repented the bonds of history. Let’s luxuriate in what our nation has overcome and work to ensure that Obama’s victory is not a token, novelty, or fluke of history but rather will make perfectly plausible the election of other racial and other minorities in the future.
Universal brotherhood is a forever elusive prize and Obama may or may not bring us closer to it. The pace of progress towards global harmony is glacial. The drifting of continents is rapid by comparison. Obama’s potential for greatness correlates to the greatness of the tests he faces. The world is in agony and it is by steering people through their ordeal that a leader achieves greatness.
That means that Obama has the best chance since Roosevelt at earning greatness by a personal record of accomplishment beyond that of the symbolism of his election. If he can significantly ease economic problems and defuse many of the culture wars that are raging in various forms here and abroad, he will sterilize the bigots.
But let’s not disrespect Obama by patronizing him with reverence. Let’s not demean him by hero-worship. He is both an uncommon and a common man. He is flesh and blood and must be held to account as such or else his freedom of movement will be restrained by a straitjacket of symbolism.
Allow him the traditional “honeymoon” that we extent to all new presidents. And then let’s do Obama honor by treating him as we do every other president. Let’s not confer immunity to criticism or inhibit the legitimate debate over issues out of fear that our good-faith will be impugned. He is not a fetish. He is a fabulously gifted leader who already has to his credit shown the courage to please and displease both his supporters and detractors without negotiating his core values. No camp will reign in his principles or hold the president in its pocket.
Obama seems to realize that reactionaries don’t have a monopoly on elitism and bigotry. There are people who profess and call themselves “progressives” who are just as guilty. Name-calling and close-mindedness are equal opportunity defects among ideologues.
Obama’s has already made progress towards breaking both the back of blind prejudice and that of blind favor. He wants to be judged strictly on the merits of his words and deeds. He should be exalted or excoriated on the basis of them.
Obama’s speech on race of a few months ago was great oratory. It was delivered without slurs and contained no slurs. It shows his purity of passion and conviction as well as the intellectual complexity needed to bring our nation together. He is already unifying us by refusing to be owned.