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Obama as Everyman

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.

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1 Comment:

  • 1 phyllis c. murray
    · Jan 22, 2009 at 12:42 am

    Inauguration Day 2009 was celebrated at the Bronx UFT Headquarters. Jose Vargas,UFT Bronx Borough Representative described the Inauguration of President Barack Obama as a historic event. And surely it was a momentous occasion. It was the culmination of months of political action events by members and friends of the United Federation of Teachers. It was also a mission accomplished: Barack Obama, the candidate endorsed by the UFT, was officially sworn in as the 44th President of the United States.

    President Obama’s concept of change has a special meaning to trade unionists. “Change does not come from the top down,”said Obama, “change comes from the bottom up. Change doesn’t happen just because someone is Washington says it should. Change starts when you teach a child to read or register to vote… when you heal broken bodies and troubled sprits, organize communities and allow people to join unions.’ And that is exactly what the members of the United Federation of Teachers do and continue to do in an effort to affect change in their school communities and in the nation. Paul Egan , a UFT Bx District Rep., leads the political action work at the Bronx Borough Office. He spoke of the political action that UFTers participated in as they joined in the campaign to elect Barack Obama. He spoke of the phone banks, voter registration drives, and door to door initiatives to get out the vote. That work will continue as UFTers continue to face the myriad budget cuts of the future.

    President Obama said the following:” It took a lot of blood, sweat and tears to get where we are today, but we have just begun. Today we begin in earnest the work of making sure that the world we leave our children is just a little bit better than the one we inhabit today.” And that has always been the quest of UFT members as they witness their students learn at every turn. UFTers,as agents of change, allow their voices to be heard in Albany, in Washington,D.C., and in City Hall. And through it all, UFTers are preparing their students for a future that is not their own.

    Therefore, on Presidential Inaugural Day, we applaud President Barack Obama who reminds us that “there is not a black America and a white America and Latino America and Asian America- there’s the United States of America.”

    President Obama has spoken the words trade unionists have waited a long time to hear. And we concur: ” Despite the enormity of the task that lies ahead, we are as hopeful as ever that the United states will endure, that it will prevail.” And we will be there to work with the President “so that the dream of our founders will live on.”