We have all in our own ways been stakeholders in the promise of the Obamas.
For it wasn’t just American voters who chose him to be “The One,” lining up for hours outside of polling stations four years ago, in Mr. Obama’s victory-night words, to “put their hands on the arc of history and bend it once more toward the hope of a better day.”
He was echoing the lofty phrasing of Dr. Martin Luther King, who more famously said “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”
People the world over thought that Americans, by electing their first black president, who talked to the world about hope and change, were indeed bending toward justice, willing America to be a better place. What else was that Nobel Peace Prize about?
We all proudly put our hands on the arc of history.
Sharing in the historically resplendent moment on the night of his election, as Barack Obama stood with his beautiful wife and daughters, thrillingly introduced as “America’s new first family,” you would have had to be devoid of hope or any desire for change, your veins filled with ice water, not to cry.
Now former Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin, thankfully reduced to a mere gadfly shadow of her politically powerful self, sneers that Obama and the Democrats were peddling “hope-ium.” (Better than her drug of choice – OxyMoron.)
As if it were wrong to even have “hope” in the first place. Silly, silly voters. Right-wing commentators and politicians seem shamefully gratified that the tears of joy are now a wail of disappointment and frustration as America’s economic problems continue and Barack Obama’s feet of clay trudge the walk.
There! We told you so. Where are the jobs! Why is he so remote? He hasn’t sold his accomplishments! He’s a big disappointment! It’s all so terrible! And yet it’s not. Former president Bill Clinton, like some wacky but wise uncle from the Arkansas hills, roared into the Democratic convention, saying “now listen to me,” and managed, albeit in a long 40 minutes, to sum up Obama’s many achievements – righting the auto industry, the Affordable Health Care Act, the stimulus package and starting the slow work of job creation, coming up with hundreds of thousands of new jobs – compared, say, to Romney’s and the Republican Congress’s “zeee-ro” record in that regard in the last four years.
It’s a good record in a nightmarish time. I talk to American friends who truly believe Barack Obama will be re-elected. “He’s not a great politician,” said one of them, “he’s a great leader.”
Now, as in all campaigns, the two presidential contenders must go mano a mano, selling themselves. Meanwhile, in both camps, the simplistic stage has been set: The Empty Chair vs. The Empty Suit. There’s not a lot for desperate or even idealistic voters to hold onto.
The conventions – now more like pageants – also featured two vibrant, personable wives telling everyone just how remarkable their guys were. Ann Romney charmingly tried to give her husband Mitt a beating heart. But Michelle Obama, with her perfect upper arms, a Harvard-educated lawyer who says she relishes her “job” as “mom-in-chief,” dazzled with her passionate summation of why her husband should continue as President.
Think of it. All Jackie Kennedy had to do to get a standing ovation was shrug on a designer dress and whisper a breathy hello as she showed up invariably late, her husband’s glamorous consort.
Today first-lady contenders are required to blow away an entire partisan arena with their oration, and look fantastic to boot, not to mention “turn the tide” in favour of their husbands.
The head spins.
The Obamas, win or lose, will go on to do good things, for themselves and for others. In Jodi Kantor’s perceptive book The Obamas, the New York Times reporter writes that Michelle Obama is her husband’s “sparring partner, early-warning system, refuge and guardian – tougher, by his own admission, than he is.” That’s pretty tough.
Even as they gear up their highly competitive selves to push through the next two months, I wonder whether the Obamas, shoes off, secretly say to each other, “You know, losing won’t be the end of the world.” Free at last?
But that is not up to them. The American voters will decide whether to let Barack Obama go down in the books as a one term “historic” wonder, or as a two-term innovative leader.
The world will live with the results.
You can follow me on Twitter@judithtimson, read my blog at judithtimson.com, or e-mail me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.