Posts Tagged ‘Obama’

Watching the news today I saw highlights of Obama’s last rally of the campaign in Iowa and my mind flashed back to the same night four years earlier, the night before the 2008 election.

We left Washington DC at dusk heading West. By the time we arrived in Manassas, 35 miles South-West into Virginia, it was dark and a light rain had started to fall. It wasn’t hard to find out destination, which was the Manassas fairground, but finding a park was a more significant challenge as the streets were choked with cars parked in every conceivable spot, legal or illegal. Finally we found a place and walked to the fairground, where Obama was holding his final rally of the 2008 campaign.

People streamed in the same direction as us and a buzz of anticipation and energy filled the air. It felt more like arriving at a festival than a political event, a feeling reinforced by the stalls and spruikers which lined the street for blocks before the entrance.
The Fairground itself was a sea of people and I wondered if we were going to get close enough to even see Obama. Eventually we emerged into the back of a field with a stage set up at the far end, surrounded by red, white and blue bunting. A huge “VOTE FOR CHANGE” sign rose above the bleachers to our right. We had made it just in time for Obama.

I think he was introduced by Mark Warner, the Democratic candidate for Senate. The 100,000+ crowd roared. I’d never experienced anything like it. I’d been at huge protests before, but the energy there is more defuse and chaotic. Here it was focused with a cultish intensity on the man on the stage, the soon-to-be President of the United States, barely blinking for the 45 minutes he spoke, mesmerized by his well-practiced lines. He closed with the story of the origin of his “Fired up! Ready to go!” chant, the exact same story he finished his final rally this year with.

A lot has happened since then. Some of the hope which characterized the 2008 campaign has become the resignation of this year. Where Obama’s 2008 campaign was fueled by a belief that politics itself could be changed for the better this year’s campaign is focused on a more traditional calculated: that the other guy is worst. Whoever wins a segment of the population will reject them as illegitimate.

The widening gap in the American political discourse, where arguments center no so much on what needs to happen next but on fundamental disagreements over what just happened, with facts only as valuable as their usefulness in advancing an argument.

For all the fanfare of participation around the presidential campaign and the real and important differences between the candidates, American democracy is in real trouble as the ability to talk and compromise becomes increasingly rare.

For me personally it’s been an extraordinary and often-challenging four years. The passage of time always spins me out and anniversaries like this prompt me to try to hold all that has happened over these years in my head at once. From Washington DC to San Francisco and then back to Sydney. Building communities and starting a family. Launching a company and struggling to hold onto my visa. Adventure and uncertainty and joy and frustration and love. So many experiences as we went out there and came back again it kind of boggles my mind.

And I can hardly imagine what the next four years will bring.

Fired up. Ready to go.

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Obama’s Nobel

I’ve been thinking about Barack Obama being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize quite a bit over the past couple of days and, as excited and hopeful as I am about the Obama administration, it really doesn’t feel entirely right.

Regardless of how you feel about whether he deserves the award I think we would all agree that giving a President only 9 months into his term the world’s foremost career-achievement award makes it only too easy for those that wish to dismiss both the President and the award while leaving many supporters surprised and non-plussed.

It is not hard to make a compelling case that Obama deserves the award according to the criteria outlined in Alfred Nobel’s will:

during the preceding year [...] shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses.

I believe that Obama’s election, in-and-of-itself, created an extraordinary change in the world’s view of America and America’s understanding of itself. The way he ran his campaign and the ideals he expressed empowered millions of Americans and inspired many millions more around the world to believe another world was possible.

Changes in atmosphere, in tone, in people’s conception of what is possible, constitute real changes which can indicate a deep, cultural shift in a society. Communicating, defining and inspiring are important parts of the president’s role, and a crucial element in what Ron Heifetz calls ‘Adaptive Leadership‘. This is leadership that produces a shift in values and allows society to understand and confront the real issues, in contrast to ‘Technical Leadership’ which is focused on the application of existing knowledge for incremental fixes.

However I still wish the Nobel Committee had waited. There’s no doubt that Obama will be at the center of world events for the entirely of his presidency, and I believe, and we all must hope, that in many of the years ahead he will make more concrete steps towards peace and disarmament, the protection of human rights and real action on climate change than those that have occurred thus far.

However necessary it is to bring about changes in atmosphere and behavior it is insufficient to be considered a great, or even effective, president. For that these changes must be leveraged into legislative and policy progress. And Obama has a lot of work to do to achieve this, and the places where progress has been made are not those most related to peace building but rather domestic concerns, especially the American economy and next, it is hoped, domestic health care.

I am hopeful that over the next year or two Obama will finalize the closing of Guantanamo Bay, withdraw US forces from Iraq and lead the world to an agreement to take meaningful action on climate change (and then get domestic legislation passed to make this action real). I even hope he will find time to focus on pushing for a final Israel/Palestinian peace agreement. Any of these things might justify receiving the Nobel Prize and would make it easier for supporters to unabashedly celebrate the win and harder for critics to dismiss it. And there were certainly other strong candidates from the past year. Morgan Tsvangirai would also have been a deserving winner for instance.

In the end I hope that this Nobel Peace Prize is, as Obama said, “a means to give momentum to a set of causes.” These causes need all the momentum they can get.

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