Thursday, June 4, 2009

Is Obama already a transformational figure? I think so.

In writing about President Obama's speech today at Cairo University, The NY Times noted: "While the message touched upon a litany of challenges, it boiled down to simply this: Barack Hussein Obama was standing at the podium as the American president."

That made me think: had I been asked to guess a few years ago, before I had ever heard of Barack Obama, which country on the face of the globe a rising politician named Barack Hussein Obama was seeking to lead, based upon his name I might have guessed some Muslim country or even an African country with a Muslim presence. Never would I have chosen the United States of America.

Yes, I supported Hillary Clinton. And no, I don't agree with every policy that Obama is currently pursuing, although far more than not. And yes, in many respects, Obama is another American politician, mixing promises to various groups with flip flops on some positions he long ago had seemingly embraced.

Nonetheless, his election as President of this country does represent a profound change, not only generational but also in reflecting the demographic and ethnic changes in this great country.

I have in recent years suggested that this 21st century will not be America's century. That America's half century was the second half of the 20th century. To me, the tragic events of September 11, in a dark and troublesome way, may in retrospect come to symbolize, together with other events, the beginning of the decline in America's hegemony. The bankruptcy of General Motors may also come to symbolize that movement from America's dominance to the emergence of China and other Asian countries as the new engines of development on the planet. Only time will tell and I shall not be around long enough to see what actually happens.

But Obama's emergence and election to lead the United States, whether you like his policies or not or even him as a person, reflects to me that America is continuing to change, to evolve, to adapt, and to grow. He may indeed be a transformational figure, perhaps with respect to the policies he espouses, but more so as a figure who bridges a transition from America as a nation dominated by its Caucasian majority and led in the main by white males to a far more pluralistic country in terms of ethnic mix led by leaders from all the various sectors, be they African-American, females, Hispanics or others. He is the first African-American president but he is the son of a Caucasian mother and an African (not African-American) father, able to call upon his own rich life experiences to provide that transitional leadership.

For me, Obama as President gives me more hope than I've had in recent years that the United States will adapt to circumstances in this 21st century and at least remain a force to be reckoned with, hopefully a progressive and wise force, and a nation that continues to grow and prosper, even as other countries around the globe, particularly in Asia, emerge as major if not dominant actors on the world stage.