Saturday, February 28, 2009


I’m a fan of Barack Obama. I have a t-shirt and everything (from the Party campaign office in St Petersburg, where I happened to spend election week) – even a picture of him on my office wall. His White House even has a Director of New Media, or some such, which I found via the new user-friendly, plain-language White House website the day of his inauguration … and then I decided I wasn’t a supportive observer any more, I became a fan. It ain’t the best word, maybe, but it evokes something that’s otherwise hard to get across.

From watching the campaign coverage for all those months, it quickly became apparent that Obama is W’s opposite number in almost every regard. Which instantly ranks him way high on my Moral Integrity meter.
Now, I choose my heroes mindfully, and I don’t use the F-word lightly. Springsteen; Bono, Adam, Larry, Edge of U2; Walt Whitman; Louise Arbour; Whoopi Goldberg; Tommy Douglas; John Cobb, just off the top of my head. There are plenty of other folks, obviously, whose work I respect and applaud, but who do not inspire that special level of admiration that makes one a “fan.” Let me define it this way: a combination of their talents, their integrity, and a particular mission that in some way dovetails with my own, will tip mere appreciation into unqualified (if not uncritical) support on principle, even when they stumble – a bias, even fondness, because I share their demonstrated values and I want them ultimately to succeed.

I confess, it’s pretty weird to find myself so completely engaged by American federal politics, and admiring of a sitting American president … Crusaders, reformers, novelists and theologians – and friends! – of American breeding? Of course. But the American political culture is so different from Canada’s, and much less attractive to my RED-WHITE-DYNAMITE! patriotic eye, that its political machinations just aren’t that compelling. And I came of age at the dawn of Reaganomics, grew into political consciousness by the harsh light of Mulroney and Thatcher. My default position on American capitalistic politics is suspicion and dismay. I’d rather spend my time at the hard work of politicizing my own people, thank you!
But like many around the world, of course, I am hooked on the saga of Barack Obama in this chapter of geopolitical history. The United States is a marquee name on the world stage, and his presidency is the best plot twist many of us have seen in a long, long time. For those of us on the side of social democracy and social justice, it’s a feel-good story. (I’m sorry the Republicans and neo-liberals cannot relish this historic moment with the same glee as the rest of us!) So I’m disclosing my bias, letting everyone see me in the cheering section.

Fan moment #2: Obama made Canada his first foreign visit as president a couple weeks back. Thirty minutes with the Prime Minister, 10 minutes with the Leader of the Opposition. Weird life, politics. Anyway, my compensation for enduring any news coverage that includes Stephen Harper, on this occasion, was the President’s ‘impromptu’ detour for some Ottawa shopping for his wife and kids. Bought a maple-leaf pastry (the clerk wouldn’t let him pay, though), posed for photos and autographs, generally got down with the people. BRILLIANT political move, but not cynical or staged … the store clerks were genuinely bug-eyed and thrilled by the unexpected visit.
Of course I know the Secret Service will not let the President do anything completely spontaneously, and I’m pretty sure the whole street was sussed out before his plane even landed. But it strikes me that, just as Obama is using his much-discussed political capital to reform Washington, he seems to be aware that he must continue to seed that good will – he must remain visible, accessible, open and unpretentious. Even in a foreign country.

For all that, I won’t be suspending critical consideration, precisely because …well, I will hold Obama to a higher standard. And everything he’s said publicly so far tells me that’s how he wants it. Now that the election campaign’s over and the electorate shocked itself and the world – not only by electing a black man, but one who rejects cowboy capitalism and who talks of sharing the wealth – the fascination for me will lie in watching a fellow social-justice worker attempt to reform the most individualistic society on the planet.

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