Whatever your political leanings, there can be no question that the election of Barack Obama is a miracle of self-realization, an inspiration to all that self-discipline, singleness of purpose and creative imagination can achieve astonishing results.
The arc of Barack Obama’s narrative is dazzling in its implications. We all know the story and marvel at its denouement. One can find parallels in history, both ancient and recent, in which the will and determination of a single individual finds a way to achieve what is truly an impossible dream.
“Yes, we can,” was exactly the right slogan for the Obama campaign. He certainly proved that he can indeed and his victory against extraordinary odds is a historic event that will be cited and celebrated for years to come. If all of the self-help and inspirational books ever written were piled to the moon, they could not convey how this man achieved the most powerful and most coveted political prize in history.
While we marvel at his achievement, many of we questers who seek through art or science to find the key to human behavior, puzzle over this miracle of aspiration. How the hell did he do it? To me, discovering that link to his inner world is the most interesting aspect of his victory.
Like most of us inspired by his journey, I yearn to know the crucial secrets of the inner man. Who on earth wouldn’t want to emulate him? To all of us, he is the ultimate role model.
I look for clues, unique symbols, characteristics, actions, words, body language and relationships. After all, I am an outsider to his world. I never met him and all I know about him is what his campaign let us know, what was reported to us through various information outlets, the television images of him in action as a campaigner and through his interviews and speeches.
Admittedly, my analysis of the inner man is purely subjective, reflecting my own life experiences and the projection and insight that is fundamental to the novelist’s art. Taking a crack at what goes on in the mind and heart of another human being is a risky endeavor indeed and I do it with some trepidation, although there might be an attempt to put a political spin on my analysis. No way. I assure everyone reading this essay that it is politically neutral.
For some odd reason I find Obama’s choice of clothes, particularly the white shirt, the ubiquitous white shirt he wears, one of the most important clues to his character. A white shirt is a unique symbol of self-discipline. Making color choices detracts from focus. It tells me that anything that interferes with his single-mindedness is simply unworthy of his time.
I’m sure a psychoanalyst might find another explanation, but I cannot get away from the notion that this is a man whose determination is so acute that anything that does not serve his focus is rejected. I do not say this in a pejorative way. Nothing great is achieved without total focus and I frankly and enthusiastically admire him for such discipline.
Then there is the matter of his exercise routine. He knows the true meaning of keeping his body tuned and alert and what we have learned is that nothing, absolutely nothing interferes with his exercise routine. How many of us yearn for such physical discipline?
I am also fascinated by his walk, the cool graceful manner of his walk. There is something totally unique in the way he moves. In some ways, he reminds me of the late John Wayne, an actor with a manner of moving that stands as a marker of his heroic character.
Observe his cool demeanor as he slowly moves to the stage to confront countless thousands. Imagine your own reaction when faced with such a normally intimidating and formidable situation. Think of the self-confidence required to perform this feat. What does he feel inside of himself? I truly believe that his self-confidence knows few bounds. Here is a man who truly believes in himself and is completely comfortable in his own skin.
His facial presentation is also unique. His smile is broad, attractive and exudes charm and ingratiation. It captures his magnetism and allows him to be self-deprecating about his big ears and other features of his face. I found it perfectly acceptable and interesting to characterize himself as a “mutt”, citing a biological diversity that we know from our DNA, is ubiquitous in all of us.
His speech is deep and soothing and the delivery of his words and phrases is impeccable. His oratorical ability has surely been carefully self-trained and his eloquence is formidable. With his resonant voice and phrasing, his speeches have been honed to hit the right notes at the perfect moments and they truly move people, an absolute attribute for a great leader.
It is also worth noting that his choice of mate offers yet another lesson in discipline. He is matched with a formidable, brilliant and strong woman who has quite obviously been extremely helpful in his rise, someone who is a true believer in his uniqueness. You can easily see that the discipline and work ethic that they have lived by is being transferred to their two daughters, both of whom they are trying to make as super achievers as themselves.
As a role model to all of us and especially to people of color, he can be inspirational by showing us what self-discipline can achieve, how a focused outsider who believes in himself and his mission can, with luck, astonishing luck, make it to great heights of success. He shows us by example that the two parent family offers the best alternative to rearing the next generation, a severe dysfunction in the African American community where most child rearing is done by a single parent. If his example makes even a small dent in this area, he will have gone a long way to improve the lot of his brothers and sisters of color.
Whatever he achieves in his governing, his message to all of us is profound. Indeed, he has already carved his legacy into the public consciousness.
It is no wonder that people are clamoring to witness his inauguration. If I were a person of color, considering their horrendous history, I would be camping out in front of the White House even now to get a glimpse of this man in his moment of glory.
When I think of the daunting problems that face him as President, I begin to despair for him and the rest of us. At this moment in our national history, the act of governing seems untenable. The issues debated during the campaign did not even begin to address our problems, some of which may be impossible to solve.
For example, the population of this country doubled in the last 50 years and is likely to double sometime in the next four decades. How can a country that is now 300 million cope with a population that will be 600 million in the lifetime of many of those now living. When you contemplate that situation, you realize that our country’s future is in peril and we will have to be enormously creative when we consider immigration, health care, our economy , our infrastructure, energy and the big elephant in the room, terrorism.
Worse, there are so many people needlessly slurping in the public trough, locked into entitlements that are not sustainable and others who are dependent on the public purse, that extracting them from this habitual form of largesse will be close to impossible. A largely incompetent and unpopular Congress is facing an avalanche of states, corporations and seekers of all stripes with tin cups looking for handouts.
Obama will need to call up all his reserves of self-discipline and persuasion skills to tame the appetite for giveaways by a dysfunctional Congress and the greed and endemic selfishness that is corrupting every aspect of our system. Shifting the balance to protect the truly needy will be a challenge, requiring steel nerves and restoking the talent of persuasiveness Obama brought to bear during his campaign.
For the record, I did not vote for Obama. As someone even older than John McCain I am, admittedly, locked into the ideas that have sustained us through the great Depression, World War II and the Cold War. I understand that mindset and the echoes and slogans of those historical moments. In that arena I was in sync with McCain. Unfortunately, my idea of change is to look backward and contemplate the changes that have occurred in my lifetime. Future change is not a happy concept for a senior citizen whose stake in the future is in the worrisome fate of his offspring, rather than the prospects of his own life on which the curtain is descending.
Nevertheless, the old fashioned verities still persist in my zeitgeist. One of these is respect for our President and the patriotic notions of flag and country. As a soldier I marched under that flag and followed the orders of my Commander in Chief and I will continue to do so under our new President.
With all sincerity, I wish him Godspeed and good luck on the treacherous journey ahead of him. …and us.