by Jennie S. Bev
Both Barack Obama and I once lived and grew up in the Menteng district of Central Jakarta. He went to SD Negeri 1 Menteng, while I went to Saint Theresia. Both schools were within a few minutes drive from each other, but of course unless time was a Mobius strip, we would not have met each other.
Both of us were children without fathers, both of us were raised by strong mothers and grandparent figures, and both of us are aware of our multicultural background. Barack is half Kenyan and half white American and I am an Indonesian of Chinese ancestry. Growing up fatherless, I agree with Barack's notion on his father's influences. He said, "My father taught me not by his presence, but rather by his absence."
Today, I know him through his books Dreams from My Father and The Audacity of Hope. He is also a "rock star" politician, a rising star Democratic senator from Illinois, and now he is an official presidential candidate of my adopted country.
I am proud of him, not just because we shared some commonalities in our upbringing, but because we believe in the promise of the future and that together we have the capacity and the courage to make meaningful changes.
Now let's land back on earth from the orbit of Planet Barack.
Simple people whose primary interests are giving a good living to their families and making them safe and secure are likely to be moved by his words. While we are so infatuated by Barack's charming rhetorics and charismatic personality and we have been trying to connect him with ourselves, can we realistically see him within the historical and political context? Because, after all, politics is much more than being a motivator and an inspirator.
There are many other powers simultaneously working both in alignment and in opposition to whatever he and his supporters are fighting for. After all, powers have limits and limits are what we should be aware of from the beginning, so we will not be surprised and disappointed whenever any politician –Barack include– fail to deliver on his promises.
In A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens wrote, "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times; it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness; it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity; it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness; it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair; we had everything before us, we had nothing before us.” And this epic of 1775 is today's deja vu.
Assuming he succeeds in the election, his tenure will be the most challenging ever since the beginning of U.S. history, as he would need to, first and foremost, overturn the current world's perception of "America the oppressor" to "America the hope of the world.”
Second, he would need to fix the broken trickle-down economics with Barack's version of economic justice, which is bottom up.
Third, he would need to readjust the United States from its current "cruise control" to "manual control" due to leading in a multipolar world where it is no longer the sole source of unshaken power.
In short, Barack would need to lead this mammoth nation into the state of humility and to a higher level of consciousness of considering the well-being and existence of "the others.”
The point is, Barack might need to compromise his idealistic views. After all, according to Andrew J. Bacevich, the author of The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism, there is a gap between U.S. leadership and exercising global leadership. And a U.S. president might have charismatic influence over many people's opinions –including the world’s– but he will be directly affected by the administration, because they are the ones who make policies.
Regardless of whoever is elected as the next president, the "national security working groups" consist of baby boomer advisors who are neither innovative nor renaissance-minded. On Barack's corner are Madeleine Albright, Warren Christopher and Antony Lake. On McCain's corner are Max Boot, Robert Kagan, Randy Scheunemann and James Woolsey.
In terms of economy, he would need to fight really hard to make Wall Street and Main Street equal counterparts by not succumbing to special interests. This, of course, would require more than strong tenacity, but economic prowess and sophistication. And, apparently, he is inexperienced in this area. Despite his conviction that experience has nothing to do with future performance, his promise of economic justice is the one that hits home the hardest to U.S. voters.
Barack is likely going to be a world-class unifier and the best embodiment of how the so-called "power of one" has the capacity to brighten the world. Now let's pray that his promises come true.
The Jakarta Post, September 17, 2008