Obama – The Weight of Expectation

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As the 44th President takes up office – has the expectation of change become unrealistic?

So finally, thankfully, and with the entire world breathing a huge sigh of relief, the shaved chimpanzee and the walking dead are retired – Shrub back to the Texas monkey sanctuary and Vlad Cheney back to his coffin.

In his place, we welcome President Barack Hussein Obama.

After eight years of \’terrists\’, \’nucular\’, \’misunderestimated\’, mis-remembered aphorisms and bushels of Bushisms to give even Mrs Malaprop pause, it is enormously refreshing to know that the United States has as its Commander-in-Chief an intelligent, articulate, thoughtful man.

OK, I know he\’s not the Messiah. But you have to credit the man – he gives good speech. His words have depth and meaning (so he\’s got a good speechwriter), his timing is perfect and his delivery absolutely beautiful.

But – and it\’s a big \’but\’ – speechifying is very worthy, but it\’s nothing without the deeds.

President Obama is taking office in a time of true crisis in America. In some ways, there are parallels with the 1979 election of Mrs Thatcher, though for him the problems are on a grander scale. Like Mrs Thatcher in 1979, the new President offered a speech of hope, yet didn\’t shy away from the challenges that changing the country would bring.

He takes on the leadership of a nation dented and damaged, its confidence shattered, its self-belief wounded and its coffers emptied. Many nations now see America not just as \’The Great Satan\’, but as a rogue, pariah state forcing its policies on others over the barrel of a Colt .45. And he has to change it all.

President Obama has promised many things in the Election campaign, and in his inauguration speech. He\’s promised to revitalise science, so damaged by the Bush fundamentalism. He\’s offered \’the hand of friendship to those who will unclench their fist\’. He\’s promised root-and-branch change, from foreign policy to Camp X-Ray to universal Healthcare. Now, the \’Obamessiah\’ has to live up to those promises, to rebuild confidence not just in his nation but in the wider world.

Mrs Thatcher had 13 years in office to deliver her changes, the Conservative Party fully 18 years. The new President will have just eight, even if he is able to secure a second term – and given the expectation of the American people, securing that second term is fraught with risk.

The risk is that if (when?) he is unable to deliver on his promises, or cannot deliver as fast as his adoring public demands, then their love affair will lead to deeper disappointment, perhaps faster than he might deserve. Additionally, while at present the change may have had a unifying effect on the nation, it is likely to be hard to maintain that unity and purpose in the dark days of a recession – even with the FDR-esque \’New Deal\’ approach hinted at in the Inauguration speech.

The weight of expectation, then, sits heavy on the shoulders of this historic President. I hope – I really, really hope – he can deliver, for our sake as well as the US. But it will be on the strength of his actions that he will be judged by history, not the quality of his rhetoric.