He certainly appears good – young, slim, sculpted, incisive, statesmanlike, eloquent and, an advantage these days, of mixed race.  Barack Obama is the man for our time – or at least that is what his sponsors would have us think.  America is ready for a black president, a man with the credentials not only to represent his country, but to lead the world. This will be a new dawn.  The clichés roll.  By comparison,  John McCain, his senior by 25 years, looks old and slow, yesterday’s man, a hero in a long past war that his country would rather forget.   

 

It is already being proclaimed as the most expensive election in history.  For this is not about electing a competent administrator, a clever economic investor or even a skillful personel manager;   it’s about the installation of a God. 

 

The positions, Barack Obama is in contention for, are the paramount leader of the richest country in the world, a diverse and complex nation of 225 million people, the  commander in chief of the world’s most powerful and well equipped army,  and the de facto guiding force for the western world.  If elected, he would be the most powerful influence on the stability of a planet in crisis.  He has to be a God.    

 

He has to be a God because, to be President of the United States of America, he must appear to embody superhuman strength, the wisdom of Solomon, steely authority, unflinching resolve and unquestioning dedication.  He must show himself willing and strong enough to accept absolute responsibility.  Yet he must also possess a humility that goes with understanding, a charisma that inspires loyalty, and a basic humanity that guarantees trust.  He has to be all things to all men.  Only a God can do that, because Gods, as our own creations, are the virtual embodiment of all of our projections.  Obama is not a God, but he has to create the illusion that he is. 

 

We don’t really know Barack the man – only what his public relations team choose to tell us,  but he starts with the advantage of not having a political history.  Unlike Clinton, he doesn’t have shadows to air brush out.  Unlike Bush, he doesn’t have relatives.  Unlike McCain, he is not tarnished by an unpopular war and the failure of a  previous republican nomination.  His is a blank canvas – an opportunity to create a public relations masterpiece, a dazzling image that will propel him to apotheosis.   

 

So everything is strategy,  a PR opportunity;  a visit to a factory in Detroit,  a school in Texas, a film set in Los Angeles,  a tour of European cities,  a speech in Berlin reminiscent of JFK,  a meeting with Sarkozy, a photograph with Gordon Brown – a useful contrast!  He doesn’t have to say that much.  In fact the less he says the better – every utterance will be picked over by the media vultures.  He just has to look the part. And so far, he has done it very well. 

 

It should be a foregone conclusion.  Obama looks like a God – McCain looks like grandpa.  But public opinion is so fickle.  Would-be Gods can be destroyed by one unfortunate error.  Maybe the timing of his European visit was presumptuous,  but the biggest area of risk concerns his attitude to The Middle East.  Hilary Clinton wanted to bomb Iran,  Obama wants to talk.  Obama got the nomination, but did he really capture the mood of his country?  The difficulty is that whatever Gods-elect say will be used by their detractors to undermine the image.  The cartoon in The New Yorker brilliantly captured brilliantly the fears of the waverers.  It showed Obama in the Oval Office, dressed in an Arab robe and turban, exchanging a fist bump with Michelle, who is dressed in the battle fatigues of The Black Power movement.  The stars and stripes are burning in the grate. 

 

Obama sounds awfully like Osama – just change one letter.  It anything stalls his campaign, that will.  It is so unfair.  Obama has been so measured in his comments about The Middle East. The man has shown the qualities of a statesman.  But this isn’t about the real man.  The election of Gods is all about image. 

 

We confer so much power on our leaders, they cannot appear anything other than Gods if they are to retain support.  They may well be elected on a wave of adoration, but it is so difficult to maintain that level once the reality of everyday politics sets in.  How can you appear like a God, when you trying to broker a deal between the unions and the public sector, or when you are having to make concessions with China on carbon emissions, or when you feel forced for diplomatic reasons to ignore violations of human rights in Chile? 

 

It is easier if there is a crisis.  JFK exhibited God-like invincibility s in his dangerous but successful brinkmanship over the delivery of nuclear missiles to Cuba.    Margaret Thatcher had her great symbolic victory in The Falkland Islands.  ‘Rejoice, rejoice!’, the warrior goddess cried at the moment of victory.  And then she faced down the miners, whose leader, King Arthur was overburdened with the clay of hubris.  Her success was in choosing who to pick a fight with.  Gods and Goddesses must appear invincible if they are to last.  Their God-like reputation is but a veneer.  Scratch it and the image is lost forever. 

 

Remember the broken statue of Saddam after the last Iraq war.   It was shock to see that it was …. H O L L O W !    I first heard of Saddam when I was invited to my then research fellow to attend a reception organised by the Iraqi students.  It was an elaborate PR exercise.  A film depicted smiling images of a be-whiskered, beneficent leader holding babies, talking to farmers, visiting a power station, greeting other Arab leaders. Yet just months before, he had committed genocide against the Kurds in the far north of his country – though of course we didn’t know that then. 

 

I fear that in the excitement to get him elected,  Obama is being built up too high.  How can he possibly hold all the hopes, aspirations and projections that people are heaping on him?  With America about to lose its status as the sole world superpower,  Obama is seen as its saviour.  But if he is elected, sooner or hopefully later, people will see Barack Obama for what he is, a clever young lawyer of mixed race and underprivileged background, who has worked hard, showed a degree of political cunning and knows how to present himself.  And they will feel deceived and hate him for his humanity.  Even one as gifted as Barack Obama will not be able to solve the credit crunch or prevent terrorism and with every apparent failure, some of the gold leaf will flake off his image.  He will begin to look – well ordinary.   

 

The election of a political leader is like falling in love. It is a state of idealisation. We imbue our leaders with all our hopes and aspirations. We make of them everything we have ever desired.  They are the one. But after we have committed to them, we gradually come to realise that they are not perfect; they are perhaps a touch too arrogant.  We begin to notice a few disagreeable habits.  They might not even be as scrupulous and honest as we thought they were.  And they seem to care more for remaining in power than they do for our concerns. 

 

We demand absolute standards from our Gods.  If they are too human and they let us down, we hate them. And so, column inch by column inch, they have, as Gods, to be destroyed.  

 

So Obama must fail.  They all do.  It is inevitable.  One can only hope that his fall of grace, when it happens, is a long decline into boredom and inconsequence – with the machinery of state being competently managed by the administrators.  It is unlikely that American democracy would permit their leaders to act out the myth of their own omnipotence and become tyrants, but there is a danger is that the edifice that is Obama may be so high and excite so much fear among his more reactionary opponents, that when it falls to earth, the damage will extend far and wide.   

 

Despite that,  I do hope he gets elected.  The inauguration of America’s first non pure white president will send a powerful message of racial integration thoughout the world, affirming the United States as a dominant moral force for peace and stability throughout the world.  My wish is that he won’t be forced to compromise his basic humanity and will prove a great leader.   

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