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Not a saviour, but a reason to hope

The Washington Spring — 2

The great Portuguese writer Miguel Urbano Rodrigues has criticised me for speaking of Barack Obama as though he were a saviour or messiah. Rodrigues’ criticism seems to me excessive, though I admit that I expect much from the American president and that I saw his election as somewhat providential — a modifier I use simply as a synonym for ‘unhoped-for’. I am a staunch advocate of reason, if not in behaviour than at the least in analysis. I strive to make sense of the world with unblinkered clear-sightedness.

What I liked about candidate Obama in the first place, and President Obama in the second, is precisely that he appeals to reason, not instinct. This reveals in his attitude a respect for his listeners that, in my opinion, is the only worthy attitude in a democracy. When politicians try to manipulate rather than convince their audience, democracy loses its sense.

It is Obama’s attitude, and this alone, that leads me to expect great things of him. The world is in a bad way, in large part because of the United States. As the world’s leading power, it plays a decisive role in everything that happens on the planet, and its behaviour in recent years has more often aggravated crises than helped resolve them.

I have just devoted a book to all the troubles —strategic, economic, intellectual, ethical, environmental — from which the world suffers, and I am convinced that we face grave perils. It is crucial that we pull ourselves together to try to weather the storm. However, I don’t want to discuss my book here. This is a forum for thought where I express myself not as an author but as a worried citizen — a deeply worried one, unquestionably, yet one still fervently searching for reasons to keep hoping.

Until proven otherwise, Obama’s election is one of the strongest reasons we have for keeping hope. Just two years ago, I barely knew his name. There are very good reasons for his meteoric rise to power since then. He rightly identified the world’s most pressing problems, and he explained to the people of the United States that they must restore their nation’s moral standing in the world, particularly the Islamic world. And despite his father’s African origins — yet perhaps also paradoxically due to them — he won the election and became the most powerful man on the planet. Is it unreasonable to hope that he will change the course of events, in the United States as much as in the rest of the world?

Do the countless people, young or otherwise, who applaud Obama wherever he goes see him as a messiah or rock star? I don’t think so. They are simply aware that they live in a difficult and dangerous time, and they see in this man a reason to hope. To dismiss the enthusiasm of the young as ‘Obamamania’ is reductive and insulting. The majority of them are demonstrating political hope, one that is well considered, noble and legitimate.

I share their hope passionately but with a clear head. I plan to keep up a personal column under the heading ‘Washington Spring’, where I can think out loud and write about my joys, disappointments and questions. My hope is that the spring will prove long, fruitful and groundbreaking, but I will monitor it without complacency. Indeed, I have begun preparing my next post, in which I feel obliged to address a number of causes for concern.

(First published in French on July 17th).

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