20 days for 20 years

I’ve been thinking about what 2009 holds in store. 

At this point, I should of course wheel out all of the great reasons one should not make predictions (especially about the future). Or perhaps I should recall the fictional Magrethea in HitchHikers’ Guide to the Galaxy, a planet which decided to hibernate through Galactic recession – oddly tempting at the moment.

Slartibartfast of Magrethea

What I actually find myself doing is focussing all of my attention on one particular day in 2009, and one that is not that far away: January 20th. Of course, that’s the day that Barack Obama will officially be sworn in as America’s 44th President. 

Barack Obama

Whilst we’d all talked about the way the mass intelligentsia here and in the states had taken to digital media, it scarcely seemed possible that anyone could truly harness these new approaches as a presidential candidate. But Obama did precisely that, collecting hearts, minds and dollars.

It seemed even less likely that Obama would continue post election with either the consensual style he adopted in the campaign, or the digital media he’s used to do it. But still he is sticking resolutely to path which looks likely to remould politics and attitudes to politicians, as much as it looks to bring about the change to the American way of life which was such a centrepiece of the campaign.

And so to inauguration. For the first time in many years, Obama has forgone the massive donations of corporate lobbies and is working to finance the inauguration with the $5 checks of his base which were such a large part – symbolically and financially – of the campaign. We can expect the speech itself to be an even more marked departure. 

The theme is given as ‘a new birth of freedom’, and it is being positioned as a suitable celebration of both the 200th anniversary of Lincoln’s birth and the 22nd Martin Luther King day.

I believe that Obama will not propose, however, any form of back slapping or self-congratulation for his nomination and election. I believe instead he will look to start a more radical redefinition of personal freedom from the perspective of responsibility, and of what it means to be an American. It will be ‘ask not what your country can do for you’ but for a different generation, and I believe with an even greater onus on practical participation.

It’s an interesting idea in a western democracy where we have come to be believe that politicians will gain favour by cutting taxing and increasing entitlements, the right course of action today is to encourage greater participation and contribution from the population, both in shaping the political movement, and in building and supporting communities.

Obama’s success in four year’s time will be contingent upon delivering a real vision of the American dream in action where the US of today performs the miracle of economic and social rebirth, not through handouts and state intervention, but through drive and determination. As Napolean said, the role of the leader is to “define reality and provide hope’.

The new first family change the perception of the US internally and externally just by the symbolic importance of their race. And, the freedom which is being reborn cannot, I believe, be a freedom to shop, a freedom to entitlements, rather I believe the emphasis will be on re-invigorating the spirit of hard work and determination which underwrote the freedom, and hope, of the founding fathers.

And, what better time for this message to be spread in America. As many of the new certainties of the Regan era flounder – the stock market won’t make us all rich (at least not all of the time), America hasn’t solved world peace (especially under hapless and incompetent Bush), jobs cannot be protected by governments from foreign trade.

George Bush

If Obama can achieve this, the amazing success of the campaigns will pale into insignificance.

And where does this leave democracy? If Obama succeeds in reshaping the imperial presidency, around a new need for leadership (post the Bush vacuum, the incompetence and corruption of politicians) around consensus through straight-talk, around a liberal and academic view of the world; then we will see yet another complete upheaval in the concepts of media and a political domino effect around the globe.

Traditionally politics hangs on the coat tails of the latest corporate successes. Here political America will vastly have outdone corporate American in understanding the potential of the new medium. Of course, the Obama campaign used vast amounts of traditional media. It’s not so much the vehicle of promotion that shifted but the vehicle of engagement.

I think he will do it, and it will radically change the way we think of politics, democracy and America for the next eight years. 

Oh, and Apple will release a slightly lighter 17″ laptop, Microsoft will eventually get a good operating system out, having taken several years of not-very-subtle hinting  to heart, and Google will port Android to PCs and make an even bigger killing.

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