Monday, January 26, 2009

Symbolism matters

Bush Jr must be catnapping in his 1500-acre prairie chapel ranch in Texas. The moment his presidential chopper took off from the Capitol Hill, taking him out of public life for good, there was a collective gasp all over the mall in DC. It was followed by a huge echo that soared high and tapped at the window panes of Marine One: Good Riddance.
As Bush looked out of the flying machine -- at the vast multitudes -- he knew that this was no ordinary transfer of presidential power. Change, really, had come to America.

[Bush looks out of Marine One as millions boo him on his exit]

As the chopper got out of sight for the millions on ground -- booing 43 -- it was an end of a longish, nauseating nightmare. David Frum, the neocon journalist -- who wrote speeches for Bush – says that in the Bush White House – one thing was always unwelcome: Brains. Thank you David, but was it not you who came with that infamous ‘Axis of Evil’ phrase which Bush read out with such false bravado. With his extremely limited intellect -- but unlimited hot-airs – America hasn’t seen a worst president in its 220 year history.

History will test Obama. I hope he passes it. There is a certain pleasing fluency about him. You can smell sincerity as he talks and no I’m not for a moment suggesting that he rocks because he is Harvard and black with mixed parentage and with a Muslim middle name. My admiration borders solely on his leadership qualities. Obama is special because he is different. His is not going to be a faith based presidency but one that works on the sheer power of ideas. In the 21st century it is very important that the most important man in the world does not believe that God tells him secretly to attack countries in the Middle East.

Obama is exceptional because he is such a refreshing break from the past. All the last 43 presidents – for instance – have had European ancestry. 38 US presidents were of the British Isles descent, while three were of Dutch origins [The two Roosevelts and Martin van Buren]. The remaining two were of German descent [Hoover and Eisenhower]. Obama is a descendant of neither British or Irish or Dutch. He comes from the poorest of the poor: black slaves, Africans from Kenya. He has nothing fashionable, not the least his name. He has not one but two Arabic names: Barack Hussein

[The inauguration: A sea of people greet the new change]

Uri Avnery, the witty Israeli columnist, was swift to point out in a recent sharp write up: The first signs are small. In his inaugural speech, Obama proclaimed that “We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus – and nonbelievers.” Since when? Since when do the Muslims precede the Jews? What has happened to the “Judeo-Christian Heritage”? [A completely false term to start with, since Judaism is much closer to Islam than to Christianity. For example: neither Judaism nor Islam supports the separation of religion and state.]

Obama’s tenure began on a very symbolic note. Day one in office he chose to sign an order saying Guantanamo and CIA’s hell-hole secret prisons will be shut by the year end. He signed another important order banning harsh torture methods like water boarding. In a domestic policy initiative Obama pledged to protect tax cuts for poor and middle class families. The new president shall reverse most of the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest taxpayers. A couple of hours later Bush era’s stem cell research freeze was lifted. Brick by brick everything Bush was being brought down.

Symbolism does matter. Bush lied about going to a war. He shut people up. He ridiculed dissent. He was perpetually close to ideas and diversity. He made a mockery of the American constitution by trampling upon people’s civil liberties and suspended the fundamental right to appeal -- the right to habeas corpus. And all along he resorted to scare-mongering. Like a headmaster he hollered: Look here kids, if we don’t erect these hate-walls, the Dracula will come and drink our blood. Of course it was all gibberish. There was only one truth about it: It was untrue.

One line encapsulated it all: 'We reject as False the choice between our safety and our ideals' Obama thundered, as a frosty, forlorn Bush looked on. Moments ago, the military attaché who carries the nuclear codes in a brief-case, had quietly crossed over and sat behind the new commander in chief.

The world was a new place.

Sameer