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Obama, history and hope
I went to one of those wonderful lectures at the RSA recently. This time it was a Cambridge Professor of History who has written a book on American history. His lecture subject was Barack Obama and what history might have to say about what might happen within his presidency.
The first thing Obama will hit is the great loneliness that it it to be in such a powerful and responsible role. Walking into Oval Office and realizing that the buck truly stops here can be a paralyzing moment.
What he will also find is a fickle media and whilst they have been broadly supportive, they will now be increasingly critical. Having played the integrity card, not only Obama but all of his administration must now be perfect -- and the press will find and misdemeanours, no matter how long ago they happened. As I write this, his health secretary has had to resign over tax issues. Each item like this is a scratch in the shining armour.
Several past presidents have been swept in on a wave of hope and can be see as saviours from desperate problems. And a number of these have been ousted in another wave of disappointment a few years later. Obama knows his history and that he must deliver, and soon.
Obama has been accused of being inexperienced. He shouldn't be too worried -- there are presidents in the past who have lacked experience yet have achieved great things. Indeed, it can be an advantage not to have morphed into a Washington political animal.
A president has many advisors, and Obama seems to have chosen his carefully. But in the end his decisions are his and sometimes he may go against all advice. He has to feel able to make such choices.
And in the end, it is history (or, more accurately, historians) who will be the judge of his success. Lincoln was considered a joke in Washington until his untimely (or maybe timely) assassination. History, of course, has marked him as one of the best. So maybe only our children or their children, with the benefit of hindsight, will know whether Obama made a real, positive and lasting change to America and the world. I hope they do