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The Importance of Being Obama

Posted by RB Kollannur on January 21, 2009

Disclaimer : The following post is a leap of thought. I currently lack the data to completely support or deny it.

A few weeks ago, I came across an eloquent article by a New York Times columnist about a Polish immigrant (The author’s father) who came to US, leaving behind his life in Poland, and carved out a career for himself in the land of opportunities. Issac Asimov, in his autobiography, talks of how his father left behind his life in Russia for an uncertain life in US seeking a better future for his family and better education for his children. A common thread runs in both stories – people sacrificing a certain life for an uncertain one in the hope of a better future.

These are the hands that built America – Immigrants from around the world (though mostly Europe) who came seeking the land of opportunities. They had to start from scratch as they had to leave everything from their past life behind and work hard to make ends meet. And work they did. As Bill Clinton so aptly put in 1998, they proved to be the most restless, the most adventurous, the most innovative and the most industrious of the people. With the necessity to perform from the word go in order to survive, US evolved into a society driven by innovation and results.

However as the society stabilized, an inertia towards accepting new immigrants developed. Immigration was restricted during the boom of the 1920s and the Great Depression hence. World War II saw a revival in stronger immigration, but gradually the quantum of foreign born in the total US population dropped, from 20% in 1900 to 10% in 2000.

But the society kept its focus on performance and innovation. It was encouraged to invest heavily in the private sector and live off future earnings. In order to secure their future, people needed to innovate and produce to bring about these future earnings. It all went fine for a long time. Until…

The late nineties saw the dot com bubble and burst. The best of the innovative minds in US were attracted by the lucrative nature of the market and invested their time and intellect heavily in what turned out to be mostly frivolous internet startups that failed to monetize. Some worked, but most failed. Had the ability to innovate reached a peak?

The late ninties also saw a slight strategic shift of focus in the objectives of the compnay – from more revenue through better results to more revenue through lesser costs. India and China benefited vastly by the outsourcing and offshoring projects in services and manufacturing respectively.

Going by the historical trend of all out action that US has adopted, a step back or a slowdown is a regressive societal behavior. Over the course of the past half a century, the pioneering spirit of the early immigrants diminished as the immigrants became settlers and the settlers became natives. Though innovations are very much in vogue in US (as seen by the numerous Web 2.0 startups), many are still to develop a stable model for monetization their innovations.

So, the question is will US continue as the pioneer in innovation and technology? This is where Barack Obama comes in.

Born to an African father and a Hawaiian mother and grown up in Indonesia, Obama has the markings of an immigrant written on him. He has emerged from political obscurity to become the Head of State of his nation in a decade In the process he has shown he has a clear objective of what he wanted and how to get it. He has put forward his talents to the best of his ability for the betterment of his nation (and self). It is clear that he draws from the spirit that brought the immigrants to US.

Barack Obama represents the quintessential hands that built America. Though he may have been elected thanks to some misguided policies of his predecessor or the color of his skin, what he represents is certain. He can rejuvenate the dying pioneering spirit of America. He is kniting together a team taken from the new immigrants (who have migrated over the past two decades) and old “natives” with a view to bring about an all encompassing change to the foundation of the society he lives in. Though it is too early to comment on his success, he has put a system in place to revitalize the US society.

Going beyond his nation, he is seen as a beacon of hope around the world in these troubled times. A sign of unwavering leadership and a hopeful recovery. It is uncommon for anyone to face the trials that Obama will have to endure in the near future. But he will have to be resolute in his approach and placate any inhibitions still in the minds of any doubters. And it is expected he would come through. So far Obama has displayed the potential to come through adversity. His tasks are clear. He will need to rebuild the identity of his nation, while keeping an eye out for the rest of the world. It is a task not many would ask for and not many would want imposed on them, but it is his, for him to take care.

When he walks down to the take the oath at the US Capitol Building, he follows the path very few in history have taken before him. The path that led Leonidas and his thousand men against the armies from half the world, Hannibal and his army of elephants through the Alps against his mortal enemies, Spartacus in a rebellion against his masters, Octavian as he returned to Rome after vanquishing Mark Antony, Constantine as he summoned the Council of Nicaea, Joan of Arc to call on her countrymen to free themselves from the tyranny of England, Gandhi to Dandi to make salt and Hitler to the Berlin Olympics, among other people .It is a path that has graced the undivided attention of the world they lived in and cared for. Many faltered on the way, while many failed outright, but some continued on till they successfully overcome their travails, to be judged by history. And doing so, they changed the world they lived in. It is this challenge that awaits Obama as he sets out to establish USA 2.0.


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