Learning from Barack Obama

BY Fidel V. Ramos
Newsbreak Magazine
www.newsbreak.com.ph

The assumption of Barack Obama as 44th President of the U.S. should be welcomed by ordinary Filipinos, given his liberal, anti-racial, pro-minority, and pro-poor tendencies developed throughout his youth, and during his immersion in a diversity of cultures and social justice advocacies.

Given the worldwide economic recession plus political instability in several regional hotspots -- and their impacts on the Philippines -- our elected leaders and decision-makers should seriously study and learn from the Obama phenomenon.

Leadership is what Barack prepared himself for and sacrificed for. His burning desire to excel was not just to satisfy a grand personal ambition, but to enable him to better serve the suffering and marginalized.

Obama's first book, Dreams From My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance, published in 1995, was and continues to be a national bestseller. It describes Barack's grandfather, Onyango, as a respected elder of Kenya's Luo tribe, who had such strong qualities of caring, sharing and daring for his community that he was known for having "ants in his anus" (or "fire in his belly").

The same was said about Onyango's son, Barack Sr. (which means "Blessed" in Arabic), and it is presumed that their genes, fires and ants flowed into Barack II, the incoming U.S. President. And from his mother, Ann Dunham -- an anthropologist -- he also inherited similar virtues of compassion and empathy.

PGMA and Obama
At this late date for PGMA -- which coincides with a new era dawning for America with Obama's inauguration just two weeks away -- there may no longer be enough time and space for her to get a "passing-mark" to reverse what most Filipinos consider a generally mismanaged administration that has been going one step forward and two steps backward.

But, if she is to change her declining trust ratings, she must make bold reforms for the resolution of the enormous problems facing our nation in order that she can still effectively optimize her precious remaining 17 months to return the Philippines back on the track of sustainable peace and development, and a place of respect in the community of nations.

While Obama can look forward to as long as eight years of being at the helm, PGMA and her drumbeaters must not delude themselves into staying on beyond 30 June 2010.

In his The Audacity of Hope, Obama back in 2006 precisely identified America 's dilemma. He said: "What's troubling is the gap between the magnitude of our challenges and the smallness of our politics -- the ease with which we are distracted by the petty and trivial, our chronic avoidance of tough decisions, our seeming inability to build a working consensus to tackle any big problem."

Note Obama's sarcastic comment on the "smallness of politics" against the "magnitude of challenges." Do Obama's analysis and prescriptions ring a bell here at home? Yes, they do, because of "our seeming inability to build a working consensus to tackle any big problem." And, if PGMA bites the bullet of reform and takes decisive actions now, she could still bow out with an acceptable legacy and her head still held high.

Like a meteor
Notwithstanding that Barack's writings are not easy reading, it is certainly worthwhile and rewarding to plow through the 900 pages of both his bestsellers that describe his life story and advocacies. Today's leaders who have cast longing eyes on the Philippine Presidency come 2010 would find it enlightening, even advantageous, to study carefully what made Obama the way he is, what he thinks, and how he gets things done.

For he is not just a rare multi-colored phenomenon who burst upon the world scene at the right time like a meteor, but much more than that, he is a mobile gladiator with sharp intellectual skills, charming political savvy and a cool, unflappable character. Moreover, he is a tough competitor with the admirable physical fitness and endurance of a champion Kenyan marathoner -- born of an austere life style and stability under pressure.

The phrase "The Audacity of Hope" came early into Barack's consciousness during his meetings with Reverend Jeremiah Wright, pastor of the Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, and a Ph.D in religious history. In 1988, towards the end of his 3 years as a community organizer in the slums, and before he entered Harvard on a scholarship, Barack recalls:

"The title of Reverend Wright's sermon that morning was 'The Audacity of Hope.' It is about this world, a world where cruise ships throw away more food in a day than most residents of Port-au-Prince see in a year, where white folks' greed runs a world in need, apartheid in one hemisphere, apathy in another hemisphere… That's the world! And so it went, a meditation on a fallen world… Reverend Wright spoke of Sharpsville and Hiroshima , the callousness of policy makers in the White House and in the State House… The Reverend spoke of the hardship that the congregation would face tomorrow, the pain of those far from the mountain-top, worrying about paying the light bill."

Lessons
There are valuable lessons for "wannabe" Presidents of the Philippines to be acquired from a comprehensive understanding of Barack Obama. Among them: his humility, grit, honesty, industry, and sincere concern for the powerless and endangered masses.

What could be his most precious legacy to the American people -- as well as for others around the world -- is a new, reformist paradigm for public service and leadership in the interdependent world of the 21st century, which is based on the audacity of hope for a better future, the advocacy of change we need, and the faith that "Yes, We Can (Kaya Natin Ito!)”.

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