Thursday, January 15, 2009

Magic and Realism

NYTimes | One thing seems certain: The meltdown is going to hang over at least the first 18 months of the Obama presidency. The Treasury is bare. Americans are deluged in debt. Confidence has been Madoffed.

That’s the realism. But this 47-year-old man of mixed race, whose very name — O-Ba-Ma — has the three-syllable universality of a child’s lullaby, has always had something of the providential about him, a global figure who looks more like the guy at the local bodega than the guys on dollar bills. That’s the magic.

He needs this magic, which resonates in a voice with the solemn clarity of a bell. Smart power will not be enough. If it were, Americans would have elected Hillary Clinton president.

But in their abiding good sense, Americans intuited the imperative to reach beyond smartness for some ineffable quality, capable of unifying and inspiring at a time of national and global division.

Inevitably, the nation is looking back to 1932. “We have nothing to fear but fear itself,” Franklin Delano Roosevelt said in his first inaugural, with the economy devastated by the Depression. He also said: “This nation asks for action and action now.”

Action followed — a torrent of legislation and speeches in the first 100 days designed to kick-start the country.

Obama has been vowing a similar flurry, but has also been talking down expectations, saying things are going to get worse. That may be true, but he has to be careful. An excess of realism will undo him.