Khaya Dlanga

Obama steps towards greatness

2010-03-23 09:39

What Barack Obama and congress achieved on Sunday by passing the Health Care Reform Bill into law has been hailed as the biggest legislation to become law in over 50 years. The reason this kind of bill has taken so long to be debated is because it is a contentious issue, a subject most presidents avoided because it was too difficult.

During his presidential campaign he would often quote president Kennedy when he announced that Nasa would go to the moon, "We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade, and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard."

When Barack Obama became America's first black president many wondered if he would live up to his articulate promise. He made great speeches, spoke well and rose people's expectations, his words made Americans see beyond themselves. This legislative victory is more eloquent than any speech he has ever made. We are seeing greatness in the making.

When he was elected, some even thought that his election was mere band-aid for white guilt. Many were cynical about his "Yes we can" mantra. He was yet another politician who would say whatever he needed to say, when he needed, in order to get the votes he needed. This was the mantra the cynics preached. When he proved to be more than just a black face but a formidable man in the White House some Republicans were confused and began assaulting him for his successes.

When the Nobel Committee prematurely awarded him the Nobel Peace Prize the world frowned collectively. They awarded it to the same man who was sending more troops to Afghanistan. Even his biggest supporters were shocked. So was he.

The day he completed his first year in office, his poll numbers were the lowest of any president since polling began, they were as low as Ronald Reagan's had been after his first year in office. Most doubted his promise. The transformative presidency that was hoped for appeared to be nothing but a pipe dream gone wrong. The Republicans and the press were already writing his obituary. There would be no second term for this well-meaning president. Liberals were baying for his blood because he hadn't changed anything according to them. These complaints followed him despite the measures his administration took to save the economy. Most economists agree that had the bailout not been approved, the American economy (and the world's) would be worse off today.

On this day however they are singing to a different tune. The Republicans realise that he is much tougher than the nice, weak, affable guy they thought he was. Not a single Republican voted for the bill but it passed anyway. They realise now that they are dealing with a man who will get what he wants. And what he wants is greatness. And he will get it with or without their help.

The heads of four great American presidents are carved on Mount Rushmore. The names of the presidents are familiar with all. Two of them were founding fathers; that would be George Washington and the other Thomas Jefferson. The third one being Theodore Roosevelt, or Teddy as many affectionately called him.

The fourth president is a man who presided over a nation deeply divided over the issue of slavery, a man Obama has modelled himself around. In fact, this president's actions over 200 hundred years ago are the reason a black man is president today. He hails from the same state as Obama, Illinois. He announced that would be running for the presidency of the United States from the same place as that president. He idolises him so much so that on January 21 2009, Obama would become the first president to be sworn in by laying his hand on the very same Bible that towering president used for his own swearing in. That man was Abraham Lincoln.

This tells me one thing; Obama doesn't just want to be a good president, he wants to be a great one. On a blog I wrote last year "Obama and the Burden to be great", I said that he expects himself to be great. And he will be. Health Care Reform was is just the starters.

Unlike President Clinton who wanted to be a great president because he wanted a place in history, Obama seems to want to be a great president because he really wants to see people's lives changed. Few doubt that he is a man of character. One whose power comes from his character is greater than the one whose position gives him power. His power comes from his character.

Here's to greatness. But he must still work for it.

- Follow Khaya on Twitter.

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