Rebirth in Obama's America

Jean Barker

When President Obama was first elected I scoffed at people's excitement about his election. Black president? I'm South African, that's normal. I had to come all the way to America myself to see how significant his rise to power really is for Americans.

My favourite times in any place are those when the country is in a state of change. The first time I felt it was in South Africa when Mandela was released. The next time was in Prague, shortly before Czechoslovakia split into two, voluntarily. Again, I felt it in '94 while living in KwaZulu-Natal over our first elections.

I never expected to feel that sense of rebirth in the USA.

For a long time America has to me represented hypocrisy, a kind of capitalist colonialism masquerading as moral superiority and nothing more. The people are fat but the people in films are all skinny. Pets are sacred but factory farming is more or less mandatory. The price of freedom at home in the USA seemed to be the rights and wellbeing of the rest of the world.

On arrival, I saw that, even at home, America was really deeply conservative - a place where parents would rather send their kids to die in a war at 18 than have them curse in public; where it's legal to teach your kids that dinosaurs are an atheist lie.

But of course, there's much more to America than that, and the future is opening up. America's world is expanding. That's why Obama's presidency excites me. It's a break with the past. He's not perfect, and I'm not a fan of those drone strikes. But in Obama, America at least has a president who is willing to tackle the tough issues and whose heart and mind is in the right place.

He has fought for healthcare. He has advocated raising taxes on the very people who tend to fund campaigns for office. He has advocated raising the minimum wage. He has spoken in support of gay marriage and gay rights. He has protected women's rights. He has refused to throw others under the bus when taken to talk over Libya. He has taken a humane approach to immigration. He has advocated gun control and is taking steps to legalise it. He has stalled economic landslide. He has even approached the issue of Israel-Palestine (if rather nervously) with some respect for the possibility that Israel isn't 100% blameless in the conflict.

Obama has even kept his dick in his pants (it wasn't only Clinton who fooled around - he just didn't pay the gag money). He and Michelle Obama represent a first couple that might actually kiss each other when the cameras aren't rolling, who are married for love and not for politics. This matters to me.

Obama has proved sense of humour, not just in his choice of Uncle Biden as his vice, but because he's a brilliant man. I love a president who makes me laugh. (Okay, I'll grant you, Dubya made me laugh too. But more in the way that I laugh when I watch a drunken Swede jumping into a frozen swimming pool naked sliding around on the ice than because it's really funny.)

Clinton took liberties. Bush took power. Obama took risks. His courage is paying off. America is a better place for it. It's hard to describe - it's a feeling in the air. It's a feeling that reminds me of what I always thought America was supposed to be about - this crazy idea that if you are brilliant, work hard, do your best and fight for what is right, you could make it. Maybe even become president. Maybe even if you're black and your name rhymes with Osama. Maybe, one day, even if you're female.

- Jean is a screenwriting/directing dual MFA student in California, USA. She tweets as @jeanbarker and blogs pictures of signs and more, here. She will be back.

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