In a few days time (January 20, 2017), the curtain will draw on the tenure of the first Black president in the United States of America, Barrack Obama. Against all expectations, Obama brightly talked his way into the White House as a stunned world applauded the sheer beauty of rhetoric. Not in the 21st century has any man captured the attention of the world with his sheer brilliance as Obama has done in the last eight years. Obama loves the world stage. That is his territory. That is where he holds his audience spell bound. Since, perhaps, Franklin D. Roosevelt, no American president has exhibited oratory prowess as Barack Obama.
He brought a message of hope to his compatriots. If there was anything that was really needed prior to his election, it was hope. The eight years of George W. Bush jnr. had thrown the nation into severe economic mess. Bush penchant for war mongering had far-reaching consequences on the American economy so much so that he made mess of a buoyant economy he inherited from the preceding Clinton administration. The political connoisseur that he is, Obama rallied his compatriots and sold to them his ‘audacity of hope’.
The message was unambiguous and quite effective. It soon became a movement that developed a life of its own. Even in nations outside the shores of America, the message was spectacularly received. Here in Nigeria, the clowns that we are, some folks threw caution to the wind by going round the country to raise funds for the Obama course. Such was the infectious nature of the Obama movement!
Well, Obama was talking and the Americans were listening while the rest of the world watched enthusiastically. His campaign for the presidency was built round the optimistic slogan, “Yes we can”, which was primarily about hope and change. His campaign managers promoted him as the messiah who would build a new America where poverty, unemployment and other social ills would become history. On his own, Obama was a good product. He proudly announced his audacity and bragged about his capability. He spoke about how he was obliged to run for president by what he termed “the fierce urgency of now.”
Like Abraham Lincoln, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Martin Luther King and Bill Clinton, Obama is a master of public speech. Using the power of rhetoric, he dazzled Americans with his brilliance. He spoke glowingly on how he would create jobs, improve the economy, regulate taxes, reduce deficits, and improve energy and education in addition to promoting world peace. Americans overwhelmingly elected Obama president. Thus began the making of a legend.
Upon his inauguration, expectations were understandably high across the world, particularly in America. Obama’s first Inaugural Address elicited hope as he proclaimed: “Today, the work of remaking America has begun.” And truly, the change came swiftly. With Democrats in control of both the House and Senate, Obama shortly signed into law an “economic stimulus” package that would cost nearly $1 trillion and would keep unemployment under 8 percent and usher in a robust economic recovery. Goodbye to depression. Welcome prosperity.
Now, after eight years of occupying, undoubtedly, the most demanding office in the world, Obama critics accuse him of engaging in more talks than actions. Obamacare, a supposedly well thought out policy has been the brunt of severe criticism by elements opposed to Obama. Indeed, the policy was one of the items that was ruthlessly torn into pieces by Donald Trump during the last fiercely fought American presidential contest. Plans are currently on-going to entirely scrap the policy by the in-coming Trump administration.
Similarly, many of Obama critics believe his foreign policy was a disaster. They cited cases in Libya, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Israel, to mention but a few, as evidences of Obama’s foreign policy mess. They argue that while he demanded radical changes in Israeli –Palestinian relation, Obama actually did nothing tangible in the Middle East to herald the hope of the change he so much mouthed publicly. His critics equally affirm that it was his inability to act promptly that gave impetus to the rise of the Islamic State. While the Kurds and the Iraqi government raised alarm about the deteriorating state of affairs as the Islamic State continued its aggressive territorial expansion, Obama failed to produce the needed ‘Reaganic’ or Bush like response that could have sent across the right signal.
But for Obama’s diehards Americans’ expectations of him were too extravagant from the outset as the nation’s economy was almost in shamble when he took over and he couldn’t have been any quick fix it.. However, the truth is that, Obama himself worked quite hard to stimulate the people’s expectations. Undoubtedly, when the American voters opted for him, they did so base on the strength of their conviction that he would not only talk the talk, but would actually work the talk.
But then, love him or hate him, Obama has done his bit for his people. In an increasingly unpredictable and volatile world, he has preserved American traditional alliance while also stretching forth hands of friendship to many other nations. It is to his credit that America has opened a new chapter with the Cuban people. With American friends overseas, Obama has helped to make the world relatively peaceful. His advocacy for global warming has helped to keep the subject alive across the world. To a great extent, he has been able to reverse a great recession, reboot the American auto industry and unleash the longest stretch of job creation in American history. Significantly, he shut down Iran’s nuclear weapons program without firing a shot. This is in addition to avenging the painful 9/11 disaster by fishing out the supposed mastermind of the sad event.
It was, perhaps, these modest attainments of his that resonated in the minds of his audience as they shouted: ‘Four more years! Four more years! Four more years!’ when he gave his farewell speech in Chicago, where it all began for him. But for Obama, there is no ‘third term agenda’, the job is done and it’s time to say goodbye.
Ogunbiyi is of the Ministry of Information & Strategy, Alausa, Ikeja.