Der amerikanische Dramatiker Len Berkman erzählt uns, wie er an einer Highway-Raststätte Halt machte, um Obamas Ankündigung zur Schließung von Guantanamo im Fernsehen zu sehen.
Assessing the current iconic status of U.S. President Obama for some of us in America is pretty much a moment-by-moment ‘finger in the wind’ absorption. I am not among those who viewed Senator Obama as a potential national hero. Nor did I favor his candidacy for president over Hillary Clinton’s during their initial rivalry for that office. In the phrase of several of my pro-Clinton friends, Hillary Clinton was ‘predeflated’, her strengths and limits quite known and keeping our positive expectations ‘realistic’. Barack Obama was, if anything then, ‘pre-legendary’, his potential equal to our fantasies and needs. Upon his winning the Democratic Party’s nomination, I could only hope ¬– as I joined his supporters without their raves and intensity – that they would find their faith in him more warranted than my reserve. Upon Obama’s election, I joined them in tears of relief and joy. The incredibly bumbling and manipulative era of Bush-Cheney seemed at its close, though – again, to be ‘realistic’ – many of us knew its disastrous aftermath would be with us still and that Obama had a mammoth turn of direction to effect. Let’s see, even I said to myself, what heroic stuff he may well surprise me with by demonstrating.
Obama’s early declaration that he would close Guantanamo (my wife Joyce and I watched this speech on TV in a highway cafeteria stop-over as we drove from Massachusetts to our son Zak and his wife Teri’s New Jersey home for a weekend of boisterous grandchild affection) seemed a solid step toward the ‘change’ his campaign had promised. We heard from our stirred-up students, our momentarily revived 1960s-activist cohorts and friends, and even our friends in Europe, in solid cheer, further easing us away from our earlier skeptical stance. A more intelligent approach to international affairs, to domestic health care, to our thinly disguised corporate welfare system and inhumane treatment of our poor, to gender/ race/sexuality inequalities, all and more seemed finally at hand, ready for a nation’s rightly reasoned struggles in contrast with the bizarre duplicitous U.S. war in Iraq that President Bush claimed would avenge the 9/11 attack on American soil known to come from Afghanistan. In one Democratic campaign debate, where Obama had pumped for swift military withdrawal from Iraq only to be chided by Hillary Clinton as she detailed the intricacy – and therefore the inevitable, however unwanted, time delays – of such a withdrawal, candidate Obama immediately retracted his oblivious ideal, bowing to Clinton’s firmer – if, seemingly, less passionate – grasp of such matters. Much time did not need to elapse before it dawned on many of us that such an inadequately considered moment in a debate would epitomize the gap between Obama’s idealistic rhetoric and his knowledge, his diplomatic ability, to implement what he proclaimed to be his goals.
Sheer disillusionment, however, is itself too simple a concept for where President Obama now stands in my esteem, as well as in the esteem of others who had higher hopes for ‘change’ than Obama’s two elected terms have so far managed to feed. (Even my inclusion of the phrase ‘so far’ indicates the constancy of re-assessment, as each current day’s reports of U.S./Syrian relationship keeps volatile at this mid-September moment of my writing. By the time you read this, my assessment of Obama’s Presidency and post-iconic status may have shifted ten more times, up, down, and sideways. See the immensely popular, partly inspired, heavily flawed, American film THE BUTLER by Lee Daniel if you want a taste of determinedly sustained Obama fervor at its climax.)
What is alternately derided and praised as “Obama Care” HAS been a hard-won and much-compromised achievement that corrects glaring inequities (such as insurance-company refusal to cover a client’s ‘prior’ but ongoing illness). Obama HAS ended up championing gay rights to the point of public endorsement of same-sex marriage where, in his campaign and early Presidency, he was far less forthcoming. There are other Obama gains, both expected and surprising, buried within the predominant news coverage of a ‘grid-locked Congress’, which has in fact been appalling (both with regard to ultraconservative negativity and with regard to left-of-center wobble). In this regard, for many – myself included – no degree of disappointment with Obama, with his Cabinet, with his lack of political know-how in dealing with his political opponents (to whom he’s kept ‘crossing the aisle’ only to lose his way can come close to the degree of outrage I and so many others feel against what remains an arch-right-wing (well beyond ‘Tea Party’) Congressional blockage, with all the voter-repression and voter-district manipulations that keep the mindless and self-serving, deviously ‘elected’ officials in office.
Even our torn and tattered President Obama stands head and shoulders above these political embarrassments to a genuine democracy, which largely accounts for how Obama, ‘pre-deflated’ during his second presidential campaign won re-election (though his mindless Congressional antagonists on the basement level of a ludicrous Mitch McConnell seem still set on making Obama a ‘one term President’). If Obama leads the U.S. into another chaotic war, I might well reverse my present assessment with a call for Obama to remove his mask and show that he is actually President Bush in term four. Short of another such Bush/Cheney disaster, however, I’d even venture to say that were Obama legally permitted to stand for yet another re-election in 2016, our present dumbfounding Conservative Republican/Tea Party buffoons would assure his victory anew.
___Len Berkman is professor of Theatre at Smith College, Massachusetts since 1969, where he received numerous academic awards. Among his former students are diverse popular theatre professionals. Holding Yale Drama School’s Master’s of Fine Arts and Doctor of Fine Arts degrees, Len is involved in various theatre and film productions all over the country. His own many plays include I’M NOT THE STAR OF MY OWN LIFE and THESE ARE NOT MY BREASTS. As a Fulbright professor he also teaches at the University of Hamburg.