Saturday, June 21, 2008

Well Done Michelle

I proudly count myself amongst the group of people who have caught this blessed disease called 'Obamamania'. From the day I heard his first speech at the Democratic Convention in 2004, I knew this was no ordinary man. I remember jailing myself in a hotel room in Manhattan for two days as I tried to finish up a report and the only thing that earned my distraction was a glimpse of this young lean black man on the muted television prancing onto the stage like a prize stallion.

No, I was not watching ‘Roots’ and he was not a slave on auction, it was CNN and this charismatic black man was auditioning to be the leader of the 'free world'. I stopped my work for the first time in hours and listened to his speech. I had to. It was hynpotising. There was something in his eyes and the animation of his face, the sincerity and profundity of his words and the sheer power of his eloquence and comportment that told me this guy was no ordinary man.

I knew right there and then that this man would make an indelible mark on our world. He was focused, fluid, empathetic and visionary – qualities several politicians today lack in this era of predatory, kleptocratic and hypocritical politics dominated by grey haired cynics who have empty treasure chests to fill, after-life retirement plans to secure, age-old scores to settle, messianic crusades to wage and enormous egos to boost.

Though he reminded me of a pre-Monica Bill Clinton and an un-Bushed Tony Blair, watching Obama was the first time that I saw a politician that was like us. One that spoke for us, dressed like us, walked like us, talked like us and dreamt like us. This man spoke for the young and the old; the poor and the rich, the west and the east; the north and the south; the black, the white and all else in between. This man understood. He got us. He embodied the human bridge we need in a fractured and conflicted world and the role model a 'lost MTV generation' so badly needs– sure beats 50 Cents. He expressed the thoughts, the aspirations and the hopes of our generation. He was pregnant with the promise of the change which we all so desperately desire. If ‘he can’, then we all can, I thought.

Since this epiphany, I have followed his meteoric rise to the top. Well actually, been 'transfixed' is the right word. I have bought every book by and about this man, trying to see how he got to where he is today and what makes him tick, think and talk the way he does. Why? Because this guy is the first person, that made me realise that all the thoughts in my head, and all the desires in my heart, all the hopes I have for our generation and the convictions I hold dear are not totally hogwash or idealistic delusions that are impossible in our era of chronic individualism, pathological cynism and wanton consumerism.

My Cameroonian friend Johnny and I shunned the call of the sublime beaches of Dakar, Senegal on a beautiful Saturday afternoon as we stayed glued to CNN watching the drama of the final dying kicks of Clinton’s campaign and Obama's ‘coronation’ as the democratic party presidential candidate.

As I watched this young man and his graceful wife ( in that unforgettable chic purple dress) walk onto the stage to accept the nomination, I felt goose bumps. I knew this was the third greatest moment in black/ world history I had witnessed in my generation. The first was the release from prison and inauguration of Nelson Mandela as the first black president of South Africa and the second was the appointment of Koffi Annan as the first black African Secretary General of the United Nations. However, as bowled over and inspired by Obama as myself and many others are, my attention and thoughts shifted to someone else: Michelle Obama.

Now, it’s not rocket science to know that when you see a successful woman or man, their partners (in most cases), have something to do with it. I know only too well from a previous, and dare I say an adventurous and disastrous experience that our partners can make or break us. However, as I watched Michelle Obama walk up proudly with her husband and give him that 'homie knuckle to knuckle' punch on stage (with a side kiss delivered with the sensibility that ensured that the first black man to ever win the presidential nomination of a major political party did not deliver his acceptance speech with gloss-smeared lips) that in the case of Barack Obama, Michelle did not break him, a to a large extent, she made him!

I wondered what price she had to pay and what burden she had to bear to hold her marriage together and at the same time support her husband’s political career. What did she do to help him build enough confidence to do what had never been done before? How did she make sure the things did not fall apart and the centre held? In some interviews she was open enough to admit their marriage had not been perfect and that his many travels away from home and the busyness that politics often demands, had strained their marriage and family life. But she did not pack up and ship out, she stood by him ( I remember that in Koffi Annan's biography, it was stated that his first wife could not handle the same type of pressures and she jumped ship only for him to later become one of the most popular and respected men in the world).

So despite the pulls and pushes of the pulsating and sometime destabilising and confusing tides of destiny, Michelle saw something in this man, who had been as wayward and adventurous as many young men in their molding years had been. She saw something that was greater than his weaknesses, frailties and faults. After he lost his first attempt to win a political seat and emerged beaten, bruised and broke, she was there holding the fort and staying the course till he got back on his feet. Am sure there must have been times she wanted to jump ship, but instead she endured, she and her ‘buddy’ would endure till they achieved their dream. Now would Obama be the great man he is today if Michelle had not been the great woman that she was? I doubt it.

The truth is that when our women believe in us and standby us, we can do the incredible and achieve the impossible. When they stop believing in us and start doubting or undermining our dreams and aspirations, we men break inside. Our women mean more to us than we let on. We are not as tough as we like to pretend. Michelle Obama, in my view, was the rock beneath Barack Obama's feet. She gave him the stable ground on which he could build his confidence, hopes and dreams, and from which he could be catapulted into the prominence we all see today.

Did he deserve it? I don't know, but she was great enough a woman to stay faithful to her man and his dreams for him to grow into the fullness of his destiny - despite his blunders and failures along the way. She did not only see who he was at his worst times, she saw who he could be at his best times. And she stayed with him, toiled with him, endured with him and helped to make and shape this man into the best he could be. Now, thats no ordinary woman. Do I hear a roaring applause for this lady? I am giving her a standing ovation.

To all the women out there who stand by we men through the good, the bad and the ugly, just because you love and believe in us, I say thank you. Perhaps we men need to ask ourselves if we can be as great as our women, for example, would we make the same sacrifices for them? Just a thought. And to the amazing Michelle Obama, I say “Well done, Madam Presidential Candidate!”

PS: ...and um, feel free to use your veto to pimp up the White house. Pardon the pun, but it’s the first time we had black folks in the White House. Make ’em 'recognise’!


Anonymous said...

There is a powerful woman behind every great man!

DO said...

You can say that again ANON! A question though is how many powerful men are behind great women? Often the women had to slug it by themselves....often fighting opposition from the men...

Anonymous said...

Great post.
Kuddos to you for recognizing the strength of a woman.
Go Obama Go!!

TP said...

ANON 2, to be honest I dont have a choice! I got 5 sisters!

Dayo said...

I must disagree with Anonymous’ comment. BESIDE, not "behind", every great man is a great woman. Relegating Michelle Obama or any other woman to the background is to do her a grave injustice. Academically, she is just as accomplished as he (some may argue even more so). Until she had to give up her job so she could campaign full time, she was making much more money than he was. It is, therefore, my opinion that Barack Obama would be some unheard-of community organizer without Michelle Obama. In fact, "support" doesn't even begin to fully encompass all that she has done for Mr. Obama.

So, as our dear Travelling Pundit has pointed out, while we all are celebrating the accomplishments of Barack, we must be sure to, with equal vigor, celebrate the phenomenon that is Michelle Obama.

In fact, as chinks in Barack’s iron-clad fa├žade of righteousness begin to show themselves (his silly faux-presidential seal, his hogwash of a reason for giving up public campaign finance funds), for many people in these United States, Michelle is the only reason why their vigorous support for Barack hasn't faltered yet.

TP said...

Dayo raises an interesting point which I believe has become the hallmark of the dynamics of gender wars in contemporary times: Can women and men stand and work productively together side by side, without gender being an issue?

I believe today that we are witnessing, in some progressive quarters, a change in the interplay between male-female power relations both at the economic and the political level ( the socio-cultural is still way behind). This change perhaps could signify the maturation of the gender debates i.e. moving from competition to collaboration. In my view, it’s no longer about ‘what a man can do, a woman can do better – or vice-versa), but more about ‘what can a woman and a man do best together’?

Unfortunately, several of us are still steeped in the earlier oppositional/polemic debate of men versus women and vice versa, while I think that what the challenges of our society today demands is gender symbiosis i.e. how best women and men can work together side-by-side with competence being the primary factor while also bringing the comparative qualities of both genders to the table to achieve shared and mutually beneficial goals. Is this idealistic or feasible? I would be interested in all your views.

The complimentary article to ‘Well Done Michelle’ is called ‘All the Presidents’ Women’. I was not going to post it, since is repeats a lot in the former, but I think this debate now demands it....

Anonymous said...

A recent piece of news that should bring some fresh elements of response to the question brought up by TP
in this ancient post:
"Perhaps we men need to ask ourselves if we can be as great as our women, for example, would we make the same sacrifices for them?" (end of quote)
Indeed two major dutch political leaders have recently decided to resign from office to take care of their families as explained below:
Is the gender Revolution finally becoming reality?!