Thursday, February 19, 2009

The American Rock Star – I Mean President

Today, America’s President and Commander-In-Chief, Barak Obama came to Canada. You’d never know it from the public’s reaction – it was one more commonly given to movie and rock stars than politicians.

Obama mania swept across Ottawa – and probably other parts of the country – as the American leader made his first official state visit outside of his country.

Our Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, looked really out of place during much of the public spectacle. When President Obama first greeted him, he asked him if they could step out and wave to the crowd. As soon as President Obama came out to face the crowd – albeit behind bullet-proof Plexiglas over five-inches thick – the crowd cheered and chanted his name.

President Obama, like any celebrity, put on an ear-to-ear smile, and began waving to the crowd. Prime Minister Harper immediately followed the president’s lead, but it just wasn’t the same. Prime Minister Harper looked as out of place waving to the crowd, as a pair of old ladies at a heavy metal concert.

And who can blame our prime minister? No politician has ever received that kind attention here – or anywhere for that matter. Even when American President John F. Kennedy made public appearances, he never had such a fan following.

President Obama is considerably younger than most world leaders, and his ideas speak to generations who typically do not even know who their current leader is. This explains some of the hysteria.

But most of the estimated 2, 500 fans trekking their way to Parliament Hill in the nation’s capital today weren’t teenagers. Most were middle-aged people, many of whom have been displaced by the shrinking economy. And they were out to catch a glimpse of their saviour.

Obama mania isn’t catching on just because of his rock-star presence – it’s a light in the darkness.

Throughout his campaign, and ever since he took office, Obama has been making broad sweeping statements about the need for change, to fix what’s wrong with America and much of the world today.

American President George W. Bush wanted to hold the course, and believed the economy would eventually take care of itself with minimal government interference. Obama clearly has a very different take on how to fix the economy, and those beliefs are a key to his success.

But it’s President Obama’s powerful presence which has propelled him to rock star-like status. He’s charming, good looking, warm, witty, and when he enters a room, people know it.

His speaking style is just as engaging, he’s an image consultant’s dream come true. He uses catch-phrases which quickly become common-speak among Obama mania fans. “Yes we can,” was gobbled up and has been a constant slogan used by President Obama’s awe-struck fans.

While watching the coverage of the American president’s visit to Ottawa today on television, I heard that phrase several times – uttered not just by those in the crowd, but also some of the reporters and news anchors on television.

That slogan, and the president’s image were plastered on t-shirts, hats – even on a couple’s black leather jackets. President Obama isn’t just a politician, he’s become a brand, and his ideas are being marketed to you and me, just like Coke, Pepsi, Pop Tarts and Apple Computers.

Branding aside, what really matters in any country’s leader is that individuals ability to make a difference.

The ideas and values President Obama embraces are important, and may actually do the world a lot of good. He’s the first real environmentalist to lead an American administration. He acknowledged Canada’s importance in trade, the economy, and defending our common continent. He sees the dangers of depending on oil, and is actually willing to tackle the oil industry – which many say could lead to more terrorist attacks, and even assassination attempts on the president himself.

However, if Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s reaction today is any indication of President Obama’s power, it isn’t all about the message. Prime Minister Harper appeared star-struck himself upon first meeting the newly sworn-in American president, stumbling out of the warmth of his comfort zone, to wave to President Obama’s fans.

President Obama himself appeared to be leading the prime minister through the hallways, occasionally gesturing and prompting “this way?”

The good thing about having a world leader with rock star-like support is that leader’s plans will actually take shape. Who can say “no” to President Obama? The bad thing about having a world leader with that kind of support is getting lost in the glitter of his celebrity, and not really thinking and asking whether President Obama’s way is the right way.

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