It's hard to watch or listen to the news lately without wondering why anyone would want to be President. It's not just the global economic meltdown, but other events as well that have a way of imposing themselves on us without our consent. For many of us, these global events seem to have little affect on our day to day lives. For others, such as the President-elect, these events loom quite a bit larger.
I'm not quite sure that it is correct to say that the average American should be less concerned with what is happening in Gaza than Barack Obama. It seems like that should be the case, but perhaps that is the problem. Perhaps we should be aware and engaged when it comes to events across the globe. It is clear, however, that most Americans are no longer either willing or able to do the work that it takes to be informed and have thoughtful positions on a wide range of issues. This is a fact that has consequences each time American voters return to the polls to choose their leaders.
Without a width and breadth of knowledge regarding world and national events and conditions it is unlikely that voters can choose leaders that are equipped to face the challenges of their terms. In fact, it may be the case that voters are perpetually choosing candidates based on their ability to deal with events in the recent past, rather than those they are likely to face in the near future. This is analogous to the way many investors buy stocks that have risen recently and sell those that have fallen. There is no quicker way to insure ruin in your portfolio then buying high and selling low.
Regardless of how the George W. Bush presidency turned out, can anyone honestly say they voted for him in 2000 because of his ability to confront the threat of global Islamic fundamentalist terrorism? Of course not. Wasn't W the candidate that couldn't come up with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf's name in an interview during the campaign?
By the same token, many Americans may have voted for Barack Obama based on what they thought was his ability to deal with greed on Wall St., decay in Detroit, and gridlock in Washington. Recent events though may replace these challenges with war in Gaza, massacre in Mumbai, and Russian aggression in Georgia.
During what is undoubtedly a long and tiring Presidential campaign, just what is it that the candidates believe they are vying for? The title of this post is not a typographical error or the result of tortured syntax (though no doubt there is no small portion of that in this blog). Rather it is a comment on what it means to own or be owned and serves as the epigraph of a Fitzgerald novel. A version of it has been making the rounds in the wake of the financial crisis namely that if you owe the bank $100 that is your problem. But if you owe the bank $100 million, that is the bank's problem.
While I certainly did not vote for Mr. Obama, I can only hope that his abilities serve him well over the next four years and that he is able to take ownership of his circumstances rather than have his circumstances own him, and, by extension, us.