Barack Obama: It’s In His Smile
It’s hard to know what to say on a day where it feels like everything has probably already been said. It was a big day, particularly for Americans, but the entire world was resonating with a sense of hope and exhilaration. The election of Barack Obama fulfills many people’s dreams, perhaps overfills them.
But it’s hard to deny people the joy and ecstasy they feel at the event of such a President’s swearing into office. Apart from the historic nature of Obama’s presidency, one is hard pressed to roll one’s eyes at the sense of being reborn that sparkles in so many peoples’ eyes in the pictures from Washington DC that proliferate the internet right now. After such an excruciating eight years, after having fallen so far, it is easy to understand why a country of people are willing to place so much hope in one man.
And so there is a certain sparkle in even the hardest of eyes.
All the pictures of smiles had me reflecting on the endless race this election was. And in that reflection, something jumped out at me, something that spoke to some of the problems facing what many call the greatest nation on the planet, and something that set Barack Obama apart for me without my even knowing it.
It was his smile.
I’m not trying to be glib by pointing this out on such a big day. Thinking back across the breadth of the campaign, all of the images it produced, I realize that for all of the shots of pensive, determined Obama that have now been emblazoned on t-shirts, posters, and mugs (among other things, like hand-held gaming cases), there are at least as many pictures of Obama giving this beaming smile to the cameras. That smile is indicative of another quality that Obama brought to the game that I think helped him cut through a lot of the mud that got slung and earn peoples’ trust: playfulness.
Obama has a great sense of humour: he’s ironic, at times sarcastic, has a great sense of timing, and knows when to laugh at himself. That ability to joke with people and set them at ease helped him on more than one occasion diffuse a situation or gaffe that would have blown up in anyone else’s face. Humour isn’t Obama’s one trick, he’s obviously whip smart and deadly sincere. But that humourous component is an element that has been missing from American politics for some time, even through the Clinton years because one laughs carefree with Obama rather than nervously about Bill.
That kind of playfulness can be surprisingly useful in the arena of politics, not just in terms of charming people, but as a means of perspective. A lack of humour makes it easy to demonize one’s opponents, makes it easy to turn a blind eye to the human components of those with whom one disagrees. A lack of humour can only add the steady calcification into rigid partisanship that so many have diagnosed as American’s number one political problem, but few seem able to solve.
Like a bad version of Chicken Soup for the Soul turned political analyst, I say: laughter is good for what ails ya.
Watching some of the proceedings today and over the past couple of days, as a Canadian outsider, I have noticed one thing: Americans take their politics so seriously. Which is not to say that I’m suggesting that politics aren’t serious business. I spend a disproportionate amount of my unpaid free time writing about them. But a little laughter can go a long way in providing the perspective needed to get things done.
Barack Obama has a lot of things going for him, but if you watching and learn from anything, make it his smile — it’s taking him places.