08 June 2010

The Obama Effect

With the election of President Obama, the hopes of many Americans were realized.  We know this because he marketed himself as the bringer of hope.  One word changed political discourse for a year and it got people feeling warm and fuzzy.  After winning, people ran to the streets of cities like Chicago to party like it was the Red Sox winning the World Series in 2004.

Hope did not fade as people continued to believe that the President would take us out of the dark Bush era years into prosperity and understanding.  We were entering the post everything world and Obama was our leader.  Sure, he was attacked for seeming cold and calculating, but he was Obama and he said, ‘yes we can.’

I voted for Obama in November of 2008.  To be honest, I was taken by him back in 2004 at the DNC in Boston.  I followed him closely after, knowing he would certainly run by 2012.  I supported him throughout the primary over Clinton (not that I did not like her, but her love for Israel and electability issues drove me away).  I cast my ballot and was happy when at 10PM EST I knew that the Democratic party was going to be in the White House and Bush would be gone.

However, I said before he was elected that Obama would not be the change he positioned himself to be.  Yes, we now have new healthcare, but it is not nearly enough.  This is all besides the point I want to make.  Obama portrayed himself as the anti-Bush.  He is smart, pragmatic, well spoken and deliberative in his decision making.  This is what attracted me to Obama and what now surprises me as people are calling the BP spill his Katrina for lack of leadership.

Obama never pretended to be or said he was anything other than what he has done as president.  I would have been more surprised by him acting with strong emotions.  He takes in information and makes decisions without wasting time to get upset.  Personally, that is the leadership style that I admire.

However, for some reason the media and Americans expected different.  They created their own expectations based on personal wants and perceptions.  This is only fueled by a terrible media, but it existed long before the spill.  It is a part of the reason why there has been a rise in Tea Party support and other reactionary politics.

To me, this is interesting because it seems to be applicable to development as well.  The message and intent of organizations can be lost due to perceptions and desires.  In my time in Kenya, it was assumed that I was both extremely wealthy and willing to fund every project presented to me.  I was not upset by this because I understood that something had to have created this assumption.

I do not mean to argue that we create a dependency class, I think that is shallow Hannity type thinking.  No, I think that it creates expectations.  It is sort of related to the Halo effect.  Americans loved Obama, hoped he would be our savior.  When he did not meet the expectations people got angry.

Aid must be aware of this when being implemented.  I am still learning a lot about the industry, but there is something to be said for the idea of being both physically and emotionally effective.  It is what has harmed the US when considering the cases of Rwanda and Darfur and hurt us in Kosovo and Iraq.  When creating high expectations, it is assumed that the right decisions will always be made and everyone will be pleased.  Win-win.

How can a balance be created?  How can all the spirit and inspiration created by figures (or groups) like Obama be used for good without creating unrealistic expectations?

Frankly, I am working out a thought that came to me yesterday and this will probably have to be updated a few times as I meditate on it more and (hopefully) get comments.  Please, expand on this and offer suggestions from where I have started.