Orbiting Dicta

Mr. O Goes to Washington

Here in Ireland, there is sometimes an apostrophe after the O, just to remind everyone that one of Mr. Obama’s ancestors was a fellow named Fulmoth Kearney from a small town in Offaly called Moneygall. During the inaugural festivities, one of the popular songs was “There’s No One as Irish as Barack Obama,” which is still out there on You Tube somewhere. Yes, he is one of us. Then again, there are a lot of people in Kenya and Hawai’i who can say the same. And people in Gaza, Iraq, Afghanistan, Zimbabwe, the Sudan, Pakistan, Indonesia, China, France, Germany, Italy, and Latin America have inklings he might be one of them, too. Time will tell.

For now the euphoria seems pretty global, which may be as much a reflection on the previous U.S. administration as an expression of hope in a darkened world. Pundits are claiming that the worldwide economic slowdown imperils much if not most of Obama’s campaign pledges, as well. Perhaps so. But his immediate actions to open negotiations with beleaguered Palestinians, shut down the infamous concentration camp at Guantánamo, repudiate extraordinary rendition and the de facto torturing of foreign nationals suspected of terrorism, not to say his appointment of George Mitchell as Middle East peace-maker, indicate that this man may be a true promise-keeper.

More than that, he may be a peacemaker himself. The economic meltdown is another matter. As much as the triggering event may have been the subprime mortgage debacle in the US, the collapse of banking systems around the world indicates that the rot was much wider and went far deeper. For more than twenty years greed, graft, and corruption, abetted by deregulation, have been slowly eroding the foundations of commerce, industry, investment management, and property development throughout the northern hemisphere. The title of one best-seller said it all: Greed is Good. That sentiment was as true of Ireland as anywhere else.

The warning signals were there for anyone to see who was paying attention. Remember Enron? One semi-prophetic voice was that of the new managing director of the International Monetary Fund, Rodrigo de Rato. In an address at Wharton College in March, 2007, de Rato identified dodgy subprime mortgage markets in the U.S. as one of the three risky developments that could eventually disrupt the global economy. Regrettably, de Rato’s vision was short: he also affirmed that world economic foundations remained strong and growth would continue for at least five years at the current rate of 5%.

The house of cards began to collapse within six months.

Few political leaders in history have faced the enormity of problems Mr. Obama inherited on January 20, 2009. If his first three days in office are any indicator of what is to come, the world may well be justified in expressing the hope that he is truly “one of us.”