Today's Guardian.co.uk hails us from the United Kingdom with an article, an Editor's pick (George Bush Culture vulture?) about Bush's cultural legacy. Twelve prominent Americans give their verdict on our lame duck President's impact on the artistic life of our country. It makes a sad read: the only positive point made is the rise of political satire as an art form. True: Bill Maher, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert have all had a heyday at the expense of Dubya and his Dick. The Guardian story pretty well tells what the rest of the world thinks of us. Yes, there are many Americans who feel that only we and our opinions matter, but in an increasingly global society nothing could be farther from the truth. Before his death, Albania's dictator Enver Hoxha also told his people that the rest of the world was evil and filled the isolated small country with enough nuclear-attack-proof bunkers for everyone. Today's North Korea is similar. The only radios available are permanently tuned to a government station frequency. Officially South Korea is a poor and backward country. It isn't until recently that smuggled receivers from China have enabled people to tune in to South Korean stations. Also, as the southern neighbors dumped their VCRs for new DVD players, the old machines have found their way to the north, along with music videos and such which show the "chosen" people a very different picture of the outside world.
Yesterday's web news reminded us about a near-death experience of Ronald Reagan in 1976. He was campaigning, unsuccessfully, for his party's presidential nomination when a peanut got stuck in his airway while on board of his plane. Only a quick reaction by his aide saved his life with the Heimlich maneuver. History might have unfolded very differently without Reaganomics. One could argue that there wouldn't have been the present economic crisis as the craze for deregulation wouldn't have taken place. Who knows, perhaps this country would still be considered great in the eyes of "the others". Never underestimate the power of the little peanut: the same year a peanut farmer Jimmy Carter won the presidential election. Although later unpopular as president, mainly for reasons beyond his control, Carter went on to become a great humanitarian and statesman, winning the Nobel Peace Prize. He is rightfully considered one of our most successful ex-presidents. A similar story comes from my native Finland where Matti Ahtisaari received this year's Nobel Peace Prize for decades of successful diplomacy for the United Nations, being responsible for the independence of Namibia and negotiating peace treaties in Indonesia and Kosovo, among other places. Yet, as a Finnish President, Mr. Ahtisaari was not particularly well liked.
Many people still think of the Reagan years with nostalgia. However, have we forgotten that already by the time the former actor took office, Alzheimer's must have already started to manifest its terrifying symptoms? It is said that during much of his second term his wife, the First Lady Nancy Reagan was running the show. True to her California lifestyle, astrologers and other fortune tellers were employed in the decision making progress. Having a real senior citizen in charge of a country is a gamble: on one hand the person may have more wisdom than someone younger but on the other, physical and mental health issues are going to pop up. John F Kennedy was only in his forties in 1960 but was wise beyond his years. He also had the ability to look into the future and care about it, something that is not often in the mind of a person with one foot already in the grave.
A public figure's legacy often depends on when he or she has the foresight to step down. Nobody forces a sitting President to run for a second term. A positive legacy can quickly turn to a very negative one. Same is true in every area of life. Perhaps Bill Gates will be remembered as a great philanthropist rather than the co-founder of Microsoft. His foundation has already done remarkable humanitarian work all over the globe. Such deeds will not be forgotten but the software company might well be history in years to come. A director of an arts organization could be remembered with fondness for his/her accomplishment, or with bitterness and hatred. At least with presidency we have term limits. How welcomed they would be in other positions of leadership!
We have an interesting election ahead of us. If Mr. Obama were white, the outcome would be clear and even the Supreme Court could do nothing about it. But the Klan is still alive, even if less well than in the past, and racism will no doubt play a part. Interestingly Mr. Obama is not embraced by all African-Americans, the reason being that he doesn't decent from slaves, and thus mainly West African tribes, but is half East African having his father's roots in Kenya. To the white supremacists none of this of course matters. It is amazing how many of us have a little Hitler, Stalin or Klansman in our souls. A miracle took place 48 years ago when we elected a Catholic as our President. Perhaps it is time for another miracle now, and who knows, one day we might even elect a Jewish person to the Oval Office.
It is time to choose between Gloom and Bloom. One might say Doom and Boom, but domestically the latter will take time, and presently can only be heard in explosions of Iraq and Afghanistan.