Atlas at Last

Originally published: November 20, 2008

Barack Obama was elected just two weeks ago and already the world’s weight – which had been shrugged off eight years ago by a far weaker man - has been hoisted onto his shoulders by the world’s biggest crane - us. 

I can’t help it. I worry. Mightn’t we - like Lenny whose caresses snapped the spines of his beloved rabbits - handicap our hero in our enthusiasm? Obama is no rabbit, but he’s flesh and blood, and oh boy, can we be heavy-handed. If I had the power, I would cast a protective shield around the man – to ward off those who hate him, certainly – but even more so, those who love him too much. There’s nothing like a little post-traumatic delusional hysteria to stoke the fires of our Great Expectations. 

Not one of us doubts that Barack Obama will restore dignity to the White House and that we’ll be invited back to the table where sup the grown-ups of the world. But already, with savage ardor, we press in, weighing him down with our rapturous certainty that he’ll cleanse all that was fouled: the economy, health care, the energy crises, the war, climate change, intolerance, injustice, inanity. He will banish terror and outlaw stupidity, and through his skillful hands and bedside manner, he will nurse the earth and all her peoples back to health. 

Surely after all these years of embarrassment and ruin we’ve earned this! We look into the President-Elect’s face and wonder where he’s been all our lives. We search his eyes and bathe in the serenity, the intelligence and the hope we see there. Climbing into his strong arms as into a lifeboat, we at last close our eyes and sleep for the first time in years, knowing that when we wake, we’ll be refreshed and all will be right with the world. 

It is strangely evangelical - this rebirth of our faith in the system, in the presidency, in him. In fact, I have to suppress the urge to capitalize that “H”. Full disclosure regarding my titular metaphor: in the original mythology, Atlas supported not the earth on his shoulders, but the heavens. Does President Obama then have to assuage the needs of the whole universe? Rationally we know this might imply that he’s more than human, and Barack Obama has shown himself to be one-hundred percent human- magnificently so. But he is the man who started something, an engine deep under the earth of our country, and now we are all rrrevved up, our engines straining, our expectations through the stratosphere. Let’s not crush anything in our haste, or add impossible tasks onto the to-do list of the man who lead us here. Just check the rear-view, and make sure everyone’s safely strapped in. Then we’ll put the pedal to the metal and leave the last eight years in our dust.

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