It was December 26, 1908. There was a fight for the world heavyweight title in the barn-like stadium at Rushcutters Bay. This was the premier event in what was then the most enthusiastically followed sport in the world. Sydney was not to host anything as big on the world stage until the 2000 Olympics.
It was also a contest of great significance in boxing history - as this was the first time a coloured man was permitted to fight for a world title. He was Jack Johnson from Texas. His opponent was the reigning world champion. This was a white man from Ontario, Canada - Tommy Burns.
Johnson won. It was a shocking outcome for whites. There was a desperate need for a white man to take back the title. The world’s leading adventure writer, Jack London, called that man who was out there somewhere, our Great White Hope. In the face of such white outrage, Black America feared to show its jubilation over the Johnson win.
Fast-forward a century plus 25 days. It is January 20, 2009. Washington’s Capital Hill had never seen anything like it. A black man is taking an oath, and in front of him is a crowd estimated at 1.8 million. Many thousands in the great crowd are weeping. The White House, the residence of the head of state, and which had been built by slaves, was to have a black man as master of the house.
The community celebrations surrounding the event throughout the nation were so extensive as to be beyond calculating. This was more than a measure of just how revered the position of President of the United States is to the American people. This was Black America’s Great Black Hope - and this time they did not hide their jubilation. The people, both white and black, celebrating Barack Hussein Obama’s election represented that component of the population who were desperate for change.
Solemn in the background were the people who fear change. Now, only one year after Obama’s swearing-in, there is a baseless rumour spreading through the country that Obama was educated in a radical Islamic school in Indonesia and is pretending to be Christian. Conservative America saw a black man with a Muslim father as an insult to the glories of the past. After hanging Saddam Hussein, there is now a president who has Hussein as his middle name.
Obama needed a lot of luck on his side. He did not get it. “Yes we can” may have been useful for winning an election, but the poisoned chalice handed to him by George W. Bush ensured that nobody could.
The invasion of Iraq was an undeniable mistake. It is beginning to look as if involvement in Afghanistan was another mistake. Obama has inherited both. During the Bush administration some very large companies in the auto and finance industries were mismanaged. Now during the Obama administration, billions of dollars have been handed over to save these companies which were “too big to fail”.
To the angry unemployed and those fearing loss of employment, none of what is happening in Washington seems relevant to their situation. After only one year, the Democrats lost a senate seat the party had held for over 50 years. This was not the change Obama was thinking of - and it happened with stunning speed.
He must also be feeling uncomfortable that the Tea Party Movement, which was created after his election, is gaining such momentum. It is a movement and not a political party, and its purpose is to bring together those kindred spirits who don’t trust government, love the flag and don’t like paying taxes. (Love of country and resentment about paying tax seem a bit incongruous.)
Obama probably only half-believed that change was possible when he campaigned for the presidency. He may now be believing that a society of 300 million, most of whom have been led to believe in the American dream, has problems that are too complex to solve. The man-in-the-street cannot see this bigger picture. All he can see is his personal problems which he wants solved.
As a society becomes larger it generates problems a smaller society does not have. For example; a town of 1,000 residents does not need traffic lights, while one of 100,000 residents does. “Too big to fail” is just one manifestation of a general problem of bigness.
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