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Cometh the hour

Tim Birch takes a personal look ahead to 'Obama time'

Published on January 21st 2009.

Cometh the hour

It was widely tipped that president-elect Obama’s inauguration speech would nod to Lincoln’s Gettysburg address: ‘Four score years…’ and the timing seems propitious. Just as Lincoln proved epochal, Obama’s presidential life is pegged on change. This is a new dawn for America – and, by extension, the world. And the man looks ready: Obama’s oratory and body language bear the weights of ‘power’ and ‘the past’ with a beguiling ease; his face is aglow, beaming out a tingling sense of history-in-the-making. Perhaps the most interesting, untold, part of the whole shebang is time itself.

Time is central to Obama’s story and the ensuing chapters that the man will now, and forever, share with his country. History is indelibly intertwined with Obama’s charge for change. And his will always be a story of endings as well as beginnings: ending the centuries-old struggle of black America to establish its credentials – manifest in a black president.

Of course, time is nothing new to Americans. Westward Expansion, culminating with California, was a time-based process that created the product: the nation state. Whoosh forward to the twentieth century – history’s rush hour – and references to time were everywhere: ‘What time is it?’ became the rallying cry of liberal and progressive people. On the flip side, ‘You don’t even know what time it is’ vied with less savoury phrases as the worst put down in human communications.

Now in the twenty-first century, time has become the most precious of all non-renewable resources. It touches everything: even the hot topic of the environment has its clock metaphor (‘time is running out to save our planet’). And just as human life seems hell bent on speeding up, we have ever less time to do ever more things. So how will Obama fare with his time in office?

We cannot yet know of Obama’s performance under real pressure; what the outgoing president and many of his fellow Americans of either political persuasion believe is the ultimate test of a homeland incident such as 9/11 (forever signified by its moment in time). Yet conjecture does allow a general picture. He will lead by example an administration that remains calm, considered, and consistent. The public will appreciate Obama’s charm and steadiness; politicians of all sides will appreciate Obama’s resolve and commitment; editors and broadcasters will appreciate Obama’s x-factor but they may perversely tire of his polished professionalism and it will be intriguing to see how much the media will snipe at him.

As always, time will tell. For there are only two modes of time: ‘constant’ and, to echo Obama, ‘change’. The former is the endless flow and blurring together of mundane moments whereas the latter is the pivotal point, the big moment. The former is constant; the latter random. Life is both modes, merged as one (for an instant image, picture a life support machine: its constant line yet its bleeping peaks).

Whereas constant time describes the daily grind of government, it is the latter – the pivotal points like 9/11 – that usually define presidents and presidencies. Presidents are sometimes all too aware of the pivotal points in their story – a vanity that risks hoodwinking the story of America as their own. But given today’s 24-7 society and the saturation levels of professional and lay media, along with a renewed, unbridled enthusiasm for American politics, there will be relentless scrutiny of both the mundane and the pivotal points of Obama’s presidency as every tick turns to tock. Meanwhile let me tempt fate ahead of time, on the eve of ‘Obama time’: This will be a presidency that is more aware of, more honest to, both modes of time. And that will suit America and the world.

The twenty-first century starts now.

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7 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

Michael WestJanuary 21st 2009.

WTF? Did Tim Birch watch or read the transcripts of the inaugural speech? Piss poor ManCon.

cping500January 21st 2009.

Esquilo must go back to the civics class. America has never been a 'Nation State' but remains the "United States of America". If you are a territory with a population you join by making an application and accepting the Constitution. It's rather less complicated than joining the EU but unlike the EU the Federal Government and President Obama does does not regulate the length of cucumbers or the sacking of workers. Please choose carefully also which state to commit murder in either to avoid being killed or to choose your method of execution.

rosieJanuary 21st 2009.

to paraphrase a recent letter to the Times:if Obama had run in Kenya,would he be referred to as their first white president?as the mother of a mixed-race child i'm getting more and more annoyed by people ignoring his mothers' contribution to both his genetics and his upbringing(particularly as she did it all pretty much single-handedly).

JonJanuary 21st 2009.

Rosie you are a star. Exactly. I couldn't care less about his light tan. What I like about the man is that he seems, and this was always a very British virtue, or one we used to admire - steady. He seems steady, not inspirational, just a really clever fella who will let his actions speak louder than his words. It's a calmness of spirit. Who gives a flying **** about his genetics.

Trevor HoareJanuary 21st 2009.

Well Michael it does say it is a personal view. This is an unusual proposition Mr Birch....all this Time lark. Some people might wonder what the **** you're on about of course.

esquiloJanuary 21st 2009.

Wasn't America a Nation State for quite some time before they "expanded westward into Mexican territories such as California where US westward expansion apparently culminated. Hawaii (birthplace of er, whatsisname..oh aye, one B. Obama) may raise an eyebrow to that statement. As for the rest of the article....come again?

esquiloJanuary 21st 2009.

cheers CP, I'll be off to civics class anon. Is it at Wythenshawe or Swinton? I think Tim better come with me too

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