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Megan Harris

Megan Harris

Posted February 6, 2009 | 01:14 PM (EST)

Why the Obamas are Political Black Swans


According to Nassim Taleb, "Black Swans" are rare, exceptional, unpredictable events that have a huge impact. The improbable election of Barack Hussein Obama to become America's 44th president aptly fits this scenario. While it is premature to judge the lasting impact of Obama's Presidency on American institutions, infrastructure and foreign policy, few can dispute that America's new First Family is already having an impact on American society.

If you are an ornithologist, in the vein of Nassim Taleb, you will have discerned that some fundamental shifts to the fabric of American society are well underway.

Thanks to Michelle and Barack Obama, smart is the new sexy! It is not only acceptable to be smart, articulate, calm and confident, it is downright attractive.

Neither boasts either pedigree or privilege of any sort. Yet through a strong work ethic and following their dreams, they have both earned Ivy League educations. Now that's hot! Parents across America, irrespective of socio-economic class must be pleased. It will be much easier for them to encourage their children to get a solid education. They no longer have to compete against the prevailing materialistic entitlement psyche that is emblematic of today's youth culture.

It appears that young people are getting the message that everything is possible through dedication and hard work. This simple, yet important message has apparently started to positively impact the academic performance and aspirations of African American youth. Educators, especially history teachers and professors should start preparing for the surge of students interested in their classes. Mathematics and science educators are likely to get enrollment boosts, thanks to President Obama's obvious interest in increasing U.S. graduates in these disciplines. If the Obama Administration succeeds on this front, imagine the long-term benefits to America's competitiveness and social stability?

A recent study submitted to The Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, revealed that test score gaps between whites and African Americans dropped to statistical insignificance between August and November 2008.

The Obamas clearly understand the substantive and symbolic potency of their public actions and choices. Their decision to roll-up their sleeves and volunteer at local Washington community organizations on January 19th, Dr. Martin Luther King's birthday and national holiday, powerfully reinforced a consistent message of President Obama's campaign. This message was about individual responsibility to do something positive to improve your local community.

First Lady, Michelle Obama is an accomplished, educated professional, mother of two young girls who appreciates the challenges faced by all working mothers. Working mothers now have an influential ally inside the White House with a first hand insight into the on-going sacrifices and daily choices they make on behalf of their family. The policy implications for American working mothers could be significant.

Similarly, Michelle's fashion choices add another new dimension to her husband's administration's "buy America" policy. By choosing affordable American designers to dress the First family and to decorate the White House, she will help increase the appeal and prestige of America's design industry. Look out Carla Bruni.

Justifiably, skeptics may contend that such relatively easy gestures during the early days of a four-year presidency are just window dressing. Yet a quick glance at some of his actions since November 4th point to consistent and clear efforts to recalibrate the tone and actions of the Presidency. This signals a welcome shift away from petty distractions and retaliation to a conciliatory but tough pragmatic approach.

Case in point: many expected Joe Lieberman to walk the plank after openly campaigning for the Republican ticket during the election. Instead, the President signaled to Democratic Senators to reach a reasonable compromise and they did.

The First Family have quickly emerged as positive role models for a generation that seemed adrift. They are poised to systematically realign how Americans view themselves and country. The Obamas messages of thrift, common sense, hard work and individual responsibility seem to be resonating.

Through his stewardship of the economy over the next four years, President Obama can show Americans the cumulative positive impact of his policies on their daily lives. Success will likely earn him another four years in office. Historians will have the final say about the impact of his Presidency on American society.