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Stephen H. Dinan Headshot

A New Era Begins with Obama

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I believe that November 4th, 2008 will live long in the history books as the moment that marked the transition from one American era to the next. The most obvious aspect of this transition was moving beyond the legacy of racism to elect an African-American president, opening doors of possibility to minorities across the country. However, Obama represents far more than that, which is why his election will prove to be a major historical shift.

The President serves as the most important figure for the psychology of the nation. He (or soon "she") embodies our values, expresses our thoughts, and shapes our priorities for the future. He determines our relationship with both allies and enemies on the global stage. On a subtle level, the worldview of the President reflects and reinforces the worldview of our country. Among our 300 million American citizens, his consciousness is the single most influential force in shaping the values that the majority of Americans share, which in turn powerfully influences the values of the world. As President Bush demonstrated, when there is a mismatch between the consciousness of the President and large segments of America, the results can be damaging on many levels, from national pride to national security and even consumer confidence.

When our President holds a worldview that is advanced, integrated, and balanced, he can propel the country forward to our next stage of development by virtue of his visibility and ability to translate his perspective into institutional change. A more enlightened President can catalyze great growth in our citizenry, which is a change that can endure for generations.

While using the term "enlightened" for Obama is too strong, most perceptive observers have agreed that he is highly developed in many ways -- intellectually, emotionally, physically, organizationally, and spiritually. Those who value the mind are amazed by the caliber of his thinking, as expressed in deeply reflective books and breathtaking speeches. Those who study emotional intelligence see genius in the way he builds bridges and moves beyond polarizations, effectively drawing together talented teams and coalitions. Physically, he's in good shape and exudes stamina and grace. Organizationally, he's run the single most disciplined, efficient, and powerful political campaign in history, so he's adept at managing complex systems. Spiritually, he's attracted attention for his ability to bring in the light of greater awareness, touch the heart cords that elicit hope, and speak with moral courage about the highest calling of our nation.

Psychologists have also commented on his balance between traditional masculine and feminine qualities, something that leads to a remarkable relationship with Michelle, whom he treats respectfully as his equal and his beloved. Obama is not afraid of being tough or standing in strong authority and yet he also has connective, nurturing, emotionally-attuned qualities that we more typically associate with women. His masculine-feminine balance will be essential to balance a political process that has been heavily skewed towards the masculine since our Nation's founding.

In short, I believe that Obama represents the most integrated, balanced, and highly developed President we've ever had. While some may critique him for less experience in government, I believe that the qualities of being that he has cultivated will allow him to rapidly learn those aspects of governance that are new to him and surprise his critics with the clarity and efficacy he brings to the tasks ahead. The challenges are certainly enormous and he cannot solve them all, much less by himself. But his way of engaging with the crises ahead will prove, I believe, a shining example for others to follow.

For America, then, the deepest opportunity President Obama offers is for us to quite literally lift the level of consciousness of our country by following his example. With his election, he becomes a hero to millions of children, an inspiration to millions of adults, and a new template for leaders everywhere. His advanced and balanced stage of development can inspire the growth of millions in the decades ahead. CEOs will have a new leadership template for how to integrate masculine and feminine styles. Military leaders will have a new example of how to be tough but also build bridges. Democrats will witness someone who can successfully champion progressive change while dealing respectfully with those who oppose it. In this respect, the template of his life can inspire the evolution of American values and ideals.

Other shifts that Obama's Presidency can bring include the fact that he is the first post-Boomer President, meaning that he has matured in an environment in which the major change movements of the sixties have been integrated into the mainstream of American values, from concern for civil rights to support of women's equality to commitment to environmental protection. He's no longer "fighting" for those things; he operates with an assumption of their validity, which is the last stage of integrating value changes into society. This assumption of the rightness of many principles will trickle down until they are truly seen as American as apple pie.

He's also the first Web 2.0 President, harnessing technology with remarkable skill and empowering the enormous grassroots of his campaign with distributed power. The Web 2.0 aspect of his presidency may offer one of the most fundamental changes in governance we've seen, for it can move us beyond a strictly hierarchical and representative form of leadership to one in which information, feedback, ideas, and action flow from citizens to the upper echelons of government and back. This offers not only a mechanism for increased accountability but an engine of innovation and engagement between election cycles. It creates a path to a more adult role for American citizens in governance beyond electing leaders that we believe in.

Finally, Obama is the first truly global President. His blood flows directly from two continents, and his upbringing gave him additional experience with Islamic Indonesia. His name is clearly a global name, shifting America from our primarily European associations. Never have people around the world paid closer attention to the American Presidential election nor been so jubilant at the outcome. In many ways, the emotional involvement of the world made it clear that they celebrated the election of their "own" President in Obama. The psychological importance of this can't be underestimated; when America is seen as the feared "empire" that threatens to dominate others, war and terrorism become commonplace. When the world embraces our President as its own leader in many ways, there is no need to fight us as a perceived enemy.

For all the reasons above, the election of Obama will go down in history as a watershed moment in the evolution of America. With his election, we definitively enter a post-racial, technologically-wired, globally-centric future in which a commitment to sustainability is a given, respect for one's opponents is expected, engagement by citizens is essential, and America is again celebrated as a global leader in the growth of humankind. Entering this new era will require all of us, of course, but Obama's election marks an important evolution for America as a whole.